It can be difficult to accept that someone dear to us is struggling with an eating disorder. Questions like “where did I go wrong?”, “what else could I have done to prevent this?”, or “why didn’t I foresee this?” can bring up feelings such as guilt, shame, disappointment, frustration, and anger. These are valid feelings and it’s important to acknowledge them as normal; they are typical among supporters.
However, by stewing in those emotions and focusing on the past and the “what ifs”, we can end up missing key opportunities to act and bring about positive change in our loved one’s struggle. The emotional burden may be easier to carry when we move past this and focus on practical steps, like what we can do, now that things are what they are.
Radical acceptance means being intentional with our efforts to acknowledge and honour difficult circumstances and emotions. Accepting things as they are, instead of ignoring, avoiding, or spending a lot of time wishing the situation were different, can be a helpful step in overcoming a challenging experience.
You will likely make various sacrifices and supporting your loved one can be all-consuming. It is critical to leave space for your own needs, otherwise the eating disorder will also wear you down.
It can be tough figuring out where your boundaries lie because there are limits to what you can do and you may not be within their inner circle of support people. Sometimes you won’t have as much information about their situation as you’d like, and it’s still important to respect your friend’s level of comfort regarding disclosure.
It's important to explore ways to get an adult involved. You may feel the burden of being the sole person aware of what’s going on at the moment and this may clash with wanting to respect the individual’s desire for secrecy. Those are extremely normal feelings and concerns, and the person you’re supporting is lucky to have someone as thoughtful as you in their life.
However, treatment and getting them the help they need will likely require their caregiver’s involvement. They are the ones who are responsible for ensuring your friend/sibling/partner gets treatment. It is also their role and responsibility to manage the young person’s eating disorder symptoms around meal times, not yours.
Being a support person can affect your work and family life, as well as your emotional, mental, financial, social, and physical well-being. Here are some coping strategies and support that may help in easing of the stress and fatigue you may be experiencing:
Caring for someone with an eating disorder can feel extremely isolating and exhausting. Try to be kind to yourself and accept help when it is available. It is not weak or shameful to ask for help. No one deserves to go through this alone, and you are no exception. Try to think about who or what else would be beneficial in supporting you through this process.