A Parent’s Guide To Supporting Your Loved One


Written by Fly High

When we struggle with ED we often fall out with the people closest to us, most likely our parents. There is no doubt that being a carer is not an easy task in any perspective especially if you are emotionally attached to them like a parent is. There is nothing worse than seeing your child self harming and not looking after themselves. Parents, like people with personal experience, can often say and do things based on fear. This isn’t beneficial to parents or loved ones as it can cause arguments and make both people feel isolated.
Trust is vital in any relationship and this is no exception. It is important to be open and honest with each other. “White lies” can often be damaging to the loved ones self confidence because it makes us question ourselves and why the cares felt the need to hide things from us. Bottling up anger only leads to an explosion. Expressing feelings directly and direct communication prevents misunderstandings and hard feelings.
Words like “how are you feeling?” “Are you ok?” can seem caring but can actually be quite grating on the ears of a loved one, especially when both of us know we are not ok. Some more helpful sayings could be “how can I help?” “Do you need a hug?” “Do you want to hear a bad joke?”.
When a loved one feels down it is often tempting to over analyse our thinking and question “why?” We are feeling “overwhelmed, scared, lonely, sad, bad etc.” because there is an accumulation of red thoughts. That’s all we need to know. It’s that simple so it’s also that simple to change.  Talking about something else is often more beneficial. Talk about a funny event, story, video, talk about work/school/collage, about a story you heard on the radio. This makes connection which is often something we crave when suffering from ED. It creates green thoughts. Our relationship also benefits because we practice having light conversation instead of being consumed by our negativity. Please don’t ask us to talk about what we are feeling “bad” about. Wallowing in our negativity with us only promotes valuing being a victim.
Key words can be just as helpful. Repeated theory becomes a fact. We often repeat negative affirmations and put ourselves down so simple, hopeful even cheesy positive affirmations can help draw us out of this self destructive thinking.
Asking “why?” is also quite grating because often we don’t understand our own thoughts and a lot of them can be red thoughts. We don’t need to know why we have an ED we only need to know why we want freedom. Talking about freedom and all the possibilities of what we can do when we’re free is often a more helpful conversation. Talking about things we are passionate about can help give us a sense of self knowledge, something we often lack in early stages. Ask “where would you travel in the future?” “What person from history would you like to meet?” “What would you do if you won the lottery?” “If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?” “What’s your favourite holiday, book, movie, place?” Even if we have different views it can be a good way to build up confidence in our own opinions and respect for others and their opinions. It can teach us that it is ok to have different opinion and that it doesn’t make one person “wrong”.
Only 7% of communication is verbal, hence the phrase “words are cheep”. This is very true. As sufferers, we often think we are brilliant actors but we’re not. Parents aren’t either. Much like animals can sense the nervous energy of people, condition can sniff out fear and resentment. Often it is used in a destructive manner and condition convinces us that our parents are angry at us because we are terrible people and that we are a disappointment. Direct communication again is very important and can stop sarcasm and unwanted tension. Even if you are annoyed at us please tell us! Everyone is entitled to feel annoyed but the person you are annoyed at is entitled to be told directly that you are feeling that way and why. Open relationships don’t work because the people don’t get angry at each other, they work because they verbalise this gently and work through it.
Sometimes we just want a hug. Sometimes words aren’t needed. Kinaesthetic touch promotes connection and in simple terms who doesn’t feel better after a hug?
Gandhi was right when he said “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”. One of the most helpful things you can do as a parent is lead by example. Taking care of your self, being open about your feelings, owning your own values, taking time to relax can be simple ways to help yourself and your loved one. Asking them to join in in this self care time can be even more beneficial. Ask if they want to join you in some meditation, some yoga, watching a movie, even just sitting down and listening to some nice music. When we see our parents taking care and being nice to themselves it can be very helpful.
Don’t scare yourself with all the bad things that can happen. Especially at the start of recovery it is often easy to try to gather as much information as you can. You will notice that you come across many contradicting opinions and information and sometimes you can be on an information overload. Reading books written by doctors and such can often be more detrimental the beneficial because you can end up scaring yourself. These fears like I said at the start are unhelpful to parents and loved ones. Gathering other people’s stories, unless they are motivational, is very destructive and please don’t share them with us! Often it may seem that telling us how bad things are for someone else can help give us a kick up the arse to recover but this is usually used by our condition or else scares us. There is a time and place for reality but recovery is a reality too. Stories of people overcoming struggles (such as JK Rowling’s story are much more helpful.
Please respect our privacy. Sometimes we can be quite annoyed when we realise that people have been told about our ED when they don’t need to. There can often be a lot of shame attached to our condition and we can feel quite embarrassed that other people know. There is nothing to be ashamed of and even as we let go of this we still would prefer for our ED to not be shared around. It may seem like it “explains” things to family or friends but please talk to us first. Sometimes it may be necessary to get others involved but when our behaviours or things that we did which we are not proud of are shared with others, sometimes even when we’re present, feels quite invasive. There is a lot of stigma attached to mental health and ED and especially older generations can be quite judgmental.
We do want your help. Even though it may seem like we are being defensive and shutting people out, the thing we crave the most is connection. So please don’t think we don’t want your help.
Don’t tolerate bad behaviour. Condition is not an excuse for bad behaviour. Shouting, put downs, comments, raised voices, verbal and physical abuse are not ok under any circumstance. Protecting yourself from this and not engaging in this is an excellent example for us. Often we don’t remember these episodes and feel guilty afterwards this is a vicious cycle so it can’t be entertained. Walking away and not fighting back is the best thing to do. Talk things out when everything is calm not in the heat of the moment. This is like trying to fly a paper plane through a closed window, wait for the window to open.
Sometimes we just need space. Sometimes we are very distressed or just need to think. It can often be frustrating when you are trying to help your loved one and they want to be alone but everyone needs some alone time to figure things out. Ten minutes to write our thoughts down can help us to clarify things in our head so please understand it’s not personal.
Remember to give yourself credit. Respecting yourself is another brilliant way of leading by example. Give yourself credit for being willing to help your loved one, for coming to group, being willing to learn, being there to give us a hug and taking the time to read this.
All of these depend on your own personal situation and where your loved one is in their recovery but I thought these were some general things that I find helpful. I would love for others to add to this and to hear from some parents and carers because 2 heads are better than one.
Fly High:)