If you are female and have an eating disorder, you almost certainly struggle with the issue of personal needs. Simply put, you’re not supposed to have any. You have played this issue out in the arena of food, experiencing a daily battle over whether and how much you’re allowed to eat, supposed to eat, going to eat. The logic, often-unconscious, is that having needs and seeking to get them met means you are either needy or selfish or both.
In this logic needful = needy. Feeling needful involves feeling vulnerable, which seems intolerable. What’s more you may have learned you can be hurt, judged, and/or rejected when you need from others. These beliefs generate a chronic sense of threat in your relationships, which has a tremendous effect on your self–image and the way you behave with others.
In eating disordered logic, knowing and attempting to meet personal needs is also selfish and self-centered. The culture has long reinforced this line of thinking for women. A good woman, our cultural stereotypes hold, is selfless. She doesn’t concern herself with personal needs, but is focused only on meeting the needs of others.
These beliefs about personal needs pose you with quite a dilemma. Being human includes having needs—physical ones, social ones, psychological ones, emotional ones. So to fear or loathe your needs means denying an aspect of yourself that is fundamental to being human.
To keep your “dangerous” needs in check, you’ve come to feel contempt for neediness, at least when it’s your own. If you have anorexia, it feels like being above your own needs is the only way to be in control and to esteem yourself. If you have bulimia or BED, you enact your struggle over personal needs by veering back and forth between affirming them with a vengeance—the binge—and then being filled with remorse and self-loathing for it which you attempt to repair with purging or the next strict diet and exercise routine. It throws you into an endless cycle between these two extremes.
Even when the overt symptoms of your ED have subsided, many of you continue to do battle with your needs in recovery. In my next post we’ll explore the various ways this battle is evident in your life, including:
- Lingering effects on the way you deal with food
- Ways you think about yourself
- Issues of self-care
Changing the way you relate to your own needs is an important part of building a strong recovery. Please join me next time to continue exploring this crucial topic.