Eating Disorders and Controlling Relationships: Reinforcement
Many times, a controlling relationship is not the reason a person lapses into an eating disorder. Rather, in this case, a controlling relationship only reinforces the disorder and the need for it. For example, if a person has been through a period of tragedies and seemingly chaotic events that were uncontrollable (death of a loved one, a life change, car or work accident, divorce), that person may be using the disorder to cope with those issues. A controlling relationship only reinforces the feeling of being out of control. Typically a controller will attempt to be more assertive the more distant or stressed the other individual may be. Though there is a hope on the controller's behalf that it will make life 'better,' it actually creates more problems. In order to cope with this overwhelming feeling, the non-controller tends to increasingly use disordered behaviors in order to feel in control.
No matter what the spark or triggering event may be for a person's eating disorder, the underlying issue of control will always be present. As the disorder progresses, an irony takes place: the eating disorder begins to control the person. The incessant thoughts cannot be stopped. Calorie counts continue to tick away in the person's mind. They can no longer fully engage or be present with others. Grades or work projects begin to fall to the back burner.
As the person begins to be controlled by the eating disorder, they may sense it internally but typically is unable to fully reconcile that the eating disorder is in control. Therefore, the behaviors become more and more frequent. This will always create a very desperate and confused person. When a controlling relationship is added to the mix, the panic is heightened and disordered eating patterns feel even more necessary.
Overall, every relationship requires communication and honesty to remain healthy. Both the controller and the controlled need to be introspective as well as communicative with each other in order to assist the person with the eating disorder. Awareness and education for both people is essential to a healthier relationship and for recovery from an eating disorder.