Reflections on Eating Disorder Recovery: development and narcissistic abuse

After over 30 years of doing eating disorder recovery work with adults I clearly see that the disorder developed as a way of coping with otherwise insurmountable emotional distress. Whether the cause is a natural developmental weakness or a healthy developmental process that is thwarted by subtle or blatant trauma varies with the individual. Either way, healing and recovery has to do with rebooting the natural and healthy developmental process in the person.

I'm also seeing in many eating disorder clients a past or present or continued relationship with narcissists. The clients often are not aware they are subject to narcissistic abuse because they don't recognize it.

As they continue to experience the abuse their ability to think clearly and function well erodes. They feel guilt and shame. They feel isolated and overwhelmed with responsibilities.

The eating disorder gives them a break and creates a mindless zone of perceived safety. With these people, and this seems to be a growing population, recognizing abuse and discovering, then defending personal boundaries, is key to the beginning of solid recovery.

Please share your opinions and experience on this sensitive a painful topic.

Coming out of Narcissist Abuse at Christmas

fire heart 961194 640(Example of healing self talk and the power of journal writing. printed with permission)  *pix

Christmas is coming, and I’m alone. I feel abandoned by a world of people who are happily busy in gayety and plans for more.

Is this true? Do my feelings reflect reality?

My family is punishing me for not being obedient. I am stretching my heart and mind into realms that intrigue me and offer me new satisfying direction. That's belittled.

I’m not included in celebrations. I’m invited to events with 20 minutes notice. I don’t respond.

But I will go to the ballet with my friend this week-end.  I will have a long chat with my friend in the morning. I do go to parties given by colleagues. I am going out of town for a joyous week with friends.

I am not stripping myself of energy, time and money to perform people pleasing behavior for people who are never pleased.  And I feel frightened and alone.

I miss the sense of companionship. But that companionship was in my mind. The reality was that I shopped, packaged and wrapped alone. I brought the completed sack of gifts as my Christmas offering and put them under the tree alone. Children with happy greedy faces watched, and that was fine. Until, as the years went by, it wasn’t fine. The young faces looked strained, and the older faces looked more and more judgmental.and dismissive.

I got tired and lonely when I was with them. Gifts I gave to the adults were criticized or laughed at. Gifts I received were irrelevant or were gifts of promised future activities that never materialized. Spa days. Luncheons. Trips to museums and libraries. I got the promises in cards but not the actual delivery.

This loneliness and aloneness I feel now, is it any different from what I felt when I was with them?

OMG! It’s the same feeling! This sorrow and isolation might be better because I can feel these feelings without pretending that I don’t. I don’t have to smile and try to look like I was happy and having a good time. This trembling in my wrists. This hollow in my chest. This throbbing behind my eyes. This choking in my throat. This feeling of being on the outside, valueless and ignored is not because I miss them. This is what I feel when I’m with them.

My revelation. These feelings are a hangover. I can explore them, address them, dissolve them and move on. It’s hard, but it’s possible.  I’m not lost.

I’m claiming my own experience. Coming out from the shadows of their experience where I did my best to conform, obey and please I’m now in a new space. My space. I can create and invite and explore and give based on my authentic heart. I trust my psychtherapist and the process of my psychotherapy.  I do have friends I care about. I care about people and bring value to the world. I do have interests I follow with enthusiasm. My creativity is coming back. I feel more alive.

Suddenly I feel a compassion and tenderness for the narcissists in my family as the distance between us increases.  I can love and not be sacrificial. I can care and still plunge into my own opening vistas of welcome experience. I have the strength and power to recognize the source of my pain and move away from it. I can maintain my energy and deliver it to what I consider worthwhile destinations. No more pouring myself into demanding emptiness.

My pain will come and go. I trust that as I heal, pain will lessen and life energy will increase.

If I’m with my authentic heart I’m not alone for Christmas or any other time.

(I’m not including a case history or analysis of this journal entry. As it stands I think it may speak to others in or emerging from the grip of a narcissist. The writer doesn’t reveal gender. This is an open story and perhaps a needed Christmas present for many. Joanna Poppink)

*pix Fire Heart  Image by Gloria Williams from Pixabay   Attend to the sensations of your physical heart. They are connected to your emotional heart.  If your physical heart burns, respect the feeling. Bring it to consciousness. Move away from danger. Let heart fire burn away the nets and weapons striking you. Rest easy knowing your authentic heart will guide you if you attend and respect its messages. Joanna Poppink

Dr. Les Carter, youtube series on various aspects of narcissism. His many short informative videos I find valuable.  He delivers stories and information in a warm, concise and yet powerful way. I think, if you are exploring your possible experience with narcissistic people you will find a few or many of his videos mind opening with specific tools to help you cope or escape from narcissistics in your life.

First Psychotherapy Appointment with Joanna Poppink

ocean waves rolling to shore 340
Your emotional waves are rolling in, but what is the shore you seek? If your life looks good, great or enviable to others, who can you trust with your vulnerabilities and secrets?

You don’t want to take medication. You don’t want to be told what to do. You certainly don’t want to isolate, or use food, drugs or alcohol to soothe yourself.  Yet, you know you need help and hope that help exists.

Suppose your inner waves reach the shore of my practice.  What happens?

The Call

 After a phone call or an e-mail with me we set up a free telephone consultation. If that seems promising, you come to my office for a person to person appointment. 

You park in my driveway. You walk to my garden where you wait on a cushy couch with a view of grass, honeysuckle and, if you’re lucky, hummingbirds.

In the Room

At our scheduled time I invite you into my consulting room. You sit on the couch. I sit in a chair. We have a coffee table between us. Two clocks, on either side of the room allow us both to share responsibility for the time.  You fill out a few forms that take about five minutes to complete.

This experience so far gives you a chance to breathe and fill in the unknowns you had about being here. You know what the place looks like and more importantly, how you feel in this place. You see what I look like and how you feel in my presence.  You also are alert to how you experience my responses to you.

Whatever fantasies and fears you had fade with the reality of being in the room with me.

First Words

Now the paperwork is done. We sit face to face. Perhaps you don’t know where to begin. Many people don’t. They know what they want to address, but that seems too personal or too wild or strange or too something to talk about with a stranger. Still, that is part of the reason you came.

I might say, “You can start anywhere. You can talk about what happened this morning or last week or in your childhood. You can talk about a dream, a book you are reading, a situation with family or friends or work. You can start anywhere. Eventually what is important for us to look at will emerge.”

That’s when people relax a bit more with me while at the same time feel relief that no rules exist about how to be right or wrong in therapy.

What’s Happening?

You’re hopeful, anxious, testing, have doubts about how being here could help you, yet, perhaps feel that what you haven’t been able to say to anyone else, maybe even yourself, could roll out here.

Part of psychotherapy is for me to tolerate your tension, anxiety and your sense of the unknown along with you so your inner world calms enough for your own solutions to emerge.

Another part of psychotherapy is for me to be alert to what emerges in you. I can help you identify what might be pulling you back to old frustrating ground and what might hold positive direction for you now.

What Brought You Here?

People who want to explore their lives and live beyond the limits they are feeling seek out psychotherapy. Another way of saying this is that they seek out understanding and clarity so they can sort through what is causing pain and suffering in their lives.  Bumping into limits, otherwise known as feeling stuck in a pattern you want to change, is what pushes people to call me.

Perhaps it was my picture, or an article I wrote, or my book that seemed inviting and hopeful to you. Or perhaps someone you respect told you about me. Often, it’s not even a topic that invites a person to my practice, but a sense, a feeling that here is a chance to be understood and move into new psychological territory.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Once you are here and we discover invisible and visible aspects of each other you may feel this is a place where you can be appreciated and respected as you explore your inner world and your life.

My goal is for you is to find support as you discover inner guidance that comes in light but surprising ways. In this way, working together, you move past your existing limits and into the better life you feel in your bones is possible for you.

From the waves to the shore is the beginning. What follows is our journey together.

Joanna Poppink, MFT
Los Angeles psychotherapist in private practice for adults
author of Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder
(310) 474-4165

Stop looking for eating disorder recovery

Suppose I said, "Stop looking for eating disorder recovery."  I'm a therapist who's been specializing in  eating disorder recovery for decades. Would you think I've given up? or lost my mind? Or would you perhaps think that maybe I've discovered something?

In reviewing my own recovery from bulimia and the recovery of many of my patients I see what really works for success. It's not a secret, but I don't write about it much because you don't see the connection between what I say and the recovery you imagine. When I write about the details of an eating disorder you respond.  When I write about owls or climate change or gardens or social justice or dogs and cats your response is minimal and then it's about what seems cute or interesting in a remote way. 

When I post articles and videos about women accomplishing something powerful in music or politics or medicine or business, you respond minimally except perhaps to say the person is a favorite of yours or that she is inspiring.

I've set my mind to making a bridge, filling in the gap, making a connection that can guide you to seeing the connection. I want to focus, not on eating disorder recovery but on building your own path to your life of satisfaction, fulfillment, joy, love and meaning.

And that's what it's all about, isn't it?  I mean, you say you want eating disorder recovery.  But do you? Don't you want what you think you can have if you actually have eating disorder recovery? And don't you most certainly want to get rid of many aspects of your life that exist because you have an eating disorder? (Illness, fear, bloating, hiding, shame, false persona, weird and sometimes dangerous relationships, broken relationships, etc.)

So I say, let's not aim for eating disorder recovery.  Let's aim for a good life, a wonderful life, a life that's so good you can't even imagine it when an eating disorder or any other limitation closes down your imagination.

This will be the theme of my posts for a while.  I've written so much about eating disorders including a book on how to recover.  I've alluded to the real path that can take you to the life you were meant to live. But now I'm going to be much more direct.  I hope I will capture your imagination and the deep spark of wisdom within you that knows what you really want is to be truly alive and living a life worth living.

  1.          Are you looking for eating disorder recovery?
  2.          Have you found your method?
  3.          How long have you been using it and does it work for you?
  4.          What do you want out of life?
  5.          What do you care about?
  6.          What in the world makes you happy, sad, mad, glad, disappointed, inspired?
  7.          If you were young, rich, strong, powerful, free, well educated and confident what would you do in this world? Think Big.

Links to help prime your imagination:

10 Everyday Things Creative People Do That Lead to Success

Creativity and Innovation: Your Keys to a Successful Organization

Success through Creativity and Hard Work

Success Through Creativity

6 Obstacles To Creative Thinking And How To Overcome Them: Develop Problem Solving Skills For Business Success

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