Relationships are anything but simple. It’s obvious why. Whenever your needs and expectations bump up against the other person’s needs and expectations, there’s friction. Sometimes it feels like a smooth fit but it sure can be a rocky ride. This is especially true for certain women who are emotionally anorexic. These women experience the classic “no-win” cycle of psychological deprivation and invisibility of their genuine or “true” self.
Need that last line translated? It’s actually really relatable stuff.
What is Emotional Anorexia?
Here’s the cycle:
- You want to be thought of as loving, so you swallow your needs and overdo.
- Then because of self-deprivation, you experience a slow buildup of resentment and anger.
- Then you explode.
- Then you feel very guilty for what you view as your overreaction and are profoundly apologetic.
- Now you are in a “bend over backwards” “please the other person” mode, and the cycle continues.
To be loving and giving is healthy. But, to love and give at the cost of one’s psychological being is clearly unhealthy. When you ignore or devalue your own needs in order to be loved, appreciated, and complimented, or you suppress your sense of who you are so as to meet the wants and desires of your partner, you’re at risk for emotional anorexia.
Emotional anorexia occurs when you hit that that “dark zone–” a place where your psychological nutrition is poor. Much of what you are consuming is what we label “high fat” negative emotions—such as anger, worry, anxiety, bitterness, and pessimism.
Having emotional anorexia means that you are in a state of emotional starvation. Just as irritability and anger happen when your blood glucose levels go down, when you don’t have enough “psychological sugar,” your emotional “blood levels” also decrease. The fact is, you don’t have the good nutrients of joy, happiness, and excitement to keep you nourished and healthy.
Do You Have Emotional Anorexia?
Here are some signs that you are suffering from emotional anorexia in an intimate relationship:
Sign 1: You try to avoid conflict by giving in to what the other person wants (again), you stop making demands (again), yet, you feel simmering resentfulness, and don’t voice it.
Sign 2: Soon, all you feel is deep irritation that results in an explosion of volcanic anger. Typically, this reaction is over some small or even silly transgression by the other person, and usually occurs when you’re in a situation where you should be having fun, such as out to dinner or relaxing on the weekend.
Sign 3: When you do express your feelings, you feel guilty, you feel like the “bad guy” because you can’t “just keep things fun and light” and “always” have to “ruin” a good time.
Sign 4: You are caught in an emotional “catch-22.” If you speak up, you either can’t control your emotions or you feel guilty for bringing them up.
What to Do if You Have Emotional Anorexia
You have now given up trying to be your genuine self with your partner. What to do?
- Begin by stepping back and taking an assessment of your psychological nutrition.
- How many high fat negative emotions are you consuming in a day? How many positive low fat emotions?
- Don’t swallow the high fat emotions—spit them out as soon as they hit your “tongue.”
- Begin to understand your emotional triggers.
- Change the ratio of high fat to low fat emotions, so that you consume far greater low fat emotions in your psychological diet.
Why do you have to do this work? Why can’t the other person just recognize how wonderful you are? You know why. No one can “make” another person change. No amount of nagging, yelling, threatening, or simmering will change your partner if they don’t want to change. It doesn’t matter if you are absolutely “right.” Therefore, if you are experiencing emotional anorexia, regardless of whether you brought this on yourself or others influenced you to “go down that emotional starvation road,” the responsibility to change rests on you.
A Warning: If you don’t begin the process, just as emotional malnutrition destroys the physical body, emotional anorexia will destroy all of your relationships, and more importantly, poison your spirit.
The Pay-off: If you make the effort to consume more low fat positive emotions, the light will slowly begin to shine again in your life. Ironically, the very things you wanted—to be complimented, loved, and have your partner do good things for you—will start to happen.
A joyful person attracts joy. Really.
Shoba Sreenivasan and Linda E. Weinberger are co-authors of the new book Psychological Nutrition, an innovative guide to emotional well-being. They both happen to be clinical psychologists but more importantly, they are women in some stage of middle age at a turning point in their lives. They are determined to live a physically and mentally healthier and more enriched and giving life.