When your teen is battling anorexia, it doesn’t seem like you have a choice as far as how you feel. It may seem impossible to believe that you can choose to feel anything positive when the anorexia storm hits. But even when parenting a teen with anorexia, we have the option to feel however we want to feel at any time. Most of us don’t know that we have that choice. Furthermore, most of us have never been taught how to create an emotion on purpose.
A tool that is helpful to use in this situation is as simple as asking yourself a powerful question: How do I want to feel about my teen’s anorexia? Or, you can ask yourself an even more powerful question: How do I want to feel toward my child?
When my daughter was diagnosed with anorexia, I wanted to feel sad, and I did. I also wanted to feel love. When anorexia made my daughter uncharacteristically defiant and angry, I had to learn how to choose love over sadness so that I could effectively support her recovery. At this point, a lot of us would prefer that our teen didn’t have anorexia because then we could feel better. Since we cannot change the circumstance, our work is learning to feel how we want to feel without changing the fact that our teen has anorexia.
Keeping everything about your teen’s anorexia the same, how can you possibly change your feelings? For a lot of us, the best we can imagine is feeling neutral. Neutral would be better than the helpless, hopeless, anxious, scared emotions we’ve been having, right? Think about it. Out of all the emotions you could choose, would you really want to feel neutral? If you have been living in a negative emotional state for an extended period of time while trying to find effective treatment for your anorexic teen, then neutral probably sounds good. But if you could choose how you truly want to feel, wouldn’t it be great to feel empowered? Hopeful? Confident?
Wouldn’t you love to feel love?
Love is one of the best feelings any of us can ever experience. Whether we realize it or not, the feeling of love is available to us at all times. With that in mind, isn’t it fascinating how often we choose to not feel love? When your teen is exhibiting anorexic behaviors, choosing love isn’t the most natural thing. Our tendency to put conditions on people so that we can allow ourselves to feel love keeps us from feeling love as much as we could. When you are thinking I’m not feeling loving toward my teen because she is causing our whole family a lot of stress by refusing to eat, then you are depriving yourself of love. It seems like our lack of love toward our teen will somehow result in her not feeling love, but the real result is that we don’t get to feel love. Nothing your anorexic teen does or doesn’t do can keep you from feeling love, only you can.
The ability to choose to feel love whenever you want to is one of the most powerful tools parents have when they are caring for their anorexic teens.
No matter how anorexia causes your teen to behave, you still get to love your child. Not losing sight of that love and not forgetting that you are able to create the emotion of love within yourself regardless of the situation is one of the keys to caring for yourself as you care for your teen.
She refuses to eat. You love her.
She lies to you about eating her snack. You love her.
She exercises compulsively. You love her.
She tells you that you are making her fat. You love her.
She yells, cries, and dumps her food off of her plate and onto the floor. You love her.
She requires your attention 24 hours a day. You love her.
Her anorexia has taken over your life. You love her.
The bottom line is that anorexia can’t stop you from loving your teen.
But what if you don’t want to feel love? That is your choice too. You get to feel however you want to feel toward your teen no matter what. The benefit to choosing love is that you are not giving your power away to the anorexia. You don’t have to allow anorexia to dictate your emotions anymore. Your teen may never feel the extent of your love, but you will. She is feeling her feelings, and you can choose yours.
If you believe your teen’s behavior is creating negative emotion in you, it will seem like it’s her fault you are feeling that way. It is not your teen’s fault. You may also blame your teen’s anorexia for your feelings. It is not the anorexia’s fault either. It is all your choice. When you choose not to feel love toward your teen, you are the one who feels the impact of that choice. Anytime I choose not to feel love toward my teen, I miss the chance to feel that love.
What is the upside of taking responsibility for choosing unconditional love? When anorexia causes your teen to do something you don’t like, you get to choose how you feel toward your child. You don’t have to change the fact that she has anorexia to feel love. You can feel love now.
An unconditional love exercise:
1. Think about all of the reasons your anorexic teen is hard to love right now. These will most likely be anorexic behaviors. Write all of them down.
2. Write down all of the conditions you put on loving her. All of these conditions are the reasons you are choosing not to feel love.
3. Ask yourself what it would feel like to love your teen all of the time no matter what?
If you would like some help learning how to access unconditional love while you are caring for your anorexic teen, schedule a free coaching call with me by clicking on the Free Consultation button at the top of the page or by selecting Free Consultation on the drop-down menu.