Our sense of identity is hugely powerful in governing our life choices. When we are young, our sense of identity is influenced by the important people in our life and often it is their voice that creates our inner monologue. As we grow and experience the world around us, our sense of self develops and diversifies. For those living with an eating disorder this process can become disrupted, leading us to adopt our eating disorder as part of our identity or, conversely, to fight a big part of ourselves as we refuse to let it become part of our identity.
In any event this inhibits our ability to see ourselves fully as we sense the shadow of ED looming over us. Worse still, other people focus on our ED and forget the many other aspects that make up who we are. So, how do we accept that, although our ED may have a huge impact on our lives we can be our true authentic selves without it. How do we grow in such a way that diminishes our ED's influence on our behaviour?
Firstly we need to explore how it came to exist in the first place. The chances are it came from a place of service, to fill a void that we felt deep within us, or to protect us from negative emotions, thoughts or behaviours. It may have protected us from external factors over which we had little control, it may be that for a time ED became our only friend. Once we understand where it came from and how it served us, we can better understand ourselves. We can look at where we are today and establish whether our ED still serves us, or whether we must learn to let go and move on.
Another important practice is to better understand who we are as individuals. We all have our own core values and moral compass. Explore them, why you feel so strongly about certain issues, how your tolerance of other people's behaviours fluctuates depending on their core values. Be curious about where these values have come from, discuss with others their core values and where they come from. Reflect on whether your core values are ones you have chosen, whether they have just been adopted from those around you or whether they have been almost forced upon you.
Imagine you are a fly on the wall at your own funeral. What would people be saying? Would they be saying the things you want them to, or do they have you wrong, why is that?
How is your eating disorder impacting your sense of self, your core values and morals and how does it influence what loved ones think about you. I always find this particularly intriguing as, for a long time, I did not talk about my anorexia. I recalled so well the look I would get from people when I was ill. They looked at me with pity and treated me as though I was weak. Physically I was weak but it felt almost as though they had written me off. I felt like they were underestimating my mental strength. When I overcame anorexia I compensated for that perceived weakness by expressing mental strength. I never wanted to be looked at with pity ever again. I was scared to talk about my experience because it contradicted the person I was trying to be and I thought it would make me appear weak to others, that they would no longer see the person I wanted them to see, the person I am, the person I had fought so hard to become. What I realise now is that by sharing my story of battle and survival I am demonstrating my own mental strength and showing other's that changing your sense of self is possible. We are designed to grow as individuals, to develop, to evolve. ED may be part of us at one stage but it needn't remain. We can be whoever we want to be. ED is not our identity.