People with eating disorders are pissed off…and a lot of them don't even know it. They've been too busy suppressing their anger (perhaps stuffing it down with food), avoiding it (restricting), pretending it doesn't exist, or expressing it in dysfunctional ways like exercise, vomiting, self-harm.
Often times they never learned how to safely express anger. Michael Berrett, PhD, said during a lecture I attended, "Anger is an emotion of self-respect." We get angry when someone violates our boundaries. It may be a friend who is always late for coffee, or a coworker who constantly interrupts you, or the subconscious anger of being unseen as a child.
Anger tells you, Hey, I'm not getting my needs met.
In her essay on Anger and Anorexia, Joanna Kay writes:
I grew up in a home where anger was like the steam in a pressure cooker: we kept the lid on until it burst and sprayed boiling liquid everywhere. Consequently, the message I internalized was twofold: Anger is loud, unpredictable, and dangerous; and negative emotions should be concealed.
People with eating disorders are so often afraid of anger – both their own and that of others. Let's not forget that the incidence of physical, sexual and emotional abuse is high in people with eating disorders. So their experience of anger may very well have been at the hands of an abuser. No wonder they are scared.
Studies demonstrate a correlation between anger and eating disorders. In one study the women with eating disorders had higher levels of anger and suppressed anger than did the controls. Much additional literature has been written about the connection between anger and anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.
Therapy is a safe place for clients to practice expressing anger and to explore the role of anger in their eating disorder. It is important that clients start to recognize their emotions and accept them as useful, and to then find healthy ways of expressing emotion. Anger is a powerful and valuable emotion, not something to be afraid of.
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