What am I actually talking about? I have had over the years several clients who have so little regard for themselves that they subject themselves daily to emotional and verbal abuse. They require so little in a relationship that the word ‘low maintenance’ doesn’t even apply to them. No maintenance. They have very little by way of expectations from a partner. Not even the courtesy that human rights activists would insist they deserve for being human.
Wikipedia describes people with Anorexia nervosa an eating disorder characterized by immoderate food restriction and irrational fear of gaining weight, as well as a distorted body self-perception. It typically involves excessive weight loss and usually occurs more in females than in males. Because of the fear of gaining weight, people with this disorder restrict the amount of food they consume.
I have witnessed the devastation that this disorder produces and believe me I am not being dismissive of it any way when I say its close cousin, emotional anorexia, can cause as much havoc.
In the same way an anorexic can sustain themselves on a few scraps of food, emotional anorexics sustain themselves on very little nutrition emotionally. They have trained their bodies, hearts and minds to accept what an average person would call ‘domestic violence’ as normal and appropriate behaviour.
The criteria for a relationship legally termed ‘domestic violence’ is described in the Duluth Wheel , an internationally recognized and used diagnostic tool which highlights a relationship based in Power and Inequality, instead of one based in Equality. As well as the occurrence of physical and sexual violence, below are more behaviours that identify domestic violence:
1. Using Coercion and Threats
Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her. Threatening to leave her, to commit suicide, to report her to welfare. Making her drop charges. Making her do illegal things. Making her drop charges.
2. Using Intimidation
Making her afraid by using looks, actions gestures. Smashing things, abusing her property, abusing pets, displaying weapons.
3. Using Emotional Abuse
Putting her down, making her feel bad about herself. Calling her names. Making her think she’s crazy. Playing mind games, humiliating her, making her feel guilty.
4. Using Isolation
Controlling what she does, who she sees and who she talks to, what she reads, where she goes. Limiting her outside involvement. Using jealousy to justify actions.
5. Minimizing, Denying, Blaming
Making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns about it seriously. Saying the abuse didn’t happen. Shifting responsibility for abusive behaviour. Saying she caused it.
6. Using Male Privilege
Treating her like a servant. Making all the big decisions. Acting like the master of the castle. Being the one to define men’s and women’s roles.
7. Using Economic Abuse
Preventing her from getting or keeping a job. Making her ask for money, giving her an allowance. Taking her money. Not letting her know about or have access to family income.
8. Using Children
Making her feel guilty about the children. Using the children to relay messages. Using visitation to harass her. Threatening to take the children away.
So there you have it. By the way, the word ‘she’ is interchangeable with ‘he’, men are not the only ones who subject their partners to an imbalance of power and control.
When I first read this list I was doing a mini check inside my mind of all the friends and family whose relationships are a match to some of those descriptions. I was sad to learn that there were far too many who accepted the belief that ‘Love Hurts’. A previous blog “Does love ever hurt?” sheds some light on how we find ourselves thinking and believing any of the behaviours above are ‘acceptable or appropriate’.
The fact is, when we deny ourselves the joy of being loved and treated with respect by others, the person we need it from the most is ourselves. Unless we believe we deserve better and more, we will continue to accept less. When we deny ourselves the nourishment of Self love, Self worth, Self care – we find ourselves starving emotionally in relationships too. And the same way an anorexic needs to begin the long journey towards caring enough for herself/himself to provide the basics of nourishment and wellness, an emotional anorexic needs the same. Every journey begins by taking one small step in front of the other, regardless of the distance.
All human beings are born free and equal. Everyone, as a person on this planet, has the right to have her or his basic needs met, and should have whatever it takes to live with pride, and become the person he or she wants to be. You are worth the same, and have the same rights as anyone else. You have the right to tell people how you feel about things without being told to keep quiet. No one shall be put through torture, or any other treatment or punishment that is cruel, or makes him or her feel less than human. There is nothing in the list of human rights that confirms or gives permission to anyone do anything that would weaken or take away these rights (Drawn from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights-Kids version- By Little House Alternative Schools, Dorchester, Massachusetts)
What is the opposite of emotional anorexia and how can we identify it? We have Body Mass Indexes (BMI) for our physical bodies to help us gauge when we are leaning more toward healthy/unhealthy physical states. It is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. It is factual and easy to evaulate. If only we have a gauge to measure the state of our hearts. Not the physical state but the emotional state. Kinesiology is probably the closest and best way I am aware of to legitimately evaluate the ‘frequency’ and state of our heart/mind/body interaction. My post ‘Brain freeze and broken hearts’ gives some clues to the new technologies being developed to measure the healthy/unhealthy emotional state of our hearts. Until such a time as we all have access to these incredible devices, we have to assess our emotional states by the quality of relationships in our live. The quality of our relationships with others is determined by the quality of our relationship with ourselves. If we allow ourselves to interact with people who treat us badly, our relationship to ‘self’ is guaranteed to reflect the same. Relationships are merely mirrors reflecting outwardly how we feel about ourselves inwardly. To change what is reflected to us in the mirror, we need to change ourselves first.
Emotional anorexia is present if the interactions with the closest people to you have been described in the list above. And if you are anorexic, you need to find someone to support you back to health because your ideas about what is ‘normal and acceptable’ are so distorted, that you wouldn’t recognize ‘good enough’ if it glared you in the face. There is something going on called ‘Self deception in Self Perception’. You have deceived yourself into perceiving zero or little nourishment as substantial enough. It is not enough. You deserve more and need more.
Treat yourself with the same tenderness, care and consideration you would a cherished fragile and vulnerable child/elder/pet. Do not expose yourself to people, places and experiences that regularly make you feel disempowered or sad. Take yourself out of harms way. Fill your life with moments and individuals that leave you feeling uplifted/empowered/joyful. Things that leave you feeling better than/more than you were previously. The things that give you energy and do not leave you feeling drained or worse off. Whatever it is that illicits your greatest excitement . Your mind needs to work together making wise choices on behalf of your heart. Wisdom can ultimately be reduced to the simple process of avoiding what makes you go weak. David Hawkins PhD.(Power versus Force).
This is the journey to emotional wellness- the opposite of emotional anorexia. I wish you strength and courage to be kind enough to yourself to return to health and healing.