A few months ago I had one of the most difficult conversations of my life: I told my parents that I have been struggling with an eating disorder and self harm. At the time, I didn’t know what to expect and I searched high and low on the internet for a few words of advice. I wasn’t able to find much, so I figured I would write about my own experience in order to help people who might be preparing for a similar conversation.
In my case, I was lucky enough to have my therapist by my side throughout the entire conversation. I would strongly recommend that if you are considering talking to your parents about self harm or disordered eating that you take some time to build a support system before having the big talk. For me, this meant talking to three of my closest friends and having months of therapy appointments in order to prepare.
On the morning of, I had a close friend come and stay with me right up until I had to go into the therapist’s office to meet with my parents. She really helped me deal with the anxiety that I had right before the appointment and I was extremely lucky to have such a supportive friend by my side. I honestly don’t know that I could have gone through with the appointment if it was not for my wonderfully supportive friends and therapist.
During the appointment, my parents were a bit stand-off-ish. At the time, I was thrown off because I was expecting a bit more concern, but I realized afterwards that they were coming into this appointment without any idea of what to expect which caused them to have their own anxiety to deal with. I understand now that they were under quite a bit of stress which may have come across as anger.
When it actually came time to tell my parents about the issues that I had been struggling with, I decided with the help of my therapist to break things down into separate parts. My therapist and I made a timeline of the meeting prior to it occurring so that I would know exactly what I wanted to say and when. This helped to organize the information within the time constraints of the session, but it also helped me tell my parents about everything at a gradual pace to allow them to take everything in.
In terms of their reactions, I was completely shocked. I had been preparing for the worst: screaming, fighting, maybe they would even disown me! There was no limit to the horrible string of events that my imagination came up with. In reality though, my parents remained relatively calm throughout the entire appointment. My mom cried a lot and my dad looked like his heart had been ripped out of his chest, but their reaction towards me was utter compassion. There was no yelling or fighting or blaming. They just listened to what I had to tell them and took it in.
I realize that not everyone’s parents will react the same way, but just try to at least consider the possibility that your parents will have a rational reaction. They will obviously be concerned and may have some questions for you. Try to answer the questions calmly without over-reacting. It may be overwhelming to you, but it will be just as overwhelming, if not more, for your parents who have just received a lot of anxiety-provoking information.
Following the meeting with my parents I told them that I needed some time to unwind and come to terms with everything before talking with them again. I told them that I would call them around a certain time on a certain day which in my case was two days after the appointment. I decided to give myself this time to calm down and regroup after the meeting, but I also wanted to give them time to process the information. When I finally did call them as planned, their reactions were 100% supportive.
Today, about 3 months after the meeting, my parents continue to provide me with support in subtle ways. In the appointment I made it clear that my recovery process would be on my terms and that I did not want them to interfere. They have respected this decision and have not brought up anything unless I am the one to bring it up first.
In the future I do hope to have more conversations about my struggles, but right now I’m happy to have told them everything and not have the pressure of constantly having to talk about it.
So, that basically sums up my experience of talking to my parents about self-harm and an eating disorder. It’s important that my experience will not necessarily reflect the experiences of others, but I hope that you will at least consider the possibility that talking to your parents about your struggles could be the best decision you ever make. It certainly has been for me.