Becky Henry Founder of Hope Network Eating Disorder Family Support

Three Reasons to set firm boundaries AND enforce them – Becky Henry, CPCC (Certified Professional Co-Active Coach) HOPE Network, LLC

  1. They empower us and our loved ones.
  2. We gain time and energy to more effectively support our loved one in recovery.
  3. They keep us and our loved ones safe.

Boundaries are not cruel, they’re COOL!

It doesn’t help us or our sick child to fall prey to all of the chaos and fear of the eating disorder (ed). We need to live in-tune with our own desires, needs, and feelings.

    FEAR can lead to SILENCE, INDECISION and KEEPING OUR CHILD SICK.

If you love or care about or know someone who is in recovery from an eating disorder you may be feeling; fearful, helpless, overwhelmed, afraid, upset, and more. And if your loved one is over 18 you might fear there is nothing you can do to help them with recovery from one of these deadly brain illnesses. There is an endless list of things to fear; when they will eat next, when they might purge again, when insurance will cut them off, will they die?

Fear keeps us stuck. It’s time to send those fears on a hike! There is plenty you can do!

Make sure you’re included in the treatment plan! More and more treatments are including families so there is definitely a lot you can and will need to do. You may be wondering what you do if your area doesn’t have a program that includes parents at all. And perhaps your family situation is such that doing the FBT model isn’t a good fit. Then it’s a matter of finding treatment providers who will work with you and your loved one. Many treatment centers now include parents as part of the team and have options for learning how to help your child. Another option may be to go out of your area. If you’re in the USA, The Alliance for Eating Disorders can you help find a center that is a good fit for your child.

Educate yourself on eating disorders. The more you understand, the more competent and confident you will be in staying calm and not letting fear take hold. It will empower you and give you hope as you learn that there are effective treatments. Treatment usually must continue for a long time, often even after they have been fully re-nourished for over a year. Please hold onto HOPE, this is a normal part of the process.

Do your part to preserve your sanity and health, this helps you remain calm so you can actively preserve the relationship. Eating disorders can destroy relationships as well as lives. Remaining calm doesn’t mean it is going to be all wine and roses, but you can do your best to show the person in recovery that they are loved and protect yourself in the meantime by setting limits on what will will allow others to do to us.  Not an easy task with someone who often thinks they are unlovable and has their thoughts distorted by the eating disorder. We don’t help them by taking on their experiences and ‘stuff.’

I know what I am in control of myself and my experience and that I’m not in control of other people and their experiences.

When we can be calm, emotionally objective and confident in our decisions we can then cope with the wild things the eating disorder will throw at us. Easy to say, hard to do. Keep reading, we’ll get you on the right path. You may need some extra support with this and that’s fine. We have parent support programs to help with that. Self-care is essential. It is not selfish! Doing things that fill you up actually helps you and your child.

Here is an example of a situation a parent might be facing:

“My child with bulimia also abuses alcohol and is stealing. I know he needs treatment for his eating disorder  so I keep rescuing him when he shoplifts. I’m getting bitter and angry about constantly bailing him out with money but I’m so afraid if he goes to jail he won’t get the treatment he needs.”

The fear and lack of boundaries around what this parent is willing to set limits on are leading to them being taken advantage of and as a result, the child isn’t getting any better and the parent is becoming bitter and angry. This is not helping anyone.

We become so used to verbal abuse and disrespectful treatment from the eating disorder that we begin tolerating inappropriate behaviors. Once we come to grips with our fears and accept that boundaries aren’t cruel and punitive then we can begin to set limits. And reclaim our power and some HOPE.

I get it, setting limits takes time and energy that we don’t have. And in the long run, they give us more time and energy. Setting and enforcing boundaries are loving acts that keep our kids safe. It takes consistency to enforce them, especially when we haven’t in the past.

Remember having a 2 year-old that wanted to run out into the street? We didn’t let them even if they screamed or cried or pitched a fit. There is no way we would would let them endanger themselves like that. It’s no different now, the stakes are much much higher though.

When we take the time and energy to set limits and enforce them, we gain so much time and energy as well as protecting our child.

It may better serve the parent in the example to instead of bailing him out say, “I will not finance your irresponsible behavior.”

We don’t want our child to live forever in an “almost anorexic” or “almost recovered” state as that would be much more painful and cruel in the long run than making the tough decisions to draw the line in the sand now.

Trust me, I understand how much it hurts. I will never ever forget flying across the country to take my child to treatment. I cried most of the way there and back. It was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done. It broke my heart into a million pieces. I get it how very painful some of the choices are that we have to make for our kids in recovery. These choices can save their lives.

Often with teens and young adults in recovery we must bravely use whatever leverage we have to set boundaries that keep them safe. This might be letting them know the limits and rules for having the privilege of having a cell phone. Or using the car, or going to college. These are tough boundaries to enforce and they will most likely get angry with us. This means they’re learning they cannot use us anymore. Until we are consistent and stay firm they will continue to take advantage of us. And they often will continue resisting taking the recovery steps they need to take.

Boundaries can bring; HOPE, PEACE, CALM, HEALING and JOY!