Boundaries are not cruel, they’re COOL!

It doesn’t help family caregivers or their  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.


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 caregivers  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 family caregivers as part of the team and have options for learning how to help your loved one.  Another option may be to go out of your area.

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. Learning new information and skills will make all the difference. In our HUG Kits we cover 10 topics that I address with all of my 1:1 clients. This includes communication which is vital so family caregivers  are validating their loved one’s experience while setting loving, firm boundaries.

Knowledge 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 you  will allow others to do to you.  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 that 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. And self care helps us be able to allow others to care for us. And being cared for is even more important than self care according to some experts. 

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

“My child with bulimia also abuses alcohol and is driving drunk. I know he needs treatment for his eating disorder and not punishment,  so I keep rescuing him when he gets a DUI. 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. Then we can 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 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 loved one in recovery.

It may better serve the parent in the example to instead of bailing them out to say, “I will finance your treatment to save your life and I will no longer finance bailing you out if you shoplift again.”

Three Reasons to set firm boundaries AND enforce them:

  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.

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.

With teens, young adults and older 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. It can be really hard to say these things…AND they can be life saving.

“We will pay for more college when the medical providers say that you’re medically stable and you’ve been in solid recovery for six months.”  Scary to say. They will NOT like it and will make threats. It’s a matter of trusting your gut about what needs to happen to keep them safe.

These are tough boundaries to enforce and they will most likely get angry with us. This means they’re learning they cannot keep avoiding personal responsibility. Until we are consistent and stay firm they will continue the same patterns and behaviors that allow the ed to run the show. And they often will continue resisting taking the recovery steps they need to take.

If you’re ready to get support to sort out what boundaries you can live with and are in alignment with your values, give us  a call. No one should have to do this alone.

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