Many dysregulated eaters believe they must take care of others to be loved, along with its corollary that they won’t be lovable unless they take care of others. This puts them in caretaking overdrive and living in a world of daily maxi-stress. Moreover, it deprives them of the joy and comfort of being taken care of by others so that they feel protected and cherished.

For mental health, the flow of emotional energy should look like this: dysregulated eater ↔ others. It should not look like this: dysregulated eater → others. Think of words like interdependence and mutuality to describe the dynamics. Notice that I use the term emotional energy. It’s not enough that someone does tasks for you to show their love, although this is an excellent way of expressing caring. For emotional health, there must be an easy exchange of empathy, active listening, compassion and support to and from one person to another. It’s not quite enough for you to take care of someone by always being the listener and comforter, while someone else only does tasks for you.

Dysregulated eaters who care for others at the expense of themselves believe that they won’t be lovable or loved any other way. They were raised by parents who were addicted, depressed, narcissistic or sociopathic. As children, they had to put others’ needs first or parental love would be withdrawn, they’d get scolded, punished or neglected, and would be told that they were selfish or ungrateful. The only way to survive such childhoods was to adapt and force the flow of caretaking outward while not expecting but wishing that it would flow in your direction more than once in a while.

Giving but not receiving care manifests itself in my clinical practice when clients complain that they: listen to people who either don’t ask them questions about themselves or don’t listen when they talk about their lives; go out of their way to be kind and compassionate to others who are, in turn, judgmental and critical of them; are often left feeling empty and alone; want more from relationships than what others can give them; try to solve this problem by doing more for people but find that others are often never satisfied and still don’t return the caretaking; or feel angry that they’re not getting enough but fear confronting others who might love them less for speaking up.

If you’re not getting what you need emotionally from friends, parents, adult children, siblings, neighbors or co-workers, something in your relationships is out of whack. Perhaps you’ve never had an emotionally balanced one and don’t know what that even looks like. Remember that people, not food, are meant to take care of us emotionally.

Best,

Karen

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