Left alone many of you could probably eat quite “normally” much of the time. By left alone, I mean if people didn’t intrude into your lives. As much as they add joy to our world, humans can also be sources of stress, particularly when they’re what I call very difficult people (http://eatingdisordersblogs.com/difficult-people/). The problem is how VDPs press our buttons, causing us to react without thinking.
Doctors Rick Brinkman and Rick Kirschner offer excellent advice on how to behave around VDPs to reduce stress and improve relationships in their book, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst (McGraw-Hill, 1994). They help you understand what people want by breaking them down into four “intent” categories so that you can respond appropriately to others’ priorities.
1) When people want to get a task done, you’ll feel pressure to move quickly. To help them recognize that you understand their goal, it helps to be direct and on topic, and to keep your questions or answers to a minimum number of words.
2) When people want to get a task done right, you’ll also feel their pressure to do an outstanding, not just a mediocre, job. To ally with them, let them know that doing your best is important to you, and focus on getting details right as much as you can.
3) When people want to get along with you, you’ll feel their desire to have you cooperate and contribute to a mutual effort. In this case, you’ll want to be friendly and considerate of their feelings and show how much you value the relationship.
4) When people want your appreciation or gratitude, you’ll feel their need for praise or compliments. Your best approach is to be enthusiastic about what they’re doing.
Of course, understanding what others want is only half the story. No matter what’s going on, you’ll want to be a good listener, hear someone out, and try to find common ground with them. Many dysregulated eaters who were abused in childhood take everything that’s said to them personally and quickly get defensive. Highly sensitive to criticism or differences of opinion, they go passive and become a “yes” person or go on the attack.
Once a discussion becomes a fight about who’s right, there can be no winners. If the other person won’t back down, sometimes the best strategy is to drop the subject (for the moment). It’s also crucial to admit and apologize when you’re wrong, not just allude to it, but offer a heartfelt “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong” without minimizing its wrongness. Improving at handling relationships will prevent you from getting emotionally triggered and turning to mindless eating to re-regulate.