I read a novel about three generations of women a while back which moved from granddaughter to mother to grandmother. At first, observing how the granddaughter was mistreated by her mother and grandmother, I was appalled. I felt the same way about how the mother was alternately abused and neglected by the grandmother. Then, finally, when I learned about the grandmother’s hard life, I had compassion for them all.
Going backwards and understanding what made each woman tick underscored the impact parents have on us, but also pointed to a direction in adulthood that frees us from our history. We are each imperfect—we say and do things to hurt other people and ourselves; we act on irrational thoughts; we live mindlessly; we’re sometimes selfless when we need to be selfish and selfish when we need to be selfless; we have limited abilities to see ourselves honestly and clearly, especially in the moment; in spite of hearing wise advice, we insist on finding out what works and what doesn’t for ourselves.
If you can see your parents as imperfect caretakers of your young self who had faulty ideas and opinions and convictions as you have today, you can get some distance from them. They had power over shaping you as a child, but have no power over you now emotionally. Stop taking their opinions so seriously and what they have to say so personally. They are flawed and not the gods we made them out to be when we were children. Stop being afraid of their disapproval or withdrawal of love. It no longer matters in any real sense to the quality of your life.
Alternately, demand to be treated as an adult. One of my favorite adages in therapy goes something like this: When your parents act like children (whiny, needy, throwing tantrums, sulking, etc.), don’t stoop to their level and act like a child too. Instead, act like an adult. Just because they’re not leading from their inner adult, doesn’t mean you can’t. When you’re with them, ignore the inner child in you and reach for the inner adult. After all, when two children are left in charge, you’ll never get anywhere. At least when you act from your inner adult, there’s one grown up in the room!
One of the problems that disregulated eaters have is that many are still working through emotional separation issues with parents—to be like or different from them, to be loved and accepted, to be included, to be valued, to belong. Instead, like, love, value, belong to, and accept yourself or find others to do so. Meet your parents eye to eye, equal to equal, on the same level, and it will help you outgrow your food problems.