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Separation and Individuation

Over the decades, I’ve worked with scores of young adults who are trying to find their way in the world and make peace with food. Their issues often center around forging a new, comfortable adult identity and managing said identity around their families, which can be a highly stressful task. Well, no one ever said that growing up is easy.

Of course, the process of maturation goes far better when parents allow us to work out identity issues ourselves. That doesn’t mean leaving us to flounder, but for parents to be there as sounding boards and advice givers, but only upon request. Much of figuring out who we are and want to be is done through peers and the world at large. No one has it figured out in their 20s, I don’t care how great they look from the outside. This decade is meant for experimenting with values and lifestyles and learning from experience.

Many parents of disregulated eaters want their children to think, act, dress, eat, and look as they do or at least the way they’ve raised them. This rigidity makes it more difficult for you to become your own person. You shouldn’t have to be torn between pleasing your parents and pleasing yourself, but this situation is, sadly, often the case. It’s hard enough to figure out who you are when you don’t have tons of pressure (I remember my 20s some 40 years ago!), and can be exceedingly distressing when you’re not left to your own devices to work things through.

One problem is that as you move away from your first and primary group, the family, you’re simultaneously looking for a new group to belong to. Some of this natural and normal moving toward new others happens in the workplace or college. However, even gravitating toward peers doesn’t change the fact that you still wish to remain connected to your family as well. If they’re accepting of how you’re changing and who you’re turning into, all well and good. But very often they’re scared of losing the old you or frightened of the new you who you’re becoming and exert pressure for you to remain as you were. Although unfair, this is the case in many dysfunctional families.

My advice is to keep whatever connections you can with family and not worry too much about fitting in with them. You’ll fit in with other people and groups as time goes on. Try to tolerate the transition rather than force yourself to be like or unlike family members. Let them see where you’ve changed and where you haven’t, especially how you are still very much like them. Don’t demand that they accept you as you are, but simply continue to develop yourself while keeping your attachment, however tenuous, with them.