Identity is a grouping of attributes, qualities and values that define how we view ourselves, and perhaps how we think other people see us. From speaking to friends and from reading blogs online it seems identity is something a lot of teenagers and young adults struggle with. Who am I? What do I want to do with my life? When you have struggled with an eating disorder it can be hard to sepperate the “real you” from the “eating disordered you”. It can feel like the two have merged together.
Sometimes I think the eating disorder is a way of numbing out your identity. You become so consumed by the illness it doesn’t leave space for figuring out who you are. You don’t need to think about things you don’t want to. You don’t need to be anything else than what the eating disorder dictates to you. You don’t need to wonder do I like him or her? What are my ambitions/goals? What will I do in the future? How can you think about the future and life changing decisions when you can’t even decide what to have for your next meal or whether to even have it.In that sense having an eating disorder can be a relief. Until you try to find an identity outside of the eating disorder and realise how much of your time and life it has taken up.
Identity is something is something we can feel of unsure of at times in our lives. Recovery is more than establishing a healthy weight and relationship with food. I think a crucial part of the eating disorder recovery process is discovering who you are without the eating disorder and finding out what purpose it has in your life.It’s about creating an identity outside of rules, restrictions and numbers. One of the hardest parts of recovery can be accepting yourself as you are, without the eating disorder.
Maybe its much easier when you are uncertain about who you are to begin to define yourself by numbers and how much you weigh and how much you eat.Then that becomes your identity and you don’t have to worry about who you really are. When you lose weight you also lose yourself. But if you don’t feel like you have an identity in the first place then it feels like there isn’t much to lose really.
Identity can be formed from the labels we place upon ourselves, the roles we undertake, the activities we complete. When we lose our identity and sense of self, we are likely to seek our sense of self-worth from others. It becomes very important how others view us, as our sense of value and self-worth, our feelings of confidence, are dependent on external factors. How do people define themselves without the external validation of others?
Social reinforcement can play a factor in reinforcing eating disorder beliefs and behaviours. Some people may be unaware that the individual in question is struggling with an eating disorder and praise them for their weight loss or comment on recovery weight gain.The other day at work I said Hi to someone and they replied “I was going to say Hi skinny girl but I can tell you have gained”. I know they meant it as a positive thing but it can make the disordered voices in my head go a little crazy.
Achieving a thin body can give an individual a sense of pride and accomplishment, which can be a source of self-esteem and therefore provide a sense of identity. A person may begin to feel as though the eating disorder is their only sense of identity and that there is too much to lose if they recover.
Sexuality can also form part of an individuals identity. As a result of a low body weight an individual can lose interest in sexual activity. The eating disorder then becomes a protective mechanism from intimate contact or relationships which can prevent an individual from exploring or addressing their sexuality.
The thing with identity is that we can create it.It is fluid and changes during our lifetime and its not defined by just one thing.I am grateful that I have the chance to regain my health and control from the eating disorder in order to go to university and study nursing to help others. I think its important to find a passion for something and have interests that make life worthwhile and fulfilling, that way the craving for the eating disorder may lessen. Identity is often linked with having a sense of purpose in life.
Having an eating disorder will change you as a person. You will not be the same person after recovery as you were before the eating disorder. This is not always necessarily a bad thing. Through recovery and from experiencing an eating disorder you can learn a lot about yourself and other people. I believe having an eating disorder has given me a greater desire to help others and made me more empathetic. You can also learn more about yourself and grow as an individual. Therefore I believe having an eating disorder and recovering can shape you as an individual in a positive way.
An eating disorder identity is like a mask. You fear you cannot live without it but you know you cannot live within it.It feels like a safe cocoon but really I know its just a cage that keeps you trapped. It takes courage to step outside your comfort zone and discover the person you are beyond the eating disorder.
Do you struggle with identity and what has helped you?