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Emotional Anorexia: Why Others Think You Are Difficult

By Shoba Sreenivasan, Ph.D. and Linda E. Weinberger, Ph.D.

Relationships are not simple. In fact, the closer your association with someone, the more complicated the relationship. In any relationship, one person’s needs and expectations intersect with the other person’s needs and expectations. Sometimes it is a smooth fit; but, other times it is a rocky ride.

Forming and maintaining loving, intimate relationships requires open communication, respect, giving of oneself, and tolerance. Successful relationships also include each partner helping the other achieve their needs, wants, and desires for themselves and as a couple.

While women and men want to be loving and considerate helpmates to their significant others, one party may not feel sufficiently recognized for their efforts because they receive little acknowledgement. This may cause them to believe that they haven’t done enough, and so they do even more. Such thoughts and behaviors can come at the cost of self deprivation of one’s own needs. If this continues, there may be a slow build-up of resentment and anger.

It’s important to recognize that to be loving and giving is healthy; but, to love and give at the cost of one’s psychological invisibility is clearly unhealthy. Anyone who submerges their needs to be valued, loved, appreciated, and complimented, and who suppresses their sense of being to the wants and desires of their partners, is going to risk “psychological starvation.” We call this emotional anorexia.

When you hit that “dark zone,” your psychological nutrition is poor. Much of what you are consuming is what we label, “high fat” negative emotions, such as, anger, worry, anxiety, bitterness, and pessimism. Emotional anorexia means that you are living in emotional starvation mode. Just as irritability and anger happen when your blood glucose levels go down, insufficient “psychological sugar” make your emotional “blood levels” also go down. You don’t have the good nutrients of joy, happiness, and excitement to keep you going.

Here are some signs that you are in emotional anorexia in an intimate relationship:

Sign 1: You try to avoid conflict by giving in to what the other person wants (again); you stop making demands (again); yet, you feel simmering resentfulness.

Sign 2: Soon, all you feel is deep irritation that results in an explosion of volcanic anger. Typically, this is over some small or even silly transgression by the other person, and usually occurs when you’re in a situation where you should be having fun (e.g., out to dinner or relaxing on the weekend).

Sign 3: Now you feel guilty; you feel like the “bad guy” because you can’t “just keep things fun and light” and “always” have to “ruin” a good time by bringing up the same old grievances.

Sign 4: You are caught in an emotional “catch-22.” If you speak up, you can’t control your emotions; and if you don’t, you find yourself boiling on the inside.

You have now become a “difficult person” who is “unpredictable” and “overreacts.”

What to do?

  1. Begin by stepping back and taking an assessment of your psychological nutrition.
  2. How many high fat negative emotions are you consuming in a day? How many positive low fat emotions?
  3. Don’t swallow the high fat emotions—when it hits your “tongue” spit it out.
  4. Begin to understand your emotional triggers.
  5. Change the ratio of high fat to low fat emotions, so that you consume far greater low fat emotions in your psychological diet.

You may ask, “Why do we not focus on having the other party change their behavior and be more helpful?” Because the desire to change oneself must be self-motivated. No one can “make” another person change. No amount of nagging, yelling, threatening, or simmering will change your partner if he or she doesn’t want to change. It doesn’t even matter if you are absolutely “right.”

Therefore, if you are experiencing emotional anorexia, regardless of whether you brought this on yourself or others influenced you to “go down that emotional starvation road,” the process of change rests on you.

If you make the effort to consume more low fat positive emotions, the very things you wanted–to be complimented and loved–will start to happen. A joyful person attracts joy. Really.

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