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A friend of mine recently sent me a text about the connection between eating disordered behaviors and the lack of giving or receiving love. It got the wheels in my head turning and I had too much to say to respond via text. I decided instead to send an email with my thoughts. After re-reading my response, I decided to share a more fleshed-out version with the rest of you as it’s a topic that could be good for all of us to consider…

Heart“American psychologist Abraham Maslow created a hierarchy of needs based on his understanding of what motivates people. He postulated that when needs go unmet, the desire grows. Motivation then increases as the person aims to get the needs met.

Within the category of social needs, Maslow places love. When we don’t experience love, we long for it. We want to know we’re the apple of someone’s eye; to know that we’re cared for unconditionally. Without this, we can convince ourselves we’re not worthy of ever being loved and therefore hold love back from others.

This is where an eating disorder (ED) can enter the picture. Those with EDs may aim to get needs met through the behaviors they use. EDs are often about what the person is not saying…rather, they act out thoughts and feelings via restricting, binging, purging, overexercising, etc. What others, and sometimes those themselves with eating disorders, can’t see is that they may be crying out. They may be trying to say, ‘Love me! I need you to love me. I need you to understand me.’ And they can become broken when others are not able to do this. Enter in more ED behaviors and self-defeating cognitions.

Love is complex, but it’s something we all want/need; even when we can’t or don’t admit that. We can convince ourselves we don’t need love (or belonging, or community, or security, or…), but as Maslow explains, that’s not necessarily true. We’re motivated by such a need. It’s not a matter of ‘Eh, that’s not something I’m really interested in.’ We NEED love.

Because people in our lives are just that – PEOPLE — sometimes they don’t have the ability to love us in a way that makes sense to us. They may not even be aware that their own life story has contributed to this. What we find, however, is that we can look at those people and assume they know and are holding love back purposely. We can assume that people are doing things on purpose and we’re asking ‘What is wrong with this person?’ But the bottom line is that sometimes, many times, people aren’t aware of how their actions are influencing others, nor are they always aware that others aren’t necessarily doing something wrong, but it’s perceived as such based on their own thoughts and feelings. It then FEELS wrong.

It makes a lot of sense that the lack of love contributes to the development and maintenance of an ED. The disorder can then become the thing turned to for the things that are lacking. Somehow the ED will give what is needed. This is a complexity of ED. It becomes an identity; a security blanket that wraps itself so tightly around those who have found it.

Love is something everyone needs and when that feels like it’s not there, it can be as detrimental as not having shelter, drink, sleep. At the same time, however, we can’t be so quick to assume we’re not loved at all…”

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Last week I started reading “The 5 Love Languages: Singles Edition” by Gary Chapman and I must say I’ve learned a lot. In fact, I had a sort of “Ah-ha” moment as soon as I read the description on the back of the book. It seemed to make so much sense.

I’ve struggled many times when others, primarily my mom, ask me for a hug because to me, hugging doesn’t give me that loving feeling. It’s rarely been as important to me as to my mom. I would prefer doing something for her instead or having her do something for me. Prior to reading Chapman’s thoughts on the languages of love, I had assumed I just simply wasn’t an affectionate person. I never wanted hugs and kisses, but knew my mom loved me when she cleaned my room or left a note on my dresser. Yet mom wanted hugs nearly every time I was in the room with her.

Chapman explains that there are different ways individuals feel loved. For my mom, physical touch seems to be her primary love language and for me, it’s acts of service and/or words of affirmation. He says once we understand the way others feel loved, we can then begin to speak their love language.

Some may be skeptical, but if you think about it I’m sure you will see that there are certain ways you too feel more loved. Pick up a copy of “The 5 Love Languages” and discover for yourself what Chapman is talking about. I got my copy from Amazon for just $1.68 and you probably have that much in pennies at the bottom of your change jar. The book is an easy read and can benefit us no matter what type of relationships we have. The singles edition speaks about significant others, coworkers, parents, children, etc. I hear the other editions are just as great.

Relationships aside, however, what can we do to love ourselves? I know that I feel loved in many ways, primarily when someone does something for me or tells me I’ve done a great job. Those are the moments I feel warm and fuzzy inside thinking, “They really do care about me.” However, I must care about me enough to do good things for myself and to affirm the things I do well. This will build up a self-love that for many of us is so desperately needed. After all, in order to love others we must first love ourselves.

What can you do today to love who you are, where you’re from or the life you’re living? Buy yourself something small, tell yourself you’ve done a great job, give yourself a hug… whatever may help you feel loved by you.

Just something to think about…

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