Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Gaining Back Trust


Describe Express Assert Reinforce Mindful Appear Confident Negotiate

The first time I encountered Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)  was back in 1999, and let’s just say that when I first began, I was anything but cooperative.  I really had no faith that this type of treatment could help with anything, let alone the reasons that landed me in the hospital.  But, by the time I finished my rather long inpatient stay, I had been converted enough to agree to the outpatient program.  And by the time I finished the outpatient program, I had been converted enough to drive two hours one way one night a week for skills group for the following year.

The acronym DEAR MAN comes from DBT, hence my little intro of me and DBT.  The reason for this?  I got an excellent question on my Questions and Topics page from someone who developed her eating disorder while living with her parents.  She is now in college and in recovery, but is home for the summer and is finding that her parents are not trusting this new stage of recovery and make comments about her weight and her eating habits and then she gets defensive and then the parents react and well, I think most of us have experienced what comes next.  She ends her comment with the main questions of “are you ever able to gain your loved ones’ trust back?”.

I’ll address that question first, since it’s the easiest to answer.  Yes, you can gain back trust.  No, it is not easy, and yes, it will take some time.  After going to college, I never lived at home again, but I still had to regain my family’s–and my friends’–trust.  At first, I did go through the stage of constantly feeling like I was being watched and having to answer way more loaded “how are you doing?” questions than before I went to treatment. All I can offer here is that time really is the key factor.  Time and consistency.  Friends and loved ones need to see you doing well and not acting on symptoms for a good period of time to trust that it isn’t a calm period in the eating disorder leading up to another relapse but really is the real deal.  How long this takes will vary from family to family and will also depend on the length and severity of the illness.  But yes, with that time and consistency, you will show them that you can be trusted again.

However, promising eventual trust doesn’t help the current situation of comments on food, eating habits, symptoms, and weight.  It may help you some to remember the fear your loved ones had of losing you while you were sick, so these questions are not meant to annoy you but to reassure them.  Of course, you’re still in the same situation, and here is where DBT and DEAR MAN may come in handy.  DEAR MAN is a method of discussing difficult subjects with people and a way of asking for something.  In this case the difficult situation is the lack of trust you feel and you would be asking them to stop asking so many questions.  The reason you would use DEAR MAN is because it helps both parties remain calm and focused, rather than reacting emotionally, which can lead to irrational arguments.

I would suggest asking your parents to sit down to talk one day.  Perhaps not near a meal time and not directly after they’ve asked a question about habits or weight.  You don’t want to enter this conversation when you are already ruled by emotions and are anything but calm.  When you talk to your parents, follow the acronym above.  This is your time to calmly describe how you feel when they ask their questions and to suggest alternative ways of handling the situation.  You want to avoid blaming statements and rely on those “I feel” statements we learned in treatment and therapy.  Back up your “I feel” statements with proof of how you are holding onto recovery–give specific examples.  And as far as negotiation is concerned, maybe you could have a weekly check in or, if you are in therapy, you could say that if you start to slip, you will bring it up with your therapist.

Gaining back our loved ones’ trust is something almost all of us who have struggled with an eating disorder or other addiction have had to go through.  It’s not an easy time, and I wish I could say there was a given length of time that it would take.  The more you are able to remain calm and not react emotionally, the easier this time will be for you, however.  I wish you the best through this and hope that some of this wordy response helped.


May 31, 2011 - Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Thank you so much! Your words are incredibly helpful as usual. The DEAR MAN acronym will be very useful for this conversation and many others I’m sure. It’s reassuring to know that it isn’t impossible to gain back their trust!

    Comment by A C | May 31, 2011 | Reply

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