On day four of the recovery challenge, we’re supposed to honestly say whether we have emotionally harmed anyone (besides ourselves) with our addiction/disorder. This is a hard one for me, because with respect to my eating disorder, my answer would be “No”. That doesn’t mean I’ve not harmed people emotionally because of my mental health problems.
Generally speaking, it is not cool to admit you’ve harmed others because of your mental illness. Then again, a lot of family members of the mentally ill do consider being victimized to abuse by the mentally ill person a regular consequence of mental illness. Why is it that people with mental illness don’t want to admit that they can do harm with their disorder? Probably it’s because we don’t want to be seen as bad people, and actually many of us have experienced abuse ourselves. It seems pretty much impossible to find someone who will admit they’ve been abused and yet they are harming others themselves. There is a forum on iSurvive for abuse survivors who abuse others, but that’s about it. I understand it is hard for victims to admit they cause harm to others themselves, but you have to be completely honest about your own actions in order to heal.
I have caused emotional harm to others because of my mental health conditions in several ways. The first is engaging in the addictive behavior in front of others. I have never binged in front of my husband or parents, but I have self-harmed in front of them.
Then there is the emotional unavailability because of the addiction/disorder. I remember one day my mother wanted to talk to me and I ignored her and started eating candy. I also believe that I may not be as available to my husband as I could be. I don’t know whether this is due to my eating disorder – as I said, I don’t binge in front of him, but food is on my mind often. It also could be my general self-centeredness which may or may not be due to any of my mental health conditions.
Then there is the anger issue. This is not caused by my eating disorder or self-harm, but more often the other way around. Both my borderline personality disorder and my autism though have caused me to act out towards others. This is the worst way in which I’ve harmed people emotionally. Except during my teens according to my mother, I haven’t been physically violent, but I have been verbally aggressive often. I can’t be sure that the urge to overeat has never contributed to this behavior. IN fact, usually at least compulsive or rigid behavior has. I mean, if I’ve gotten it in my head that we’re going to do X, the idea of doing Y often sets me off. It is possible that X more often than would be considered normal involves food.
The thing is, mental health problems make people emotionally hurt others. They also are common in people who have been the victims of emotional or other forms of abuse. This is why the cycle of abuse usually doesn’t end with one victim. And it has to end. If you’re suffering with an addiction/disorder, admit that it causes harm to others too. That doesn’t make your own traumatic experiences not valid.