how invalidation leads to empowerment and trust in ed recovery

The important yet, challenging nature of developing trust in eating disorder recovery is often highly underestimated. Trusting relationships, both with ourselves and with others, allow us to accept our truths and therefore present us with the option of creating change.


My treatment team has ever so kindly (!) reminded me that at times, I am powerless to my eating disorder. In fact, my providers have told me that I cannot yet trust myself to recognize my own hunger and fullness cues. As I’m working towards getting back in touch with my intuition, this makes it complicated and often feels defeating. It’s disheartening to be told that I cannot trust myself with human’s most essential, physiological needs and it makes me feel disconnected from my truest sense of self. (Note: I know they’re really telling me I can’t trust my eating disorder’s deception, not that I can’t trust myself, but often they feel one in the same.)

How can I trust myself with anything else if I can’t even trust that I can feed myself?

In order to regain a sense of self-trust, I’ve been told I need to fully surrender. Not the waving white flag surrender, but the letting go type of surrendering, which grants permission to listen to and abide by my treatment team no matter what. Surrendering is a way of taking responsibility for being who I am and is a necessary prerequisite for learning to trust and listen to my own being and intuition. But damn it’s scary to take the plunge! If only it was as seemingly fearless as Lady Gaga’s leap of faith:

I’ve been thinking about the role treatment plays in recovery and in necessary cultivation and development of trust. Treatment in a way is really an experience just like everything else that has impacted our lives, and despite how it may seem, is not isolated. One’s experience in treatment can absolutely enhance or hinder progress in treatment, and I can personally attest to this.

I’ve been in treatment where I was flat out bullied;

I’ve been in treatment where I felt “less than” as a result of non-inclusive language regarding the queer community;

I’ve been in treatment where my experience was significantly hindered as a result of (false) claims that centers were equipped to treat comorbidities commonly associated with eating disorders (e.g. PTSD);

and I’ve been in treatment where I have felt invalidated and misunderstood by providers.

By no means am I attempting to undermine or discredit the life-saving treatment I have received, but rather, I want to share some musings on how experiences in treatment can impact our recovery by mimicking potential “real life” experiences.

Given the proud nerd I am, I turned to Google Scholar to help me find some evidence-based information. Overall, treatment has fostered a newfound sense of confidence in trusting others for me, but there have been times when my eating disorder has fought this with a vengeance and side of self-doubt. I knew just from the relatively small community of people I’ve met in treatment, that my experiences in treatment were not unique.

Fogarty and Ramjan (2016) conducted a study in which they focused on the qualitative factors that impacted treatment and recovery in patients with anorexia. The results identified that “being understood, hope (life after anorexia), and self-acceptance were considered among the top three important factors in the treatment and recovery from anorexia”.


Out of all of the challenging experiences I’ve faced in treatment, one of my biggest triggers is the feeling of not being understood and feeling invalidated in my experiences. The fact that “being understood” was identified as a crucial factor in treatment made me feel (ironically?) understood and validated. The researchers further developed a list of elements that contributed to participants feeling unsupported including, not being heard, or understood, control taken away, being infantilized, threats and punishments.

Here’s the thing about invalidation: Not only does it imply that what you are trying to say is not really being heard in the way you are intending, but it also implies that your thoughts and feelings are being disapproved of and rejected because they are deemed “wrong” or “inappropriate”.

Emotional invalidation, that which occurs when our feelings are repudiated, feels like a personal attack at the deepest level, since it is our feelings that represent and reflect our innermost expression of our individual identities. Invalidation undermines self-confidence because it causes self-doubt, and self-doubt is not conducive to coping with recovery or change. Invalidation violates the sense of self where it hurts the most and cuts right through it.

Empowerment is one antidote to invalidation, and so I’m working on being that needed listener to my own voice, on finding other outlets that feel more in line with my needs.

I want to be able to listen and know that I’m hearing my authentic voice, even if it’s just a whisper, and not doubt it. I want to trust my moments of clarity because they are real and they are signs that my intuition is revitalizing, and there’s nothing more authentic or validating than that.

In strength and healing,


how invalidation leads to empowerment and trust in ed recovery
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