Dear Client, Thanks For Being Angry With Me
Tiffany Haug, MS, RDN, EDOC
I wish a lot of things.
One of them being there was no such thing as anger. It’s an uncomfortable emotion to feel, much less when another’s anger is directed towards me.
Recently I met with a client that was very angry with me in session. My immediate instinct was to figure out how to help diffuse the anger—because being the object of anger was uncomfortable and anxiety provoking for me as a clinician.
After the session ended, I reflected on what happened. I also received some incredible wisdom from colleagues who helped me realize a few things:
This client had one true core need in that moment—To be able to express a tabooed emotion—instead of faking the more socially accepted facade of pleasantness.
They needed to have this emotion be permitted by me, their clinician.
Once I realized the above two things, I have looked back on this experience with feeling more honored than anything—that the client chose to show their true emotions with me. I’ve also begun to look back at the experience feeling incredibly proud of the client being brave enough to express her anger so authentically.
I’ve also started to deeply recognize how finding safe environments to express anger is paramount in eating disorder treatment and recovery. How many times does anger pop up in the lives of our clients and they suppress it, only to find themselves engaging in a maladaptive coping behavior such as self-loathing, restriction, bingeing, or some form of purging to release that anger in self-destructive way?
It happens ALL THE TIME.
Emotions demand to be felt. Let’s say we replaced the emotion of happiness with anger for a second—how would one possibly be able to live a healthy life if—let's say—it was taboo to express happiness. What a miserable and dark life that would be. This is because emotions are not only intrinsic phenomena, but are truly only fully experienced when we are able to express them extrinsically. Of course, there are destructive and productive ways to express emotions—and the goal is the latter, but they still need to be released into the extrinsic world to complete their life cycle.
One parallel process that comes to mind is Intuitive Eating. How can I as a provider teach a client to learn to practice Intuitive Eating—which involves stepping into mindfulness and listening and trusting their bodies, cravings, and hunger and fullness cues—if I am simultaneously disallowing them to express uncomfortable emotions such as anger? There is an enormous overlap with Intuitive Eating and learning to value our own emotions and intrinsic experiences in life, even if they are unpleasant.
In my own personal eating disorder past, a lot of the behaviors stemmed from expressed anger that was invalidated, which soon became unexpressed anger that was self-directed. No one wants to be punished for feeling an emotion that they can’t control.
What would have happened if my anger had been met with the response of “Tiffany, thank you for trusting me to let me into what you are feeling right now. Thank you for letting your guard down.” I can’t ever know what could have been, but I betcha that would have made an enormous impact in feeling validated. This is what I want to provide to my clients, because it is a core human need and paramount in recovery—a safe space to be able to express authentic, and many times unpleasant emotions.
So for all those in recovery, those who are recovered, or those of you who are still very much in the depths of your eating disorder, remember this; It’s okay and valid to be angry. Please find someone safe that you can express your anger with in a healthy way.
And to all my brave past, current, and future clients,
Thanks for being angry with me.
I am truly honored.
Tiffany Haug, MS, RDN, EDOC is a Master's level Dietitian in San Diego who specializes in helping individuals with Eating Disorders make peace with food and their bodies. Tiffany knows that working through recovery can be incredibly hard. Being herself recovered for almost a decade, she is incredibly honored to now be able to give back by supporting her clients along this challenging, but so-very-worth-it journey. In addition to being an Eating Disorder Dietitian, Tiffany serves as the Education Chair for the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP) San Diego Chapter and works as a Pediatric Dietitian at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego. Learn more about Tiffany here.