Group therapy plays a crucial role in eating disorder treatment, providing participants both a sense of community and the chance to learn from one another’s experiences. Group therapy breeds relatability and a sense of collective bonding, alongside the opportunity to learn more about oneself. Even though relationships built in a group therapy setting differ slightly from relationships formed outside of treatment, they still offer the opportunity to participate in relational dynamics.
However, disagreements are inevitable.
Conflict is always a possibility, especially in a group therapy setting like the one eating disorder therapy offers. When a group of people come together, they bring with them their past experiences, unique styles, opinions, likes, dislikes and values. And sometimes when interacting with multiple people, conflicts can arise purely due to preferences directly or indirectly imposed on others. Ultimately, this can leave individuals feeling threatened and/or fearful, especially if they don’t want to accept this imposition of ideas as their own. A response of flight, fight or complete withdrawal often occurs, due to the sudden feeling of threatened safety.
So what to do? What is the best method of handling disagreements during eating disorder treatment? What are the best things to say when tempers flare and discomfort arises?
Achieve distance from the conflict
This maneuver can apply to everyone in the session. If an outburst occurs between two people and you feel unsettled just by watching, it’s okay to ask to step outside until it’s been resolved.
If you find yourself under fire during a session, it’s also acceptable for you to tell the other individual how you’re feeling (“I am uncomfortable having this discussion in front of everyone,” or “I don’t feel like I’m in a good state of mind to make this a productive conversation”) and ask for a recess (“Can we revisit this when I have a better grasp on my emotions?”). This move demonstrates self-control and respect for the other individual. If you know you need to step away before you say something regrettable, take the opportunity to do so without feeling ashamed. Peacefully excuse yourself from the moment and catch your breath elsewhere.
If you feel yourself growing angry during a discussion and you feel like lashing out, this is also a good time to politely step away for a moment. Notably, stepping away from a conversation does not show any sign of weakness; rather, it identifies control over one’s emotions and a consideration for the comfort of the others in the group. Usually people don’t enjoy watching an argument occur. Biting your tongue when you feel tempted to make a harsh comment not only prevents an argument from occurring, but maintains the peace of the session and the safety of those around you.
Use “I” statements to contextualize your feelings
If you do find yourself in a disagreement, keep in mind the value of “I” statements and the danger of “you” statements. By sticking to your feelings by saying, “I felt uncomfortable/angry/hurt earlier when I heard those comments,” you neither run the risk of falsely accusing the other, nor do you give the other any ammunition with which to contradict you. Additionally, you can offer vulnerability to the argument by letting the other know the impact of their words. If you admit to the hurt their comment causes you, it might force them to pause for a moment and think about the effects of their own words.
Contrarily, “you” statements automatically put the other on the defensive. Think about a time when someone said, “You did this or that.” Likely, your gut reaction is a denial. Defensive arguments aren’t usually productive, because a defensive headspace doesn’t allow one to reason soundly.
Slow down and rationalize
Arguments can quickly feel like listening to a fast-paced song – you hear the words without understanding what’s said in the moment. When an argument turns aggressive, neither person is heard. You might hear the words coming from their mouth, but are you really listening? Or, you might be speaking so fast in such anger that before you know it, you’ve said something you didn’t even mean to say. The result? Injured feelings and a guilty conscience.
In order to avoid such an explosion of emotion, simply take a breath and speak slowly and deliberately. Not only does this step allow you to be more intentional in your word selection, but it allows the other the chance to hear and listen to what you’re saying and to respond accordingly.
Lower your voice
Louder does not mean better. In fact, the louder the argument, the harder it is to truly listen to the other’s point of view. By lowering your voice, you can keep emotion to a minimum, which in turn allows for a more reasonable discussion. If you lower your voice and slow your speech, what was a bitter argument can suddenly become a reasonable discussion in which two people talk to come to an agreement.
Consider the other
Just as conflict arises in daily life, so too does it arise in counseling. However, the main thing to keep in mind, no matter when disagreements pop up, is the humanity of the other person. They want to feel seen, heard and understood just like you do. By taking a moment to understand their perspective as well as your own, disagreements can fall to the wayside and healthy conclusions can be reached.
Seeds of Hope utilizes group therapy for the purpose of building healthy relationships to create a springboard into building similar relationships outside of treatment. Call (610) 644-6464 today, to put effective eating disorder treatment programs to work in allowing you to reach and maintainer recovery.