Thursday, September 11, 2008

Your emotional age

Emotional Age. This is something I've always been curious about. People will say they are 50 but feel like they are 30 or vice versa. However, with those who have struggled with eating disorders, I've heard different things.

For example, I've heard people say that you are stuck at the emotional age in which your ED began. They say that through recovery, you have to play catch up from that age to your current chronological age.

I can see where this notion might come about, especially from those who theorize that a cause of an eating disorder is about escaping or fearing adulthood and responsibility. Or even from the social aspect of life since an eating disorder often has a tendency to isolate. Some people I've known have said that the ED socially "stunted" them, and they've had to relearn things at an older age where their peers have already dealt with it. This was especially evident of those people I knew who developed an eating disorder early in their adolescent years.

For some reason, even though logically, I can see this theory, I don't feel it. I hardly think or feel like I am 15 or 16 years old which is when the ED developed. Far from that really. Heck, even at that age, I was way ahead of my peers in maturity.

I don't know what kind of "emotional age" I'd label myself. I doubt it really matters to be honest. However, I do think the idea of emotional and physical age is interesting whether ED'd or non-ED'd. I've certainly known people who were 25 but acted like they were 12.

I'm interested if people understand what I'm talking about or if this makes no sense at all. Maybe someone can enlighten me or clarify for me.


kb said...

I wonder if this is part of the "emotional intelligence"-sort of research. I haven't read the research, but I know of the theories involved. And while I don't disagree, I also don't think that I agree 100%.
As for this theory, I don't believe that the eating disorder "stunted" me. I've managed, DESPITE the eating disorder, to live a very full life, in some respects (externally, I suppose, but also in terms of relationships). I don't think that being "emotionally young" has anything to do with an eating disorder. As you say, there are plenty of people in the world who are older but act quite young, in every way.
I really would hate to group or label all those with an eating disorder as emotionally immature. Don't we get a bad rap as it is?
(Okay, I'm projecting there, but you know what I mean. Maybe?)
- Kristina

Gaining Back My Life said...

When I developed my ED at 15, I started a lifetime of using unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the stressors of life.

I'm a natural introvert, so I'm not sure if it was the ED that stunted my 'emotional growth', but I am definately not an articulate verbal communicator.

Interesting post, Tiptoe.

Tiptoe said...

Kristina, yes, I think it could be a part of the Emotional Intelligence research, though that research is so controversial. There is a lot of debate about how to define EI and how to really measure it. There are a variety of different theories and none seem to completely agree with each other.

I did find a few interesting EI research with bulimia and negative affect. There was also a lot of research with EI and alexithymia.

I agree with you that the label of "emotional immaturity" doesn't need to be added to eating disorders. However, there is some social type component that I don't know how to explain well.

Gaining, glad you found the post interesting. I think a lot of people with EDs are more introverted. I know I am for sure.

It's hard to say whether the ED had an impact on your emotional growth or whether it was due to other factors.

Ai Lu said...

You have given me some interesting things to think about, Tiptoe.

In respect to my own maturity and my own eating disorder (which I know most about), I actually think that in some ways I was almost TOO mature when I developed my ED -- that is, I had assumed some adult responsibilities at a time when I wasn't really ready to take them on. My eating disorder, in a sense, was a way to "slow down" or "tune out." I had to learn to be a child again, to let go of some of my urges to control things, in order to recover.

In the process of having an ED, I was socially isolated in some respects -- though in retrospect, speaking with other friends from college, I see how so many of us felt isolated: from ourselves, from each other, and from the world around us. The onset of ED usually occurs in adolescence, a time when other disorders also make their first appearance (such as depression, conduct problems, anxiety, etc.). I don't think that it is odd at all to experience difficulty growing up, and I wouldn't necessarily associate those difficulties with ED per se, but rather with the whole developmental pathway from childhood to adulthood.

Anonymous said...

The way it has been explained to me is that, regardless of whether you behaved/responded to the world in a mature way or not, eating disorders can significantly impair one's expected achievement of Erik Erikson's stages of psychosocial development ...

... trust vs. mistrust; autonomy vs. shame and doubt; initiative vs. guilt; industry vs. inferiority; identity vs. role confusion; intimacy vs. isolation; generativity vs. stagnation; and, finally, integrity vs. despair.

The idea being if you miss or don't master one stage, you become "stuck" there b/c the stages build upon one another. So, though you may go through the motions of "doing life" as expected, the tasks of personality haven't been internalized.

Additionally, family and peer response to eating disorder behavior, mood, degree of illness and complications, and interruption of ability to function probably affects a patient's affect and emotional age. If you're treated with kid gloves and live at home and/or maybe regarded or labeled as ineffectual, you are more likely to live up to expectations, only underscoring developmental gaps.

I think the concept of transference in therapy relationships works toward this end. I don't think a person need go back to a chronological age and work through a phase in order to accomplish the task of integrating them into a functional and fulfilling life that is emotionally healthy and builds toward self-actualization. Essentially retracing the steps for developing the coping skills to conquer the issues that hold us back and for which the eating disorder has served as a bookmark/placeholder of sorts.

Tiptoe said...

Ai Lu, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think there is definitely a subset of eating disorder sufferers who were "too mature" growing up. It makes sense how the ED could be a way to slow down as you say it was for you.

You are right that adolescence is a tough time all around, ED or not.

Tiptoe said...

Anon, thank you for your response. I had completely forgotten about Erikson's theory of psychosocial development even though I did study it in college. I remember the whole concept that each stage builds upon the next. It does make sense, but at the same time, it seems so incredibly simplistic. But then again, maybe I'm just making it more complicated than it really is.