After reading Walter Vandereycken’s article, How ‘contagious’ can eating disorders be in the eyes of patients? I started to wonder why “contagion” was always considered a bad thing. The word definitely has a negative connotation — probably due to it’s frequency of use with “infectious” and “disease.” However, several definitions of the word address it pretty neutrally:
Definitions of contagious:
- from dictionary.com: tending to spread from person to person:
- from answers.com: transmissible by direct or indirect contact; communicable:
- from merriam-webster.com: exciting similar emotions or conduct in others
So, contagion can be a good thing. Walter’s article specifically addressed negative influences and bad examples that had contagious implications throughout a treatment center — which is probably more often the case — but I wanted to mention some of the positive “contagions” that I’ve personally experience in higher levels of care:
- finishing meals — when everyone around you is eating their meal, it’s easier to finish your own… even when it’s the last thing in the entire world that you want to do. there’s this understanding that it sucks but that you do it anyway. the drive to keep moving forward and pushing on is contagious.
- recovery-minded feedback — regardless of what you are actually thinking, it usually only takes a few people to pipe up and make some “yay recovery” statements for others to join in. if someone is having a bad night, the positive group-support is contagious. everyone wants to make him/her feel better (or most everyone). even if you felt triggered by this person for whatever reason, hearing others express concern and empathy somehow gives you a different perspective and elicits sympathy within yourself.
- friendships – people come into treatment all the time with “screw everyone here, I don’t give a damn about them” attitudes — and eventually discharge in tears as they leave all these friends and close relationships that they’ve formed throughout their time in treatment. the camaraderie is contagious.
- motivation to change — this one is really hit-or-miss, and completely depends on the kind of community that you have together in treatment. even one or two good or bad influences can change the entire atmosphere, though. when you have individuals who are really motivated and in a good place, that’s contagious — you look up to them and want that, too. now, you have a handful of negative influences in the group, and things can go downhill pretty fast. still, it works both ways.
these are just a few examples of positive contagions within treatment. sure, people pick up new food rituals, purging behaviors, self-harm that they never engaged in before, diet tricks, and all kinds of other dangerous habits in treatment. I’m sure lots of parents would consider the risks of sending their child to a residential facility (or any kind of higher level of care) not worth the benefit they may receive in that particular treatment, and in some cases they are probably right… but there are plenty of positive behaviors that are just as contagious in this eating disorder subculture, and I don’t want those to be overlooked or completely discounted.