February 15, 2013


To Tell Or Not To Tell

Perhaps you are just starting to think about having weight loss surgery. Maybe you’ve made the decision but haven’t yet had the procedure or you’ve already had surgery and are on the other side of this life-changing decision.

No matter where you are on your journey, there is no doubt you will have to make many related decisions along the way, including whom you will tell – and who you will not tell.

Do you tell everyone? Not tell anyone? How do you decide who to tell? How do you tell people? What, exactly, do you say?

Is it really “a secret?”

“Secret” has many definitions, including “not expressed,” “not revealed,” “kept private,” “concealed,” “kept from public knowledge” and “kept from the knowledge of certain persons,” to name just a few. Obviously, this is a very personal decision and one you should make for yourself, based on your feelings and needs. As with any major life choice, who you decide to share your decision with is completely up to you. And certain considerations should be taken into account.

You will need and want support in order to continue being successful.

Regardless of where you are in the process, you will want to be discriminating when it comes to sharing intimate details about your life, your health and your medical issues. This means that the people in your life who are “emotionally safe” and who you already trust with your “real self” are the people who will be there with you and for you as you go through the process of weight loss surgery. It is critical for you to have emotional and social support, in addition to medical, nursing and nutritional support, throughout the entire process. It is always in your best interest to obtain true support from as many sources as possible. BeckyOnTheBeach is clear on who is emotionally safe in her life and who is not: “I have seen how my sister-in-law has talked negatively about a mutual friend who had the surgery. My mother-in-law attributes more self-worth to people who are thin. I really don’t want to risk telling them ahead of time. I don’t want to debate with anyone why I feel that I need the surgery. It is my decision and I’m confident that it is the right decision for me.”

You will not want or need any negative influences around you.
The reality is that you don’t have the luxury of allowing unsupportive words or negative behaviors in your life, no matter what the issue is. None of us do. The destruction caused by unsupportive influences is enormous. So, take this opportunity to notice which of your relationships may not have strong, healthy boundaries. You will know this is the case if others are actively critical and unsupportive of you, either with their words or through their actions. Pay attention to how you feel inside when someone says or does something and honor these feelings. Know that it is within your power to create healthy boundaries in your relationships. As SmileyGirl knows, it is not helpful to open yourself up to unsupportive influences: “I asked my parents how they felt about the surgery after I had my first visit with my surgeon and neither of then had good things to say.” SmileyGirl chose to surround herself with supportive influences instead.

Creating healthy boundaries in your relationships is essential.
Easier said that done, right? Maybe you don’t know exactly what a healthy boundary looks like or feels like or sounds like. It can be anxiety-provoking to create changes in your relationships. And it can be challenging to assert yourself in your relationships if this is something you are not familiar with. Seek the support of someone who can help you with changing relationships, such as a counselor or your clergy person.

Know what your needs are.

Being able to create healthy boundaries in your life means that you must first be aware of what your real needs are. For those of us who may have spent a long time replacing our real needs with food and drink, it may take time for us to be able to identify what our real needs are. Our real needs include the emotional, psychological, social, physical, sexual, financial, spiritual and cultural aspects of our lives. Although he may have mixed feelings, Frasier is clear on his needs: “I have mixed feelings about telling people about my RNY. Most people have been supportive but some see it as ‘the easy way out.’ I just want to be me. Not the one who had WLS”. We may have to sit with ourselves quietly and patiently (and without our food or drink) until we can strengthen our connection to “self” in order to become clear about what our real needs may be in any given moment. Then we can begin to determine how to get our real needs met. One of the first steps we can take, even before we are totally clear on what our needs are, is to establish healthy boundaries with others. Jenny003 knows what her needs are and is acting accordingly. “I wish not to tell anyone else in my family until after the surgery and I don’t wish to tell anyone in my personal community until after surgery either. I’ve seen how the community and friends reacted to my friend doing this, and honestly, I don’t want the negative words around me right now! I need positive support.”

What does a healthy boundary look like? What does it sound like?
When you were growing up, was it ok to say how you felt? Or were your feelings and needs disregarded? Was it chaotic at home, with no focus on your needs at all? If any of this is true, it may have been hard for you to learn to identify your needs, trust your needs, express them and believe that they would be met. You can practice incorporating phrases into your vocabulary that will give you the space and time you need to tune in, get clear and make your own best decisions. For example: “Let me think about how you can support my efforts.” “I’d like to ask you not to _________.” “It would be so helpful to me if you would _________.” “Let me think about that and get back to you.” These are all helpful ways to begin creating respectful boundaries. If others do not respect your boundaries or if more harm is done than good in a relationship, you always have the option to choose the “no contact” boundary as a last resort. JLJohnson found out that even those who are supportive can overstep a comfortable boundary. “I told my family about (the surgery) of course, and they are now my new food police.” Choosing to tell others about your WLS provides a wonderful opportunity to practice putting new, firm boundaries into place in a loving, kind and respectful manner with those who mean well, but may not know exactly how to go about supporting you.

They call it a GUT instinct for a reason!

As you move through life, it is always your prerogative to make decisions about who you will share your personal information with - and who you will not. We’ve all learned the hard way that it pays to be discriminating when it comes to sharing the intimate details of our lives. FluffiGal struck a nice balance for herself by paying careful attention to what she already knew... “I kept my WLS a secret from my family. I have told people who may need WLS, but not my overly judgmental family members.” Sit with yourself, be still and listen. Listen to what your gut is telling you, listen to your voice inside, honor your intuitions, as well as your concerns, fears and anxieties. Don’t dismiss them. Very often they are trying to get your attention for a reason. Notice their message and consider it when deciding what to share with whom.

A gentle and loving “no” can be the path to a whole lot of “yes”.
It can be hard to say “no.” That’s how most of us got to where we are – by taking care of others... others’ feelings, others’ wants and others’ needs. We took care of others much better than we were taking care of our own feelings, wants and needs. By the time we are able to say “no” to others, we may be so frustrated that it comes out all wrong. Saying “no” to others, in a loving, kind, gentle and respectful manner, is one way to start saying “yes” to you. Sometimes, silence is the simplest way to say “no.” If you are not meeting your obligations to yourself, should you really be making obligations to others?

If you are not practicing good self-care, how will those around you learn good self-care? And, if you aren’t certain that you deserve the absolute best care possible, it may be time to focus on your relationship with your Higher Power, with self, with clergy or with an effective therapist or coach. OH member Wonderling offers a fine example of how to establish a boundary by respectfully saying “No.” She recently wrote, “If family and friends aren’t supportive, I don’t let it bother me and have even told them my surgery was something I didn’t want to talk with them about.” A nice clear message.

In the end, it’s all about balance.

So, what do you give to yourself and what do you give away? In the end, it’s all about balance. Balance the information you share with others against your needs for privacy, emotional safety, your need for empathy, understanding, and support and any other needs that may be relevant for you. Trust what you have already learned about the people you know. If they haven’t been emotionally safe in the past, odds are they will not be emotionally safe now. The most important thing to recognize is that only you can decide what your personal needs are and who and what will make you the most comfortable. Support from others is wonderful and should be sought. In this pursuit as in most others, self-knowledge is the best place to begin. Nurture this self-knowledge and draw upon it always.

Melissa Lester, MSW, LCSW

Melissa Lester, MSW, LCSW is a therapist in private practice in Roswell, Georgia specializing in “The Anderson Method,” a psychotherapy approach to lifelong weight control.