Families Play Role In Development Of Eating Disorders

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Remuda Programs for Eating Disorders reports families often play a major part in both the development and healing of eating disorders.

"Part of our treatment program includes Family Week and this occurs mid-way through a patient's stay at Remuda," said Amy Wasserbauer Ph.D., assistant clinical director at Remuda Programs for Eating Disorders. "Families are very much a part of the puzzle of eating disorders. There are biological, psychological, cultural, and family reasons why a person has an eating disorder."

Some of the common characteristics of the families that Remuda treats include:

-- Distant fathers

-- Chaotic families or families with substance abuse problems

-- Mother's high expectations for daughter and/or demanding parents

-- Parents who openly foster sibling rivalries

-- Over-controlling or domineering parents

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-- Father's depression, rigidity, or excessive self-discipline

-- Marital conflict

-- Parents' sexual relationship problems

-- High levels of parent-daughter stress and family tension

-- Fathers who are chronically ill

"Another common thread we see are family members who are disconnected from their own feelings and become emotionally distant from others," said Wasserbauer. "Many families come to Family Week disillusioned because they feel they're a close family, but when they begin to understand that their loved one with the eating disorder never experienced validation for her feelings, felt unimportant because they never listened to her needs, they begin to see that although they did a lot of activities together, they weren't connected emotionally."

Family members often come to treatment with fear, carrying their own shame and guilt about why their loved one is struggling. Family Week challenges families to stop pretending, to get honest, and learn to be accepted for their failures and humanness.

Research shows that positive family support can open the door for healing. If a patient doesn't have the family's support, it's much easier for her to relapse in the future.

"The most important thing a family can do is listen to one another, validate emotions and be careful not to judge," adds Wasserbauer. "This often means they need to make time during the week to be together without distractions like cell phones and the TV, so they can really hear each other."

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