The Effects of Eating Disorders on Siblings

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
May/June 2007 Volume 18, Number 3
©2007 Gürze Books

So-called “backburner kids,” brothers and sisters of patients with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, often are afraid at first to ask questions or to learn more about their sibling’s eating disorder. As Dr. Cheryl Dellasega reported in her survey of 30 mothers and responses to phone interviews with 26 mothers and fathers, after the initial fears, anger and resentment arose as the illness progressed and attention was centered on their sister or brother with an eating disorder. Sometimes parents were accused of allowing the ill child to manipulate or take advantage of them, which caused discord in the family. Empathy and/or support occurred when some siblings tried to “rescue” their siblings or to “cure” the disorder. Brothers and sisters also felt like they were on the backburner as attention continued to be focused on their sibling and the disorder; this apparently also affected siblings who no longer lived at home. Dr. Dellasega recommended that after recovery, a negotiation of sibling relationships is often needed in order for the family to return to “normal” functioning. Dr. Sellasega reported the study at the 2006 International Conference on Eating Disorders in Barcelona.

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