National Eating Disorders Association

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lovingkindness
20 year old niece

Hi,
I didn't see a forum for extended family so I hope you don't mind that I posted here. I have a 20 year old niece who has had disordered eating since age 11. She still hasn't gone through puberty (despite 3 doctors prescribing hormones which she refuses to take) and denies having a disorder or issues with food (we know she's bulimic). We (myself and other aunts & uncles and a few non-family individuals) have all expressed concern directly to our niece & her parents for the past 9 years about her health. We've received confusing answers from the parents (they've only admitted this year that they think she has a disorder) and we know they have had issues with food themselves over the years (but not as extreme as our niece). We know they all went to a therapist for a few months but nothing changed and from the confusing discussions we've had with the parents, we think the therapist ended the sessions because they didn't follow any of her recommendations. My sister (the mother) just wants the family to be supportive (which to her means not saying anything and just accepting our niece as she is - in fact, she said she & her husband view it as a disability & we all have to learn to live with it). We're all very upset and this came to a breaking point last week. The sister/aunt who hosted Thanksgiving and has 2 young children (8 & 11) decided (with her husband) that they couldn't have the disordered eating behavior in their house, especially on a food-focused holiday, and uninvited them. It sounds just awful when I write that but we (the extended family) are all sad and frustrated and told them they HAVE to get professional help. The uninvited family was/is very upset but we felt we finally had to make a bold move. Anyway, we're trying to figure out next steps and I thought you might have some guidance.

Thanks for listening.

2Joy2love
lovingkindness

Hi Lovingkindness,
I can tell that you love your niece and your sister very much, and that you and other family members are very concerned. You are in an interesting situation. I can tell you that love is very powerful. When my daughter was really sick with ED, she had an uncle that sent her post cards at the hospital she was staying at. He is an artist and he drew his own post cards and sent them. This touched her so much. She had other family members come and see her there, and she did not want to see them. They were loving and supportive, but she was so caught up in ED, she wanted to isolate herself. I can tell you now that she is doing so well, that she has a special place in her heart for those family members who were there for her. Her uncle calls and buys her art supplies, her grandparents took her and a friend out to a concert a few days ago.
something that is so hard to realize is that you cannot fix the ED, only she can. You can love and support her, but it has to come from her. My therapist taught me this when my daughter was struggling and I was so caught up in her disease. " I did not cause it, I cannot control it, I cannot cure it, she can cope with it. I am not her Savior," That seemed harsh to me at first, but it also gave me great power and comfort. You cannot cure her ED, only she has the power to cure the ED (support is so important). The coping part of that statement really bugged me at first. I have come to realize that our choices have consequences, If my daughter decides to hide food than she will have a consequence, and I need to let that happen and let her cope or deal with them.
My advice would be to love her, let her know she is not forgotten, and if you can find things that she enjoys, to talk to her about those things to send her little things, or to call her, to stop by to say hi. Also continue to love your sister. ED's are so stressful and destructive. They are also confusing and overwhelming for loved ones. It is so hard to realize how sick your child is and then how to deal with it, especially if the child is an adult and you have little power over what they do. There can be a lot of self blame. I know that I was so overwhelmed. Very few people knew what was going on and those that did were so supportive, but at times I felt so much despair and exhaustion that I pushed away some of those people. There was one wonderful woman that did not give up. She let me decide what I could handle and let me go at my pace, and I knew she cared and that she was always there for me. I later started to ask her for specific help. She helped us through some very difficult times. Love your sister and niece and they will know that they are not alone and that you do care about them not just about the ED. They will also know if they need help they can turn to you. It is okay to set up boundaries if needed. I had to set up a lot of them, I also let her know that I loved her a lot,
2joy2love

GlennW
Lot's of Confusion

This is a tough issue as you are extended family. Not sure how close your are to your niece, but if you can find a way to get closer to her as a non-judgmental support person for her, you may get a chance to influence her in a gentle way. Just having you to talk to and confide in may give her some strength to embrace change.