National Eating Disorders Association

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Sibling perspective

Hello, I was wondering if I could get some perspective from a sibling. I suffer from an eating disorder myself and i get very upset with my brother who seems determined to despise me. I really love my brother and respect him as one of the most honest and talented people I know, but he doesn't even speak to me anymore to the point of ignoring me entirely (and yes we live in the same house). We lost my older sister to cancer a few years ago and i can see in his hatred he wishes it was me they lost. He has written in the past he hates me, and i guess i'm trying to hold out hope maybe siblings in general feel this way until the sufferer recovers and not just me....but deep down i think i know its just me, and it makes me cry because i wish it was like when we were little and we did things together again... I think the only way he will ever be really happy is when he never has to see me anymore....

Hi LittleLight,

Though I do not have the perspective of a sibling, my best friend suffered from ED, so I do have the perspective of a supporter. In many ways, I was like her sister, so I hope this helps you. First of all, I am so sorry about your older sister; my deepest sympathies. When it comes to your brother, I can definitely understand how difficult it is to think that he feels that way about you. In my own experience, ED truly affects everyone involved, from the person to suffering to friends and family. Though I cannot ever tell you for certain what your brother feels, I'm sure it is very hard for him to see his sister struggling so much, and it's possible that this manifests itself in a way that seems that he dislikes you. I truly believe that your brother loves you and wants the best for you, but he may be unsure of how to express this. If you're not currently seeing a therapist, I highly encourage you to call the NEDA Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 (M-R 9-9, F 9-5 EST) for help locating resources in your area. It may be beneficial to bring this subject up to a professional, and maybe you could even bring your brother with you to a session.

I hope this has helped, stay strong!

Hi LittleLight,

My younger sister has struggled with an eating disorder for many years (off and on since she was 9 years old, but now doing much better), so hopefully I can offer some helpful perspective for you.

I'm really sorry to hear that your brother isn't being supportive. While there are likely unique facets of your relationship with your brother that are affecting the current situation, it's a guarantee that EDs complicate family relationships.

I think the hardest part for loved ones of ED sufferers is to separate the disorder from the person. I've often found myself getting frustrated with my sister for lying/being deceitful, for "causing" stress in our house (e.g., parents fighting, logistical struggles related to treatment), for "taking" attention/focus away from me (this made me feel like I needed to be perfect so that my parents wouldn't have to worry about me and could focus on taking care of my sister), etc. It's really hard for someone not dealing with an ED personally to understand that the person isn't CHOOSING to have disordered eating behaviors or disordered thought processes. From the outside, these can appear to be conscious, intentional choices, even though in reality the ED is causing the person to behave a certain way. I recall people telling me "Why don't you just tell your sister to eat so she'll get better?", and they had a really hard time understanding how it wasn't that simple. It took a while for me to learn that my sister wasn't choosing to act in a certain way, and the ED symptoms weren't her fault. (Honestly, I still struggle with this, and it can make me resentful, but I have to work against that.)

It's also possible that your brother doesn't understand EDs and this makes him want to avoid speaking to you so he doesn't "say the wrong thing". Mental illness makes people uncomfortable, and makes them really hesitant, which can be expressed in a variety of ways.

I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. Perhaps your brother is expressing his grief about your sister and, in a way, taking it out on you?

In regards to suggestions, have you discussed any of this with your parents? Maybe they could intervene somehow and get the two of you to talk some of these issues out. Or perhaps have your parents bring your brother along to a family therapy session? If you are seeing a professional, maybe ask them if they have suggestions. I'm sure they've seen this kind of thing before.

These are some resources you could consider sharing with your brother (or perhaps having your parents share with your brother). Maybe if he learns a bit more about EDs, he'll have a better idea about what you're going through and will act in a more supportive manner.

You could also consider writing a letter to give to your brother, if you're finding that face-to-face conversations aren't working out. Tell him how the way he's acting is making you feel. You can use some of the same wording you used for your post here. He may not realize what an affect his actions are having on you.

I'm so sorry to hear that things are so rough. Thank you for being brave enough to share your story with us. I sincerely hope that you have supportive parents, friends, and doctors/therapists. Please know that those of us on the forums are here for you and want you to feel supported and cared for. You're always welcome to post here. We want the best for you! :)

From A Big Sister

Hey there!

A am the proud older sister of my little bro who has been in a relationship with ED for about 7 years. I am so bummed out to hear that your brother is not supportive of you in regards to ED but also just in life. One of the main things that has helped my brother and I really grow our relationship is the fact that he supports me as much as I support him. In pretty much every aspect of life. If he needs girl advice, I'll help. If I need an opinion on what color to paint my kitchen, he is the first one I ask. My point is that it sounds as if your brother is going though his own journey with ED.

Believe it or not, everyone in your family will have his or her own special relationship with the disorder. Each one of us has to go through denial, bargaining, anger, and despair before we figure out how we want to conduct that relationship. Another relationship that is key is the one you have with yourself. People like to be around people who like themselves! This can really be a challenge when you are also struggling with ED, but remember: you and ED are not the same thing! Finding ways to love who you are and what you do is a really good way to restart and reset that sibling connection.

Hang in there! And if you would like to talk more, let me know. Seriously! I'm a non-hating big sibling :)