Approaching A Family Member With An Eating Disorder

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I need help with what to say when approaching a family member about an eating disorder. I am afraid she is going to be mad or deny it, but it is very clear. She is unhappy and get mad really easily now..

A. This is a difficult question to answer because I have so few details about the situation. Generally speaking, the situation that you have described is difficult. The primary reason is that the family member you wish to approach may become immediately defensive and angry. Such a reaction could shut down all further communication.

A smart approach would be to include other people, family or friends, who are equally concerned or share your opinion. If you approach your family member alone, he or she may simply see it as their opinion against yours. Having other people who share your opinion further strengthens your case.

If you choose a family intervention, have a discussion about what each person is planning to say prior to the meeting. This ensures that you are all “on the same page.” Consider excluding any individuals who you think might make the situation worse.

Try to be as empathetic as possible when speaking to this family member. Remember, if someone is in denial they are not in control of that process. Denial is an unconscious defense mechanism. It is utilized by the unconscious mind as a form of psychological protection. Denial blocks out information that an individual finds psychologically too difficult to cope with. Be sincere, compassionate and caring. You obviously care about this family member and you want that to come across when speaking to him or her.

Ideally, it would be best to consult with a family therapist prior to the intervention. Family therapists study and understand complicated family dynamics. He or she could collect detailed information about this situation and give you specific advice about how to approach your family member. To find a therapist click the find help tab at the top of this page.

I wish you the best of luck. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 15 Jul 2011

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2011). Approaching A Family Member With An Eating Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/07/15/approaching-a-family-member-with-an-eating-disorder/

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