Building Self Esteem in an Eating Disorder Sufferer Might Help Them Recover

Very often people wonder how they can help an eating disorder person to get better. What they can do at home that can be useful for the sufferer’s recovery?

My answer always is “First of all, help them to built their self-esteem up and trust in others. Trust will make them love themselves and respect others.”

Also, family members often want to know if there was anything they have done in the past that could contribute to the development of an eating disorder in their loved one. They often say that they have never abused the sufferer not physically nor emotionally and they can’t understand why their loved one has an eating disorder.

But the child emotional trauma is not always obvious to adults. The child emotional problems in the family could be due to:

– Poor communication between parents and a child: this is one of the primary problems from which many other issues come also. Poor communication with a child can manifest itself in several damaging ways.

When a child has issues with something that the parents do or say, that child may seek refuge inside themselves rather than talking to the parents.

In holding back their feelings, emotions and thoughts, existing issues can often seem exaggerated and insurmountable. Because a child can’t find refuge in their parent’s arms, the child can start using other available things to moderate their emotions – like food for example.

– Failing to listen what child is saying: A damaging side effect of poor communication is a tendency to not hear what the child is saying or showing with her/his behaviour. Children with low self-esteem may be distracted by the internal conversation they are having within. To notice the subtle hints displayed by the child is the responsibility of the parents.

The parents may grow weary of resolving issues by listening because they fail to understand what their child is going through. This breakdown in the communication process can create a wedge between the parents and a child.

– Arguments about Trivial Things: When children suffer from low self-esteem, these children may try to camouflage major issues which is really bothering them, and discuss less-important or trivial problems. Children delude themselves that the parents will understand what really is bothering them.

The problem is that children are typically unable to infer the real issue because it has not been clearly communicated. As both parties (children and parents) become frustrated, they often begin arguing about matters that have little to do with the real issues.

For instance, the big argument about cleaning up a bedroom could be a result of parents not understanding that the mess in the bedroom is result of the child rebelling against something.

– Lack Of Intimacy: A family in which children have low self-esteem typically lacks strong intimacy. This could be due to a couple of reasons. First, children with poor self-esteem may simply feel inadequate (due to their own perception or a perception encouraged by parents).

Second, older children may not feel worthy to have an intimate experience with anyone.
By intimate experience I mean being closely connected spiritually to someone.

It is a simple fact that in families where warm relationships are encouraged by parents the children grow up much better adjusted people then in families with cold parental attitudes. Psychological problems and disorders in families with warm parental attitudes are less compare to families with cold parental attitudes.

– Growing Resentment: When a child’s self-esteem is damaged, she/he can begin to internalise and personalise issues. Over time, resentment builds for the parents and other people as well. This is largely due to not being comfortable in communicating their issues.

When children and parents stop talking to each other and one of the family members begins personalising problems, both children and parents can often develop a lingering resentment against each other.

To conclude, self-esteem is a key factor in the success or failure of a family and its members.
When one family member has low self-esteem, communication and intimacy suffer, leading to growing resentment between child and parents. This kind of resentment could be one of the reasons why children develop eating disorders.

So, building up self-esteem is still the first major step that families must undertake in order to help their loved one recover from their eating disorder.

Dr Irina Webster MD is the Director of Eating Disorder Institute. She is an author of many books and a public speaker. To learn more about eating disorder treatment go to

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