There are many common misconceptions that keep family members from wanting to participate in the healing process when someone they love is suffering from an eating disorder.Therapy appointments or support group programs take time and, in some cases, money. While a family member may genuinely love and support the person with the eating disorder, they don’t want to disrupt their whole life and schedule to add in these new commitments.
Myth #1: Eating disorders only affect the person with the problem. Eating disorders are a family disease. So if you think that refusing to attend meetings or sessions will keep your life normal, neat and predictable, you will be very disappointed! Food and meal times are often a central part of every household, so it’s not surprising the overwhelming impact that an eating disorder can have on everyone. As well, the stress of the situation and the underlying issues of the eating disorder itself will create a strain on all of the relationships in the family, not just with the person who has the problem with food.
Myth #2: The person with the eating disorder could stop the behavior themselves if they just tried hard enough. This is probably the most harmful myth, for two reasons: (a) It places unrealistic expectations and pressure on the person who is already facing a very challenging disease and (b) It keeps the rest of the family from taking responsibility for their own role in the person’s recovery. It’s not that you caused or can stop the problem, but by blaming instead of supporting you are certainly not helping.
Myth #3: Therapy and support groups are only helpful for the person with the eating disorder. According to a study by Al-Anon, a 12-step program for family members of people with addictions, 82% of respondents reported that their mental health and well-being was much improved by participating in the Al-Anon program (http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/pdf/AlAnonProfessionals.pdf). A therapy or support program will give you tools to deal with the stressful situation you’re in (see Myth #1), as well as other situations in your life.