There is often a fine line between being a supportive caregiver or parent, and being in a co-dependent relationship with a family member struggling with an eating disorder. Co-dependency can mean that two people feel as though they cannot function without the other, or that they “need” each other to feel complete. However, when it comes to eating disorders, a co-dependent relationship is especially damaging.
In the realm of eating disorders, sometimes parents can get involved to the point that they become co-dependent on their eating disordered child, and vice-versa. When this happens, the child can become too reliant on the parent for help, feeling as though they need their parent to be able to recover. They may also feel like without their parent, they will not be able to deal with their eating disorder. When this happens, the parent may invest all of their time and energy into helping their child while neglecting their own feelings and needs. To an outsider, it may seem as though the parent or caregiver is simply being self-sacrificing in order to help their child to the best of their ability. However, this type of relationship begins to take a toll on both the sufferer and the parent, and may leave the parent feeling as though they need to “fix” their child.
This can hold true when a child is in a Family Based Therapy program. With this, the entire family becomes involved in order to help the person who is struggling. While this type of therapy has much research regarding its effectiveness, sometimes it may create a precarious line that separates care giving from entering into a co-dependent relationship.
It is essential for family members to be involved, and include these 4 things:
1. Separate your child from the eating disorder.
2. Practice EXTREME self-care.
3. Get training on how to do FBT as it is INTENSE and can drain a person quickly if not properly prepared.
4. Even with training and preparation, support is needed to get a break now and then.
Co-dependent relationships are harmful to both parties involved, and there are ways to help without developing an unhealthy co-dependent relationship. For ways to help, be sure to talk to your child’s treatment team for ideas that are healthy for both you and your child.
Written by Hope Network, LLC Intern, Kylie MacLeod
Edited by Founder, Becky Henry