What if it's in the family??

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Shangrila's picture
What if it's in the family??

So I need some advice, ladies.
I think my niece has an eating problem. She is 20 years old and is at a weight that I consider deadly. My sister told me on the phone yesterday what she weighs and I was stunned into silence. Yet..my sister just kind of laughs it off, like it's not a big deal.
Now my own daughter passed away ten years ago, so I don't feel I have any right to tell her how to be a mother, but it just makes me feel so odd. I don't know how to handle this. I am very very concerned for my niece, but I don't want to make my sister mad.
And as a recovering bulimic myself, it has a very odd effect on me. I don't know. My family has always had the same attitude about my struggle with bulimia, they just don't talk about it, never mention it, they just ignore it. And I feel the same thing might be happening to my niece.
What do I do? Do I just keep my mouth shut? It makes me feel mad, tho. I feel like yelling, why doesn't she see this is a problem? How can I just stand by and keep silent, knowing myself how it is to have this problem? It makes me feel like there is no hope for me as far as ever getting my family's support in my own recovery. If they can't see it in my niece, they'll never see it in me either.
I don't know my niece very well, our family lives very far apart and we don't see each other that much, so I don't feel I can just talk to my niece either.
I don't know, I'm so confused:(

Sadie9's picture
Hi, I'm sorry to hear about

Hi, I'm sorry to hear about your daughter and your niece's issues. Perhaps you can talk to your niece directly and express your concern given your situation and just offer your support and some ways in which she could begin to look for an out (online sources, printouts, help centers, phone numbers, a psychologist?). Additionally if you are uncomfortable speaking with her first try and sit down with your sister and explain your concern and how you see overlaps in the way your family treats your ED and is seeming to overlook your niece's, as well. Regardless when confronting either your niece or your sister make sure you don't come off as being condescending or harsh. (Possibly you can look up online how to speak with someone with an eating disorder) Additionally you should be prepared for denial or other issues that could result in her weight loss. For instance before I was bulimic I drank a lot of alcohol and lost a lot of weight because of how my body tolerated the alcohol (unfortunately I traded one addiction for the other). Good luck and I hope that things will work well for you.

xx Sadie

scarlet dahlia
scarlet dahlia's picture
I am 21, and so am very close

I am 21, and so am very close in age to your niece. I put myself in her shoes and really analyzed how, if it were inevitable, I would want my aunt to confront me (or any other family member, for that matter). And two years ago, I dropped to a dangerously low weight with anarexia (I guess you could call it that?). I was indeed confronted, but found certain family members' approaches good, and others threatening. Here is what I remember:

My sister had the nicest approach of anyone. She simply told me she thought I looked unhealthy and that I worried her. She told me the effects I was having on her thoughts and emotions. To hear that is much more touching than to hear something indirectly through another family member. If you were to tell your sister how you feel, that indirect communication might upset your niece, especially because she is old and mature enough to hear it directly. Other approaches I had were from people who were upset with me. Or my brother that blurted out, "You're too skinny. You look disgusting. You don't even have any boobs anymore. Why the hell would you do that? Look at my girlfriend. She eats and looks good."

If I were her, I'd want to hear it directly from you. Approach her assertively, which means to tell her how her behavior and her state of physical being AFFECTS your emotions. Then explain why. This would probably include confiding in her about your own ED experience. I would stay away from things like "You're too thin" or "You don't look well." Rather, "Hunny, you are at a weight that worries me because it reminds me of myself when I was at a low weight. I still struggle, and it pains me to think you might be struggling, too..."

It is the animate earth that speaks. Human speech is but a part of that vaster discourse. --David Abram, "Spell of the Sensuous"

scarlet dahlia
scarlet dahlia's picture
*****I meant bulimarexia in

*****I meant bulimarexia in the beginning. God there are so many terms I can't get it right.

It is the animate earth that speaks. Human speech is but a part of that vaster discourse. --David Abram, "Spell of the Sensuous"

Catherine Liberty
Catherine Liberty's picture
Hi Shangrila, This situation

Hi Shangrila,

This situation must have you so worried and frustraited at the same time. I'm so sorry to hear that your sister doesn't really seem to be taking the situation seriously. I think it is really difficult for "outsiders" to really understand the impact that an eating disorder can have on someone life.

A lot of the time I don't think they understand the severity of eating disorders and the pain that they cause the sufferer. Also I think denial must play a big part, not wanting to accept that her daughter is in so much pain is probably a big reason for her attitude.

I've found that a lot of people like to brush eating disorders under the carpet because they are so afraid of what will happen if they actually acknowledge that their loved one has a problem - yes I'm thinking about my own mother here.

Although you're not that close perhaps you could get her email address and send her a message?

Talk about why you're worried and how you understand. Relating her experiences to your own should help her to feel more connected to you and also emphasise that you're in no way trying to force her into recovery - perhaps just let her know that you're there to listen if she ever needs to talk?

What do you think?

I've been in a very similar situation to this, and it turned out that the person involved didn't want to know about recovery but she does know that she can always turn to me, and I hope that one day she will.

Take care

Catherine x

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