Friday 20 April 2018

Ask Mary O'Rourke: My sister's eating disorder is too much for our parents

My sister is too thin
My sister is too thin

Mary O'Rourke

I think my sister has an eating disorder, and I feel sorry for her, but it is taking over the family.

She is 30 and hasn't had much luck with work or life, so she recently moved back in with my parents.

My mother agrees my sister is too thin, and has told me my sister has assured her that everything is all right.

I have spoken to my sister about this before and she has pretty much told me to mind my own business. She has a very powerful personality and does not take criticism well.

I can see why my parents avoid dealing with the issue head on, but I am getting very frustrated because it is an awful strain on my parents.

It is all they ever talk about and I am getting sick of the whole thing.

In my opinion, it is up to my sister to look after herself at this stage. What do you advise?

Claire, Co CarlowThe first difficulty is that your sister is 30 – an age at which we feel people have resolved their lives.

But in the case of your sister, she has an eating disorder and has decided to move in with your mother and father.

They feel powerless to upbraid her, particularly as your sister has a powerful personality and, in her own way, is 'bullying' your parents and, inadvertently, you.

Has your sister gone to her doctor, who would be able to advise her if she needs further counselling or help? This is the first step for her to make, but she must make it herself.

Call your sister and ask to meet her for a coffee or tea. She may well refuse because she will know what's coming.

At the moment, she is content to stay with your parents because she feels in a place of supremacy and she is spoiling their lives at a time when they should be free to travel or move about.

Let's say she refuses to meet you outside the home. Can you find out some place she is going to, so that you can be at that same venue and make her listen to you?

Talk about your parents, the good home life they clearly have given you both, and the havoc she is wreaking on them and on their home life – and on your mind.

You will have to be absolutely straight up. You cannot beat about the bush or prevaricate.

Say you are willing to go on the journey with her, the journey of getting her life back to rights, and you are willing to go with her to her GP, if she would like company.

I feel it will be very difficult for her to respond to you, as she will see it as interference in her mind, which is undergoing complex emotions at the moment.

Your sister will perhaps even put this down to jealousy – that you are envious of her position within the family home.

If your parents can emotionally handle it and if you have to resort to conversation/confrontation inside the home, see if you can bring everyone together into the conversation and thrash it out.

You see, if your sister has an intense eating disorder, then she is going through her own purgatory with that and cannot see beyond the illness to the hurt she is causing to others.

You will have to take courage. It is not going to be pleasant or easy, but it needs to be done.

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