An often overlooked component of the effects of an individual family member’s eating disorder is the effect it has on a sibling who is not struggling with the disorder. Parents generally focus their attention on the afflicted child and much energy and time is spent on efforts to help in recovery, often to the detriment or confusion of another siblings. Of course, it makes sense that extra care be provided to the child suffering with anorexia, bulimia or compulsive eating disorder but this must be accomplished without marginalizing or neglecting the needs of the well family members.
It is typical for brothers and sisters of patients with eating disorders to feel overwhelmed by how the disease is affecting their sibling. This frequently instills fear and, rather than seeking answers, siblings tend to retreat or respond with anger and resentment. Often, the seemingly excessive attention given to the sibling with the eating disorder is interpreted by his or her siblings as favoritism at their expense. Furthermore, siblings often suspect that their parents have been willfully manipulated or taken advantage of by the child with the eating disorder and this exacerbates tensions and disorders the healthy functioning of the family unit.
Another phenomenon is an attempt by siblings to help remediate the disorder. The potential psychological ramifications of sibling empathy focused on curing a sick sibling can be devastating and must be addressed should the dynamic become apparent. Interestingly, the feelings and empathetic behaviors mentioned above also manifest in siblings no longer living at home. Clearly, the repercussions of an eating disorder affect more than the individual sufferer and treatment must take this into consideration.
Studies of the eating disorders and their effects on family dynamics indicate that a post-recovery negotiation of sibling relationships is an important factor in restoring normality to family functioning.