Fathers, Daughters, and Eating Disorders

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC for Eating Disorder Hope

black-87853_640The father-daughter relationship is one that is unique and unlike any other. A man’s influence in his daughter’s life can help shape her self-confidence, image of herself, and self-worth.

As a young girl flourishes and develops into a woman, her father has the potential to help her grow into a person that respects herself throughout her lifetime, as well as learn how to have healthy relationships with other men.

Poor Father/Daughter Relationship?

What if you are a woman who has had a poor or non-existent relationship with your own father? Unfortunately, many women have not had the opportunity to experience an emotionally stable or healthy relationship with their father due to various circumstances, including:

  • Divorce
  • Abandonment
  • Neglect
  • Emotional detachment
  • Substance abuse

If you have found this to be true in your own life, it is important to understand that you are NOT at fault for any discord between you and your father. Nor does having a poor or lack of relationship with your father mean that you are automatically at risk for having an eating disorder.

Biological Factors of Eating Disorders

While environmental stressors can be contributing factors to the progression of an eating disorder, conflicted relationships within family units are by no means the cause of these psychiatric illnesses.

Know that there are many factors that influence eating disorders that are completely out of your control, such as your genetic make-up and neurobiology. You could grow up in the most ideal family situation and still be genetically predisposed to developing an eating disorder.

Likewise, you can come from a very broken and malfunctioning family and not develop an eating disorder whatsoever. In order to move forward with healing, it is important to recognize that eating disorders arise and progress as a result of many factors interlinking together. A father, or lack of father, cannot be singularly blamed for the result of an eating disorder.

Healing and Recovery Are Possible

boy-185195_640If you have suffered with an eating disorder and are carrying wounds from a complicated father-daughter relationship, it is important to know that you CAN find healing and recovery.

Any eating disorder behavior, whether bingeing, purging, or restricting, will not resolve any pain you may have suffered from your father. In the same way, an eating disorder cannot mask or numb any conflict you may have had with your father growing up or in your current relationship.

This does not mean that you cannot find resolve or healing from your eating disorder.

Processing Difficulties of an Eating Disorder

An important aspect of your recovery journey will be to learn how to effectively process emotional and psychological difficulties. Family therapy will also be a crucial part of your treatment.

If appropriate, considering integrating your father and other family members in your treatment and recovery process. Family therapists can be invaluable in facilitating meaningful conversations between family members and resolving conflicts.  With education and support from eating disorder specialists, fathers and other family members can become a key part of the recovery process for their loved one.

Working Out Troubles of an Absent Father

Even if your father is not currently part of your life or has chosen not to participate in your treatment, you can still work through any wounds with the guidance of a therapist or counselor.

Therapy often involves the expression of difficult pastimes that may have been suppressed, perhaps even by an eating disorder. One aspect of treatment for an eating disorder addresses the emotional concerns and struggles you may have faced throughout your lifetime, while teaching you positive ways for coping.

Healing from the Inside Out

beach-501963_640The beauty of the recovery journey from an eating disorder is that it allows you to heal from the inside out. Relationships can be restored, including a relationship between a father and daughter that has been broken or destructive.

Even if your relationship with your father is irreparable, you can still heal yourself.

Where you may have lacked nurturing care from a father, you can learn to give to yourself and through relationships with other people in your life who are positive and supportive.

Whatever your past or your history, there is hope for a future free of the destructiveness that comes with eating disorders. You are loved and deserving of this today.

Community discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Are you a woman who has suffered with an eating disorder? How has your recovery journey strengthened and repaired relationships with people in your own life?

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 31st, 2014
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com