Family Dynamics in the Treatment of Eating Disorders. James Gerber Ph.D. . Conceptual/Theory. Systems Theory: Families are systems of interconnected and interdependent individuals. To understand the person it is necessary to understand the family. People cannot be understood in isolation .
James Gerber Ph.D.
In theory, behavior disorders develop when inflexible family structures cannot adjust to maturational or situational changes. Symptoms in the individual emerge in response to dysfunction in the system.
Attachment Theory: (Bowlby, J. Ainsworth M.) Refers to those parent-infant interactions that effect the child’s sense of security.
A secure maternal attachment is necessary for the infant to explore the world. However, in reference to mother-daughter Zerbe writes,“To grow we must loosen some of the intense powerful ties to our mothers thus permitting a new kind of connection to form. Mothers must permit this evolution to happen. This task is more easily said than done.” (Zerbe, K. 1993)
“If not taken to pathological extremes, the father-daughter relationship can provide the daughter with a sense of specialness and lovableness. It also remains important for the daughter’s ineluctable urge to separate from the mother. When a father is unable to help his daughter move out of the maternal orbit…the daughter may turn to food as a substitute” (Zerbe, K. 1993)
In treatment the patient struggled with her conflict in launching into the world as an adult. As with other patients she described an inability to tolerate her emotions and a diminished sense of self, especially in regard to her relation with men. It is notable that as the therapy unfolded she described the tremendous grief related to the emotional distance and perceived rejection of her father.
Through the IFS work he was able to acknowledge and have compassion for his own injury and struggle. This then allowed him to understand and relate to his daughter in a way that built connection. In addition, the emotional block that was removed allowed him to be more open in his marriage which fostered the parental dyad.
Her relationship with her mother and father display seemingly contradictory motivations. She stated that she was close to her mother and there was an emotional enmeshment evident in both of their inability to see the other emote without their own distress and need to fix the other. However, she also stated that her mother was unemotional and felt disconnected from her.
On the other hand, she could elaborate on her father and their relationship. She felt she was identified with him (in personality and body type), by others as well as in her own perception . This was problematic in that he had suffered his own abusive childhood and was prone to volatile outbursts. While seldom directed at the patient, she viewed his behavior with contempt. This then interfered with the availability of her father as a source of specialness and support.