Why can't we all just get along?

This past week there's been an ugly clash on an online forum for professionals treating eating disorders. One of the users said that parents are "more often than not" toxic.A vigorous discussion ensued. Good points were made, thoughts were aired, and emotions were high.

This conflict distressed people. The forum's solution was, as in the past, to ask everyone to stop talking. I believe this is called "denial."

The field is deeply divided on a number of practical and ideological issues, and the flashpoints reveal real and necessary conflict. That someone would think eating disorder patients' parents are more toxic than other parents isn't a novel or rare point of view, but that such a statement not draw attention and call for strong objection is absurd: of course it should. Unless, of course, the organization and its members don't agree that this is an important myth to dispel. Or that the cascade of exaggerated accusations and misunderstandings not seem like an opportunity to chase down some common ground. What was needed was for some brave adults in the leadership to bring some authority to the discussion by commenting themselves. Maybe one or two of the posters might need to have been talked to -- even admonished -- and maybe even ON the forum.Stopping the conversation won't make it go away. It will only make ME go away, and others.

As a result of this melee, which has happened before, two new groups have formed - comprising both sides of those tired discussions - and will form their own discussion groups. Leaving conflict, courage, and any actual progress, behind.


  1. Don't you find it odd, in a field in which it is still believed by many that problems in communication between people actually cause potentially life-threatening illnesses, the only solution offered is to stop people from talking about the difficult subject?

    Incidentally, I realise that I only notice this because I am a rigid thinking pedant who in being so has probably caused both my daughter's eating disorder and half the conflicts in the western hemisphere, but I think there's a typo in the third paragraph "That someone would think eating disorder patients are more toxic than other parents isn't a novel or rare point of view" - did you mean eating disorder parents?

  2. Wonderful observation!

    And correction... I depend on the kindness of sharp-sighted friends!

  3. What a sorry situation. I have so many questions for that professional who believes that the majority of parents of those with EDs are toxic. What does that even mean? It does sound as if the leadership of that forum concurs with the professional's conclusion, since they won't refute it, and especially since they clamped down on the discussion. I wouldn't expect that to happen in the free world. Isn't that the purpose of such forums in the first place - discussion of topics important to the users?

  4. I come from a different position in that I had a severe ED (restricting AN). I shudder at the thought of my Mum being told by a professional that she caused my ED: first, because it would be untrue, and second, because she is a lovely, caring person who would do no-one any harm.

    I remember her crying when she caught sight of me in a t-shirt and saw my skeletal arms; when she watched me trying to eat and secretly throwing away food. I had never seen my Mum cry before and it was heartbreaking. I remember saying to her "just let me get on with it". I remember her answering "but what must people think about me as a mother? They must think I am starving you".

    No-one blamed her for my AN, but neither did anyone give her any advice on how to deal with an anorexic daughter. I wish that FEAST had been around then...

  5. I have found in searching for a therapist for my daughter and a marriage counselor for my husband and myself, that so much of psychology is based on the idea that who we are today is a direct result of our relationship with our parents. Therefore, these professionals reason, if we are having problems or feeling down, well it must be related to our parents! I find this so disheartening whenever I hear it, and I feel like asking these professionals if they themselves are parents and if they are, how are they screwing up their kids lives?! Very frustrating and sad.

  6. My parents - and I imagine this is true of all parents - were not perfect. But they did their best, they loved me and they did not cause my mental health problems. Of course some parents are genuinely abusive, but for most parents of children with mental health problems it seems to be more often the case that every little fault and idiosyncrasy is overanalysed. The same traits in anyone else would be considered harmless, but in these parents it is apparently proof that they made their child ill. Parents of children who are sick are obviously going to be stressed out, I don't understand how therapists can assume that what they see in therapy is a good picture of what things would be like in a normal situation. Humph. I want to go and shout at people again.

    I wrote a similar post on a different subject earlier - I was talking about how people who subscribe to "competing" theories of eating disorder development fight unnecessarily when there are many aspects between the theories that are complimentary, and they may well enhance each other rather than cancel each other out. If only all this time and energy wasted on fighting was spent working together and fighting the illness instead.

    I'm sorry you have to keep defending yourself like this Laura. I wish people could all just work together too.

  7. It's simply wrong. Parents do not cause eds and therapists who choose to cling to their theories using ineffective and harmful suggestions are wrong too. At the beginning of my daughter's treatment she was told to just hang in there until she turned 17. Helpful? Another told her that we were the cause. All the while my daughter became thinner and thinner. I boldly suggest this is true malpractice and should be banned. My husband is a dentist, and I was a teacher prior to now staying home to care for my daughter. I have seen some of the most interesting parents in my 20 year career from those who were demanding/overbearing to those who had child after child to increase their welfare checks while not bothering to feed them or wash their clothes. And therapists say we caused this? I will take responsibility for lots of things but not this. It was also us who helped her recover using Maudsley not them. This is maddening and just so very wrong.

  8. I had a distressingexperience this weekend at a Ed event that was offered as a "a time to talk about it" for support for patients, parents, siblings, friends, teachers, professionals, etc. I brought my recovering daughter inthe mind that she might meet a peer support in our community. Our treating psychiatrist was one of the speakersand we were excited to hear him speak on the biology of Ed. He is a sensitive, interactive psych who believes meds play a small role in Ed in the way of comorbid illness. He talked about the problem with clinicians stating that they treat Ed when they are not educated or experienced in the current evidenced based treatments. I brought up the issue of including parents and caregivers more as a vital part of the treatment team and the need for teaching caregivers the skills to cope in a team setting instead of being told to find your own therapist. Then he said" I know it's tempting to want to be your Childs own therapist, I'm a parent too but maybe joining alanon would be helpful". Arghhhhhh, I wanted to scream but my daughter was starting to feel very uncomfortable o I didn't pursue it there. She asked if we could leave telling me she could see how this would be helpful for me and understands what I am saying but it is inappropriate for her right now. There was a second speaker and parents I thought I could open this discussion with but it was more important to recognize my daughters conflict and feelings. I really want to be a part of these discussions with clinicians. I am so tired and frustrated by the implication that young adults with Ed who are dependent on their families somehow require separation first. It's insane. I can't stand it. It's like they don't think I want her independent and self sufficient. We are dealing with Ed. And they purport to know and understand current treatment and physiology! Sorry for the rant..I sent the doc a long email because I don't want my daughter to be involved in this conflict. He is truly there for her in a positive way.

  9. We clearly have a ways to go. But at least more people - all of us, for example - are planting our feet and setting a course. That's progress. Had people done this ten years ago...

  10. KrisB and everyone:

    You said "It does sound as if the leadership of that forum concurs with the professional's conclusion, since they won't refute it"-- no, in my opinion, they won't refute it out of cowardice, not because they necessarily disagree or agree. You'd be surprised how few people actually have the courage of their convictions.

    AND, by the way, some of the "toxic parents are the cause" types are not professionals at all, but sufferers who have created a cosmology of their suffering and cannot bear a different narrative to be offered; they feel it negates their own experience and "story" out of which they have created explanations they can live with. I feel for them, but not for the "professionals" who refuse to update their database, read the science or go back to school. It's malpractice short and simple.

  11. why are so many sufferers allowed to work in the ed professions? I understand that they feel they have a deeper understanding of the illness, but what do the professional societies do to discourage this -- anything?

  12. Discussion forums are interesting, but everyone in the world could agree upon something and that wouldn't make it true. And disagreeing wouldn't make it false. Talking about our opinions doesn't produce knowledge or facts. Scientific evidence does. I do think we need to rise above this type of thing, search for the science and find ways to help. I'm thinking that discussing toxic parents probably has never helped anyone. Aren't therapists supposed to help? Judging and criticizing patients and their families doesn't seem like a good way to help, in fact it seems a barrier to effectiveness.



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