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Exploring the role that Abuse plays in the development of an Eating Disorder

There seems to be a definite correlation between physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse and the sufferers of Eating Disorders. According to studies, a relatively high percent report that they have suffered from some sort of abuse in their lives. In a Something Fishy poll on this very topic, out of over 2,000 people who responded, more than 50% said they suffered from some type of physical or sexual abuse. This is, of course, not to say that all people suffering with Anorexia, Bulimia or Compulsive Eating have been abused, but a number of sufferers admit that some type of abuse played a direct and/or indirect part in the development of their Eating Disorder.

Physical & Emotional

Children and victims of domestic abuse that are repeatedly struck, either with a hand, fist, foot, belt, wooden spoon, yard stick, or other object feel powerless and afraid. Hands that are meant for loving suddenly become contradictory weapons used for hurting. The people who are supposed to love and protect now turn on them in fits of rage and hurt them most.

Women and children who are berated with insults, vehemently controlled and isolated from others, who are told they are stupid and worthless, who are neglected, forgotten and/or abandoned have a nagging sense of self-hate and as though they don't deserve to be loved. Caring words of love, affection, support and pride become daggers in the heart.

In both cases, the victim may grow to have a need to push people away who make any attempt at closeness. They generally have a low self-esteem and feel a distrust of others, a lack of control and/or a feeling of being trapped.

The victims of physical and emotional abuse, and domestic violence can end up feeling like things are always their fault, like they deserve what they get, and like they never do anything right. They often question themselves when making decisions, obsessively wondering if it is the right one, or may be incapable of making decisions on their own. They may continuously ask if they did okay, if they look okay, if what they said was okay, in a desperate need for acceptance and approval. Very often the victim of abuse has a very low sense of self-worth and may feel a lack of control over their life.

Children who have been abused more often end up in relationships where they are abused. Victims of domestic abuse often repeatedly get back into similar situations of abuse. Both come to the conclusion that hitting and emotional assault equals love, and that this must be what they deserve. Both can suffer with depression, anxiety, drug addiction, alcoholism and eating disorders.

In an attempt to gain control victims of abuse may try to drastically control their weight. There may be a sense that if they were thinner it would make the abuser happy and they would stop hurting them. They may starve themselves of food over the feeling that they don't deserve anything good. They may attempt to fill a void they feel inside by eating, or may look to a binge as a way to stuff down their hurt and anger. They may see food as their only friend, the one that won't turn on them -- or -- they may look to control their surroundings through the only means that seems possible, by restricting their food intake. Victims may purge to release their emotions, or to punish themselves for enjoying something they don't feel they deserve (food, love). Food can become a weapon to gain control and a friend that won't hurt them. It can also be a way to forget the pain.

Link: Preventing Child Abuse

Link: Day of The Child

Link: Survivors Art Foundation

Link: Emotional Incest


Children who suffer through sexual abuse (fondling, inappropriate kissing, oral sex, forced-intercourse or sodomy, pornography, forced to watch sexual behavior of adults, rape, incest, date rape) become confused about issues of integrity. Adults that they initially perceived as trusting have come to betray them which leaves them with a sense of confusion. They may feel anger and a sense of mistrust for the opposite sex or a deep seeded need for acceptance from members of the opposite sex.

Sexual abuse survivors may blame themselves for trusting the individual that hurt them, for being stupid, for being in the "wrong place at the wrong time", for not fighting harder, and/or for not telling someone. They often feel as though they have done something to deserve the abuse. They may feel disgustingly used and as though their bodies have betrayed them.

The abuser may threaten to hurt them further if they tell making the victim feel as though they should be ashamed and afraid, and resulting in not telling anyone for a long time. They may also feel as though no one will believe them. Survivors may feel ashamed of the behavior and of their bodies, and this in combination with any possible threats from the abuser may force them into a silence about it for many years.

Survivors may feel a loss of immense control over their bodies and their lives. Because of self-blame they may carry a tremendous burden of guilt. They may feel a need to push others away, or a hurried sense to grow-up, in order to protect themselves.

The backlash of Sexual Abuse is that survivors may turn to food (or alcoholism or drug addiction) as a means to cope. Binging may offer a sense of comfort and a way to stuff down emotions of pain and anger. Purging may serve as a release of emotion or as a means to self-punish. In a desperate attempt to gain control over their bodies some victims will turn to food and restriction. They may feel dirty and violated, unable to get clean and purging may serve as a temporary fix to those feelings. They may attempt to control their body-shape, becoming overweight or under weight, in order to push people away to prevent further abuse, or so that the abuse will stop (if it is still occurring). Food, binging and purging and restriction/starvation may all provide a sense of safety, certainty and security that they feel they cannot find anywhere else.

If the abuser used food to lure their victims, or if the victim associates food with the person who violated them, they may develop a fear or even an intense phobia of food and eating. Survivors that have been forced to perform oral sex may also have a sense of gagging, choking or a frightened feeling upon putting food in their mouth, making it difficult to eat.

Survivors of sexual abuse often suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. They may show signs of drug addiction, alcoholism, eating disorders, depression, isolation, anxiety, flashbacks and/or multiple personality syndrome. Sexual abuse impacts its survivor's life forever.

Link: Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

Link: Pandora's Aquarium - for Survivors of Sexual Violence

Link: Hope, Despair and the Triumph of Life

Link: Abuse and Eating Disorders

Link: Survivors Art Foundation

Link: Parents & Loved-ones of Sexual Abuse & Rape Survivors

Link: Sexual Abuse of Males


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