Attacks on linking: stressors and identity challenges for mothers of daughters with long lasting anorexia nervosa

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The purpose of the current study was to focus on the subjective experience of mothers of daughters with ongoing anorexia nervosa. Specifically, we explored the stressors faced by these mothers while coping with their daughters' illnesses; we also looked at how they experienced their maternal selves and roles, and their perceived competence in coping with their daughters' illnesses. Two related aspects were found to be central in the participants' experiences. One aspect was their network of relationships and how these relationships were challenged or compromised as a result of their daughters' illnesses. This aspect included the mothers' relationships with their daughters, the mothers' relationships with other family members and with their spouses/partners, the mothers' relationships with the professionals treating their daughters, and the mothers' relationships with themselves. The second related aspect was the challenge presented to the participants' self-perception as 'good mothers' by their daughters' illnesses. The findings showed that coping with a daughter's eating disorder (ED) posed a significant obstacle to the mother's ability to maintain a satisfying relationship with her daughter and her environment, as well as to maintain a positive maternal self-perception. The implications of these findings for professionals working with caregivers are discussed, and a more nuanced, gender-specific attitude is suggested in working with mothers caring for daughters with EDs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)613-631
Number of pages19
JournalPsychology and Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • child's illness
  • eating disorders
  • family burden
  • mother-daughter relationship


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