The impact of separation-individuation on the development of eating disorders in adolescent females

Lynn Edwards Marder, Pace University


One of the first cases of anorexia nervosa was described by Richard Morton in 1689, and was named by Sir William Gull in the late nineteenth century (Bruch, 1979). This syndrome has intrigued the medical and psychological fields for years. Anorexia has been estimated to occur in approximately.5% of the target population. Anorexia occurs predominately in females between the ages of twelve and thirty. The most noticeable symptom is major weight loss with no organic cause. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that is often categorized as another form of anorexia, nonrestrictive anorexia, due to the similarity of symptoms, etiology, and factors that maintain the illness. The difference between anorexia and bulimia is the way in which the illnesses behaviorally manifest themselves. Anorexia and bulimia are examples of gender-specific psychopathology. They are eating disorders that occur primarily among women, with the ratio of approximately 10 females to every male (Beattie, 1988). This paper offers a developmental explanation for the vulnerability of women to eating disorders and implications for treatment. There is little consensus among the literature on the exact cause of eating disorders. Psychoanalytic theorists have begun to focus on the symbiotic-like attachments that eating disordered patients have with their mothers and the incompleteness of the separation-individuation process (Lerner, 1986), as described by Margaret Mahler (1968). Although the literature is abundant with theoretical links between separation-individuation and eating disorders, the empirical data is sparse. Using the Eating Disorder Inventory (EDI) and the Psychological Separation Inventory (PSI), this study offers empirical evidence of the relationship between the two constructs. Additionally, this paper empirically illustrates a relationship between parental preoccupation with their daughter's weight and the development of eating disorders in adolescent females. Statistical results, as well as treatment implications are discussed.

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Recommended Citation

Marder, Lynn Edwards, "The impact of separation-individuation on the development of eating disorders in adolescent females" (1993). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI9408178.



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