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The Acquisition of Bulimia: Childhood Experience

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This article is concerned with the childhood experience that seems to be preparatory for the onset of bulimia. Three women's serial experiences of bulimia (reported in 4 interviews describing specific binge-purge episodes) were investigated and one pattern of experiencing that led to bulimia emerged. As the interview process deepened (interview 1 to interview 4), the data moved from symptom-related to life-related. The general structure that captured the essence of the lived experience of bulimia remained the same but the individual experiences varied as these women live out their unique lives. In understanding the totality of the phenomenon of bulimia, it is important to remember that although each of the six key constituents is described separately, in the life-world all the constituents merge together as they interact with each other and with the whole of the experience. These bulimic women reported having family backgrounds in which they experienced a sense of diminished self and dissatisfaction in interactions with significant others and self. They found themselves pressured to maintain a less than integrated life, and in rapid transition from 'awareful' behaving to automatic and anonymous functioning. A psychological hunger seems to possess them and this is lived out during the anonymous phase of their existence. Their need for the mastery and control ordinarily lacking in their lives becomes a symptomatic expression that has relevance for them in respect to the deep psychological pain that is only partially expressed. The phenomenal body and self are given priority over objective reality, resulting in distorted perceptions of "fatness" and feelings of terror of "fat."


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