Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice

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Volume 73 Issue 1 (March 2000), Pages 1-142

Anorexia nervosa: Some connections with the religious attitude (pages 67-76)

This paper examines the religious and ascetic features of anorexia nervosa. The concept of asceticism in the Judeo‐Christian culture and the many connections between the ascetic religious attitude and the anorexic are described. Whilst empirical evidence for religious themes in anorexia is not strong, in the family therapy literature there are indications of ethical codes of sacrifice, loyalty and sexual denial in the families of anorexics. The themes of sin, denial and self‐punishment in the Judeo‐Christian tradition are then discussed and the significance of the original sin with respect to both eating and sex emphasized. The psychological features of the ascetic mode are then described. It is argued that there exist many connections between the religious ascetic and the anorexic and that there are many psychopathological features common to both. Both anorexia and asceticism are considered to be connected conceptually in the process of idealization. It is suggested that this line of enquiry can enrich clinical approaches to the understanding and treatment of this neurotic disorder and stimulate further research.

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