When we enter into a relationship with someone, many of us envision a fun-loving and exciting bond with a companion exhibiting qualities that bring value to the relationship.
So when a food allergy enters the picture, we are forced to unwillingly enter into a relationship - one that doesn't fit our typical healthy relationship model. Simply stated, we end up in a relationship with a potentially emotionally and physically abusive companion.
Given that we typically don't have the choice to break up with our food allergy, we have to learn how to turn a bad relationship into a healthy one. So how can we accomplish this seemingly impossible task?
Accept the Not-So-Good Qualities & Identify the Good Ones
Think about your significant other, or even a close friendship. I bet you can identify both good and not-so-good qualities associated with that person. In relationships, since there is no such thing as perfect, we find ways to live with the characteristics that we find less than desirable in our mate or friend.
Try this thought on for size - your food allergy is just another relationship in your life. This "person" comes with positive and negative qualities. However, unlike other relationships, where you have a choice to engage or disengage, that's not an option with this one. You're forced to accept your food allergy as it is - it's the ultimate test of acceptance.
If you're going to have this relationship in your life for the long-haul, it can be useful to focus on ways that it may actually enhance your life, rather than only cause problems. You're probably well-versed with the not-so-good, and even downright bad qualities, but can you identify some positive aspects of living with your food allergy?
Identify and Be Firm With Your Boundaries
With relationships, whether it's with a family member, friend, or significant other, we typically set boundaries that help us maintain healthy connections. Those boundaries may relate to how much time is spent together, expectations, division of responsibilities, etc.
As your food allergy is an additional relationship in your life, you'll need to set clear boundaries with it as well. Some examples of boundaries you might want to set with this relationship are:
Being forced into a relationship with someone, or in this case, something that we don't like is a tough pill to swallow. But when we can't exercise the right to break up with it, we're better off finding a way to live cohesively with it. Otherwise, we find ourselves in an emotionally draining relationship pattern with our food allergy, giving it ALL of the control rather than finding ways to live harmoniously. What relationship rules do you have with your food allergy?
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As a licensed professional counselor trained in family therapy, I am always curious about how various factors impact family systems. The family is like a mobile in which everyone plays a role in its stability. So it's no surprise that the balance can be thrown off by even the simplest of changes.
The addition of a food allergy into a family system often results in major changes that affect most members of the unit. There have been studies done about the impacts on quality of life for parents/caregivers who care for a child with a food allergy, such as SOAAR's research studies on these and related topics. However, I was curious specifically how non-food allergic siblings felt about having a sibling with food allergies.
In order to gain some insight on this topic, I created an informal and anonymous survey* with these seven questions (listed with results below), which was completed by 25 participants:
(Parents were allowed to complete the survey on behalf of those too young to complete it themselves)
How old are you?
How many siblings with food allergies/related illnesses do you have?
What do you do to help with your sibling's food allergy? (Sample of answers):
Do you worry about your sibling because they have a food allergy?
What other feelings do you have about having food allergies in your family? (Sample of answers):
Do you ever feel you get less attention because you don't have a food allergy?
Please share anything else you'd like to about food allergies being part of your family. (Sample of answers):
Conclusions and Thoughts....
Food allergies, as well as any chronic illnesses, are a family disease - it impacts each member of the family in different ways, both positively and negatively. Some sibling impacts were highlighted by this brief, informal survey.
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*THANK YOU TO THOSE WHO VOLUNTARILY COMPLETED THIS SURVEY. Those who took the anonymous survey were informed on this writer's professional counseling background, the purpose of the survey being for educational purposes, and how the survey results would be utilized in educational materials, such as a blog post. They were told they could reach out to this writer for results if they were interested.
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