AN occurs due to an unconscious desire to remain childlike.
Crisp proposed that self starvation and loss of body weight resulting in postponement of menstruation was an attempt by the girl to reamin in a pre-pubertal state and avoid the responsibilities of adulthood.
Freud believed that eating and sex are symbolically linked. To refuse food represents a refusal of sexuality.
They may be unconsciously trying to prevent sexual maturity- this occurs in reality as menstruation ceases and breasts stop developing. It may be because of early sexual assault.
Bruch suggested that anorexics often have ineffective parents who ignore their childs needs and make inaccurate decisions as to whether they are hungry or tired.
This can make anorexics overly reliant on their parents and in adolescence, desperate to have control of their lives, may take control by extreme measures such as restricting eating.
Freud's explanation is supported by Carter who found of 77 anorectics they studied, 48% reported childhood sexual abuse.
This is further supported by Feldman & Meyer who found in a study of gay and bisexual men those who reported childhood sexual abuse were more likely to have developed AN than those who hadn't.
Sexual abuse may lead people to reject their bodies in adolescence and AN may be due to an unconscious desire to destroy their maturing bodies.
Support for Bruch
This theory is supported by the observation of parents of anorexic children who often have a tendency to define their child's needs instead of letting them define their own. For instance food is only offered at the correct times or when the parent is hungry.
Therefore the child has not developed a sense of control over this part of their life.
Furthermore Salzman found that 7 out of 11 female students who had ambivalent attachment types had a history of AN compared to none in the other 17. Suggests parents have a significant influence.
Psychology as a science
Although this theory may work for some cases of AN it is very difficult to test using rigorous scientific methods.
The unconscious cannot be measured or observed.
Evidence comes mainly from case studies that have issues of reliability as they cannot be replicated and have low internal validity.
However the success of family therapy for AN suggests that family dynamics have an important role and this offers support for Bruch's explanation.