Life paths begin at birth

Our experiences during infancy and early childhood can set us on a path with open communication and understanding of our moods and feelings or leave us in the dark. Difficult conversations are something that the author, Alice Miller, had to have with herself for decades before many others in the academic world joined in. Early childhood experiences teach us wordless lessons that may positively or negatively affect our habits throughout our daily lives.

Alice Miller trained and worked in the field of psychoanalysis  in Switzerland and then dedicated herself to writing books since 1980. She shares stories of fictional people in the book, Paths of Life; Seven Scenarios (1998). [1] The stories are written as if told by real people but are of composite characters representing real life issues experienced by many people. The people within the scenarios talk openly about some of the difficulties that too many infants and children have to live through but who may never have gotten a chance to voice out loud. Reading about the struggles that others survived and learned from can help put a voice to personal issues that may have been lingering wordlessly since one’s own childhood.

“But if we don’t go out on a limb ourselves, we’ll never find out what others are capable of. Addressing difficult subjects squarely can sometimes make the unexpected happen. Or not, as the case may be. There are lots of people who give the impression of being open and are very good at talking, but they’ll start panicking immediately if they’re asked to leave the fortress they’ve built around themselves. They can’t imagine surviving without that kind of protection.”

– Alice Miller [1, Paths of Life, p 51]

The scenarios created and shared by Alice Miller help to break through some of the more common fortress walls that may have been built in early childhood or from later traumatic experiences. Scenarios from traumatic childbirths and descriptions of more positive experiences of childbirth and lactation are also shared.

{Disclosure – I’m only on page 51 so far, and it’s a great book.  She has written other great books on the topic of empowering children of all ages, such as The Drama of the Gifted Child, [2], Breaking Down the Wall of Silence, [3], and Banished Knowledge, [4].}

*Having completed the book does not change my opinion that it is a great book worth reading but I will add that while the words are easy to read the topics are challenging to consider emotionally and intellectually. Not talking about difficult events in personal or world history is more likely to lead to history repeating itself in future generations. Dictators and the possibility that parenting styles and early child experiences may leave people more susceptible to following an authoritarian leader as adults is discussed in one of the chapters.

History is more likely to repeat if we deny it happened or fail to discuss it and learn from it.

This article reviews a book that looks at how Hitler and the Nazi movement may have formulated some of their policies on discriminatory laws that existed at the time in the U.S. at the state level.

/Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./


Values learned in childhood may need to be relearned as an adult

Some right and wrong or good and bad exist in most situations. Decisions usually are made from a variety of choices that each contain a mix of some good and bad aspects. The expected outcome from a decision can’t be known ahead of time; expected results can only be estimated based on results from previous situations that were similar or by making guesses. Focusing on what is good or bad or right or wrong about the choices is helpful but that more realistically becomes a question of right for who and wrong for who? and how right or how wrong for those individuals or groups of people?.

Internal values provide guidance for the choices we make. Understanding how our values developed from childhood and how those internalized values can affect our daily actions is discussed in the book Integrity:  Doing the Right Thing for the Right Reason (2007). Ideas are included to help improve recognition of why some behavior habits seem harder to change then others and ideas for tackling those tougher choices are provided. Internalized values learned as a child may not match society’s expectations of morality. What was accepted as ‘good’ behavior in the childhood environment often remains the typical pattern of behavior later in life even if the early childhood habits are no longer helpful.

A child that suffers from emotional or physical neglect or abuse in their family home may learn to hate themselves and love their family members because their physical and emotional survival depends on their family. In a way the child is trying to make sense out of their world and are trying to be in agreement with the people in their lives. Victims or prisoners in an abusive or captive situation have also been known to develop a strong emotional bond with their captors. The condition became known as Stockholm Syndrome since 1973 when the behavior pattern was seen after a hostage situation. The victim’s survival may seem to depend on the good or bad mood of the person in control. Anticipating and pleasing the controlling person may seem self protective for the victim.

Children who grew up in emotionally neglectful or abusive situations may not have learned more typical, healthy ways to behave or communicate with others. Severe illness during early childhood also may affect behavior patterns later in life. Dissociation or detaching the mind from feelings is a natural reaction to pain that can become a more frequent reaction for some people. The child from a dysfunctional upbringing may not realize that their sense of normal doesn’t match the average person’s definition of normal. Two children from similar dysfunctional backgrounds might understand each other as adults better than they understand other people. They may help provide emotional support for each other that they hadn’t received as young children. As a team, the grown up children may be emotionally stronger together than they are as separate individuals. The idea of breaking up such a team before they are each individually ready might feel like it would be neglectful or dangerous to the safety of the individuals, (in a way that has nothing to do with the Stockholm Syndrome that has been seen in hostage situations, instead the children learned the behavior patterns of someone with Stockholm Syndrome from what they experienced while growing up in their own childhood home).

Skills and abilities are not handed out in evenly balanced amounts. Working with others or within a team helps provide a variety of skills from the whole group which can help balance gaps in individual ability or knowledge. Communication with others is important for revealing where improvement might be needed within oneself or within a team’s set of skills. Sharing can help with growth of skills. We don’t know what we don’t know or what skills might be missing until after we’ve learned about the lack through experience or from a more experienced guide.

Skills and abilities are a gift from birth and from education.

Advocating for the mental health rights of children and survivors of childhood abuse could help save money and empower lives. Medications and talk therapy may not treat or reveal the underlying problems with communication learned in childhood. Screening questions for problems associated with dysfunctional behavior exist but may be infrequently used. For some conditions like depersonalization disorder, a problem seen in survivors of child abuse and in workaholics, education about the condition typically helps more than medications, but screening and accurate diagnosis are needed first.

A few other books are listed below which may be helpful for recognizing and recovering from mental health and behavioral issues:

  1. Steinberg, M., and Schnall M., The Stranger in the Mirror: Dissociation-The Hidden Epidemic, (Quill, 2003, New York, NY) [Amazon}
  2. Sanderson, C., Counselling Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, Third Ed., (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2006, London, UK) [Amazon]  *This book is written for counselors about counseling and is not intended as a self help book.
  3. Williams, D., Exposure Anxiety-The Invisible Cage; An Exploration of Self-Protection Responses in the Autism Spectrum and Beyond, (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2003, London, UK) [] *The author has professional and personal experience with avoidance behaviors seen in people with autism and discusses a variety of coping skills for caregivers and ideas are included for use in educational group settings. Excerpt: “The friendly person caught up in involuntary avoidance responses appears uninterested, cold, and unfriendly. The person capable of intense interest and focus who gets caught up in diversion responses can seem like a clown who never takes anything seriously. The accepting, empathic person caught up in retaliation responses can appear insensitive and selfish.” (p180)
  4. Butler G., and Hope T., Managing Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide, (Oxford University Press, 1995, Oxford or New York) [2007 edition, Amazon]

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

What to say when you’re talking to yourself

What To Say When You Talk To Yourself, is a book about a cognitive therapy strategy that I found very helpful for my overeating problem. I never attended an Overeater’s Anonymous group. I didn’t think my dietitian self could stay anonymous or keep from trying to counsel others. The OA 12 Step group I believe recommends no snacks and controlling your meals carefully. I believe that deprivation and over-controlling eating can make the binge eating problem worse in my experience and based on review of other research in the field of eating disorders.

My individual therapy with a child trauma counselor helped guide me to my suppressed feelings of unworthiness. Deep down I felt bad, naughty, undeserving of comfort or touch. Not at any fault of my parents. I did get hugs and kisses and loving guidance through life but we didn’t talk about our feelings much. I grew up eager to please or eager to avoid attention so I could continue reading my latest book in peace.

Negative messages that you heard your entire life can be hard to change. Reading new statements can help retrain the old negative message into a healthier one. Daily review of the new self talk statements can be done while brushing your teeth if the statement is on an index card by your mirror, or if it’s posted in your car, or by your phone. I wrote them all in a spiral notebook of index cards and would flip through the whole set  a few times a day. I haven’t read them in a while and I think I should start again – they are helpful.

I am posting my modified statements about health and eating based on the recommendations for rewriting your internal self talk,

What to Say When You Talk To Yourself:  Amazon Link .

The book did have eating related examples but some of them were deprivation oriented. Retraining disordered eating habits requires focus on relearning hunger and fullness signals. Deprivation and controlled eating tend to backfire and lead to worse binges in my experience and based on my review of research in the field of disordered eating. The body has to have sustenance and just stop all use, “cold turkey” type strategies do not work the same for substances that are essential to life. We have to eat food for daily fuel and rebuilding purposes and can’t just stop eating “cold turkey” in the same way and some other addictions may be given up 100% rather than be used in moderation or withdrawn from use slowly.

Cravings have to do with real physical needs of the body. Our instincts and taste buds help guide us to the foods that have the nutrients that we need. Trying to fight cravings with a set menu and controlled portions of foods chosen by someone else or even by yourself but at a different time may not be what your body needs at the moment and may leave the appetite unsatisfied and still seeking something.

Allowing yourself to nibble a variety of things by the bite or two can help to retrain the appetite and taste-buds to recognize the flavors and smells associated with the food that ultimately satisfies – when the bite or two leads to the “aha that is what I want” food, then eat more of that and the appetite memory for that taste and satisfied feeling will be stronger the next time that you have that sort of hunger.

Foods deliver nutrients and the body can learn which foods satisfy certain types of needs – salty snacks deliver sodium which is needed after a sweaty day or may be needed in increased amounts after drinking a lot of diuretic beverages such as coffee, black tea, or alcoholic beverages.

Salt and potassium delivery units are essential after a sweaty workout or a long night. The piece of fruit in the morning with a handful of lightly salted almonds would quench a thirst for electrolytes with more variety of nutrients then the glass of juice and salty piece of bacon found in a common American breakfast would deliver. Both meal examples are only part of a typical breakfast – I’m trying to highlight the potassium and sodium cravings. We need a little every few hours all day long. Meals and snacks help with good hydration and that helps with energy level and regular removal of toxins. Lactic acid build up in muscle tissue can slow down the  worker/athlete. Drinking plenty of water and having a salty food with a fruit or juicy vegetable will give the body the replacements that were sweated out or used up by the working muscles. Bonus if the salty food is magnesium rich because the muscles waste that as well. (like nuts )

I know how to eat well and it is still a daily challenge, more due to laziness however and less due to emotional reasons  now (I slowly realized that I was stuffing my anger – eating my words with the emotional over eating problem.)

Positive self talk statements

I live actively. My body is strong and healthy.

I have the lung and heart power to do what I need to do every day.

I move fluidly through space.

I have the power to leap joyfully.

I breathe deeply. I enjoy ginger, spicy food, hot soup and tea and saunas because they help my sinuses.

I protect my inner ear from congestion, by avoiding foods that are mucous producing and environments that are dusty, musty and smokey.

I avoid toxic food and environments that make me feel sicker.

I protect myself from sickness.

I rest when I need to rest.

I respect my body’s limits and I don’t push myself past my limits.

I move my body regularly and avoid sitting still for hours.

(I need to start rereading this list – actually I’m going to set my computer up where I can stand in front of it. If the system has problems, then change the system.)

I avoid extremes by planning my time and setting steps towards my ultimate goals.

I plan my day and calmly do what I can towards fulfilling the goals.

I prioritize my goals so that important things are not put off.

I am in control of myself in every way — at all times and in all situations.

Each time that I sit down to eat I remember my goal for health. By eating right, and never giving in I am reaching the weight that I want.

Whether eating in or eating out, I really enjoy not over eating; being overstuffed is uncomfortable.

I never feel the need to finish the food in front of me. I eat only until my hunger is satisfied — and never one bite more.

*I have purposely started a practice of actually spitting out food (into a napkin), if I do notice myself eating from emotional reasons. I stop chewing and spit the food out – just because I made the mistake of starting the angry or sad or anxious eating reaction doesn’t mean that I have to swallow – to continue the emotional over-reaction – and to continue reinforcing the negative habit. Better to break the pattern, even if a napkin is involve.

I eat healthy food for energy and sustenance, not for comfort or boredom.

Starving children on the other side of the world are not going to benefit by my emptying my dinner plate.

Leftovers are for saving for later, not for finishing up even if I’m full.

I put away leftovers and make the meal useful the next day for lunch, dinner, or a healthy snack.

I help starving children by buying less junk food and donating the money.

One way to weight loss that’s easy and works, is less food on my plate, and less on my fork!”   *This and the next statement are from the book, What to Say When You Talk To Yourself,  by Shad Helmstetter, PhD. I kept the two statements but am not a proponent of the “eat less” theory of weight loss. Fiber rich foods are bulky and we eat healthier when we eat more bulky fiber rich whole foods. So less chocolate bars or dessert on my plate – yes – but less food altogether is not necessarily a healthier choice.

Less on my plate means less on my waist.” *** author, Shad Helmstetter’s example – that statement is both true and not true, see above.

When I sit down to eat, at no time do I allow anyone else to influence, tempt, or discourage me in any negative way.

What I eat and the goals I reach, are up to me. And I give no one else the right to hinder or control my success.

I am never, at any time, tempted to take one bite more than I need. I am strong, I am capable of reaching my goal, and I am doing it!

Although others may benefit from my success, I am achieving my weight-loss goals for my own personal reasons — for myself, my life, my future, and my own personal well-being.

I feed my inner child love and nurturing and prepare healthy meals and snacks. Sedating myself with carbohydrates is harmful and not helpful.

I comfort myself with meditation, a warm bath, a hot cup of tea, or music and movement.

***I found the movie “The Celestine Prophecy”[] so helpful that I added a few statements from it to my flip-book of cognitive therapy statements. The movie was based on the book, The Celestine Prophecy, by author, James Redfield, Amazon: []

I let go and Let be.”

“I find energy within and avoid battling others for it.”

“I open up and receive energy.”

“I accept energy from others and the energy is amplified for both of us.”

“Instead of taking energy from others I give it.”

“I follow my instincts and listen to my heart and gut.”

“The guidance within us, leads us towards the heaven within us.
To know this . . . is our destiny.”

Our instincts try to guide us towards what we need but it is up to us to pause and listen.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.