Food, Control & Parents

We’re back to a psychological article for this issue – these do tend to be the most popular! Just when I think we’ve covered the main angles, another one presents itself and this is one that I expect (sadly in many ways) will be relevant to a number of you. Background – The 4 Pillars of Childhood It may be worth reading through the whole of Diet & Health Today 5 again – “Dieting mind games and how we win at them”. I’ll summarise the 4 Pillars of Childhood here, as it will be invaluable for what follows. The 4 Pillars of Childhood are the things that we need to have received during our formative years – up to the age of 5. If we were lacking in any, or all, of these, our emotional development will have been impaired. It is then important to understand in what ways our development has been impaired, so that we can ‘make up for’ anything missing, as best as we are able to, as adults. Often, simply by knowing what we lacked when younger and understanding why we are the way we are and why we do the things we do, this can help us to feel better about ourselves. It removes the mystery and bafflement of things that we find ourselves doing, or having thoughts that we would rather not have. Our adult emotions of depression, anxiety, perfectionism, never feeling good enough – can be traced to deficiency in some, or all, of the 4 pillars. I added a Pillar 0 before the main 4 to capture the likely scenario that our parents’ own upbringing may have been less than ideal for their personal development. This can help us understand why the people responsible for our wellbeing ‘failed’ us in some way. My guess is that any ‘far-from-perfect-parent’ had far-from-perfect-parents themselves. This is not to excuse or accuse – just to understand. So, here are the 4 pillars. If we missed any of the following, we are at risk of not having developed emotionally into a healthy adult: 1) Unconditional love and positive reinforcement from our parents and primary carers in our formative years (up to 4-5); 2) Discipline – boundaries to accompany the unconditional love; 3) Encouragement and respect from our parents and primary carers during the formative years and beyond; 4) Control of the self – feeling that we have control over our lives to the right extent at the right age. In writings about the 4 pillars, this point often focuses on the most extreme examples of abuse or neglect, but general control must be given over to a child at the right age all the time. If your parents rarely let you decide basic things: what to wear; what to eat; when to eat; when to sleep; when to wake up; who to play with, and so on – and particularly where this showed little change as you got older, you did not have adequate control of the self. This is one of the major precursors of anorexia. As anorexia is primarily about control – the teenager exerts control over one of the most primary “Maslow” needs – food. Young women, especially, assert themselves absolutely in an attempt to regain control of the self. Well behaved girls don’t rebel, get expelled, take drugs or get pregnant – their statement of control is to take back ownership of the most basic need in life – food and drink.

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