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How a Dysfunctional Childhood Impacts Your Behavior Today

How a Dysfunctional Childhood Impacts Your Behavior Today

Although biology and genetics play a huge role in our development, the way we were treated in childhood is foundational to our emotional well being. Here are some startling statistics from “Resurrecting therapy: putting Big Pharma on the couch” by Erick Kuelker, PhD (Psychotherapy Networker, Sep/Oct 2019, pp 45-49) showing that when it comes to mental health, we hardly grow up on an equal playing field, that is, some of us really are far more unlucky and unfortunate than others. 

Such as, “Someone fortunate enough to have grown up in an emotionally healthy home had an 18% chance of developing depression by middle age. But having just one adverse child experience (ACE) boosted the risk by 50% . . . three to 84% and five or more to 340% greater risk.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study by Robert Anda).

Children of angry, narcissistic, unpredictable or poorly emotionally regulated parents frequently need to shift into fight-flight-freeze mode. “Cortisol and adrenaline are pumping into their little blood vessels multiples times a week, sometimes for hours at a time. Given how often their amygdala is activated, they get easily launched into an alarm state, and take much longer to calm down. The sympathetic nervous system is firing over and over and over. Fear, anger, shame, guilt and sadness flood through their body repeatedly. As a result, the areas of the brain responsible for planning and emotional control don’t develop fully.” Brain cell insulation and DNA can actually be altered by this constant barrage of stress. Moreover, adolescents in stressful family situations are “30% likelier to be sedentary and 60% likelier to be severely obese.”

If you were neglected or had parents with mental health or addiction problems or if they suffered physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, it’s likely that you had one or more ACE events in childhood. You might minimize these experiences and say you’re fine, but your dysregulated eating tells another story. If you’re unsure if you’ve experienced ACE events, read my blog on them (

It's not your fault. You were a victim of circumstance and didn’t choose your parents or life experiences. You weren’t taught how to regulate your emotions, engage in ongoing self-care or love yourself well. This is why you may pick unhealthy friends and mates, have had trouble with self-soothing but turn to food for comfort, and why you act as if you don’t deserve much in life and have low self-esteem. However, you are no longer a victim. You have the power today to transform your life and your eating. Find a therapist to help you retrain your brain and your eating will follow.