19th March 2021

Children unknowingly modify their behaviour to have the best chance to get acceptance and love, and to avoid punishment and pain.
 
Repeated messages from caregivers can easily become part of our life script. For example, messages such as ‘you must work hard’ or ‘you must be nice’ become strict rules that we may not even notice that we have. These messages easily get internalised as rules such as ‘be perfect’ or ‘be slim’. Whether we feel ok about ourselves can depend on whether we feel that we align with these rules.
 
Our scripts give us recognisable repeated feelings, such as restriction and bingeing, which can cover up the original pain. The script assumes that this repeated feeling is ‘better’ than the one it is covering up, but in the end becomes much more debilitating than the underlying one.
 
Learn how your experiences form life scripts that trap you in unhelpful cycles of behaviour. We discuss ways to rewrite your life scripts to escape cycles of bingeing and yo-yo dieting.

 
 
Escape cycles of binge eating and yo-yo dieting by rewriting your unhelpful life scripts
 
The past influences the present, even if we don’t like to admit it.
 
What is a life script?
Our eating behaviour and body image are formed by past experiences and are kept going by how we live our life now.
 
By the age of 2 years old most children can recognise themselves in the mirror. As soon as children can see their own reflection, they can start to see how others view their appearance and their actions. They also unknowingly modify their behaviour to have the best chance to get acceptance and love, and to avoid punishment and pain.
 
These experiences form a life script. Much of our life, including careers and relationships are also influenced by this life script.
 
Our parental voices
As well as life scripts being influenced by events, we also internalise our parents’ opinions and actions as part of our life script.

The critical voice: This is the voice telling you that you are ‘fat’ and need to go on a diet. The critical’ parent talks about ‘should’, ‘must’ and ‘haven’t’. The critical parent withholds love and affection if you ‘fail’ on your diet. However, it might let you have another biscuit if you have been ‘good’ that day.

The nurturing voice: The nurturing parent allows you have flexible boundaries and is compassionate and understanding. The nurturing parent allows you the autonomy and the power to choose what you do within those flexible boundaries.

Our rules
Caregivers and other people of influence have strong effects on us as children and their repeated messages can easily become part of our script. For example, messages such as ‘you must work hard’ or ‘you must be nice’ become strict rules that we may not even notice that we have. These messages easily get internalised as rules such as ‘be perfect’ or ‘be slim’. Whether we feel ok about ourselves can depend on whether we feel that we align with these parental rules.
 
These parental rules and behaviours are absorbed by us as children to create their interpretation of the world and how they can best function to emotionally protect themselves, to feel ‘safe’.
 
Parental modelling
It is not what parents tell us, but what they model or show us that has the most impact. Even if your parent told you to eat a balanced range of food and not to skip meals, if you saw your parent starve themselves in an attempt to lose weight, it is this modelling that will have more of an impact on how your relationship with food may be.
 
Nourished or punished?
It was likely that some of the experiences that formed your life plan were nourishing and some were punishing. There is no need to assign ‘blame’ to rewrite life scripts. Even if childhood experiences did lead to challenging life scripts, there is a difference between intent and impact. Many of the things our parents did, and that we do as parents, are with the best intentions, even though the later impact may not be wholly desirable.
If parts of our life plan were formed when we felt threatened or unloved, when emotional survival was uncertain, we may have learnt to ignore some of our needs so that we could ‘fit in’. These patterns can feel rigid if we did not have certainty about how to be at the time. Despite this, we can learn to loosen the power of these underlying life scripts.

Here is an example of how these life scripts influence us:
  1. Original event happens:
    • Told to stop crying and given food to keep quiet.
  1. We create a ‘script’ from the event:
    • I must not be sad. Food makes me happy.
  1. A similar event happens, and we behave in the same way, even if many years later:
    • I feel upset about work today, that is not ok. I want to eat.
  1. We behave in a way that aligns with our script, thereby reinforcing it.
    • Being upset is not ok, so I reach for food to feel happy, I binge eat to block out emotions.
 
Here is a way that you could rewrite this script:
  1. Original event happens:
    • Told to stop crying and given food to keep quiet.
  1. We create a ‘script’ from the event:
    • I must not be sad. Food makes me happy.
  1. A similar event happens, and we notice our patterns of behaviour and choose to act in a different way, even though it might be difficult to start with:
    • I feel upset about work today. I spoke about it with friends and thought about how what I can do to help tomorrow be easier.
  1. We behave in a way that challenges our script, thereby reducing it’s power.
    • Being upset is not ok, so I spoke to a friend to help me feel happy, I used social support to work through emotions.
What is a healthy life script?

A healthy life script is flexible to changes where basic needs are met. A child who learns to eat healthily with pleasure, and stop when they are full, with the support and modelling of parents, is likely to develop beliefs and patterns about healthy eating and a healthy relationship with food.
Why do we keep repeating scripts when they don’t do us any good?

Even when we have noticed that we are repeating unhelpful life scripts and patterns of behaviour, we can easily still repeat them. There are at least three reasons for this:
  • A script provides familiarity and structure. It provides a pattern of behaviour and a result; this familiar pattern can feel soothing even if the actual behaviour is distressing, like bingeing. The familiarity can be comforting, and we may feel as if we have some control. This repetition avoids uncertainty which can feel more uncomfortable than the distress the binges cause.
  • If the scripts were formed at a time of emotional pain, we did these things to avoid the original pain. Repeating the script allows us to continue avoiding the original pain.
  • Because these scripts provide familiarity and a form of comfort, we alter how we think about the world to fit in with our original scripts. An example of this could be thinking that ‘I have no control over binge eating’.
Why do we still avoid childhood pain?
Children create scripts to avoid pain. As an adult, we keep using these scripts to avoid that same indescribable childhood pain. However, as an adult we can probably cope with that childhood pain, but we usually don’t give ourselves the chance to.
 
Our scripts give us recognisable repeated feelings, which cover up the original pain. The script assumes that this repeated feeling is ‘better’ than the one it is covering up, but in the end becomes much more debilitating than the underlying one.
 
Some examples of how scripts influence other aspects of our life
If a child gets told not to cry and then develops anger to cover it up, then any emotionally charged situation will be met with anger, instead of what would be the ‘real’ underlying appropriate emotion. This could easily lead to relationship problems due to angry outbursts and even problems with the law when the person may actually be feeling vulnerable and insecure and not angry at all. Anger is often a sign of another, more ‘vulnerable’, emotion underneath.
 
If we are told not to make a fuss by an anxious parent, we will likely develop anxiety and under-assertiveness as a ‘cover’ for any other feelings. This could lead to limiting our career aspirations due to debilitating anxiety and a lack of assertiveness or confidence to pursue our favoured career.
 
Life scripts and inertia 
Many of us have gone through life doing what we think we should do, this may be at least partly due to life scripts. We have ended up doing things that were expected of us by our family and by society, without necessarily choosing to do them. Because we get used to travelling the expected path, it is difficult to step back and realise what we really want, or where we want to go. We forget what we dream of being before we add ‘but’ or ‘I can’t’.
How to rewrite your unhelpful life scripts
Take a few deep breaths and notice where your feet are touching the ground. Come back here if you find this exercise too much.
  1. Be open to noticing the scripts and the repeating patterns of behaviour that is not benefiting you.
  2. Can you notice your inner critical parent voice? What is it saying?
  3. Can you speak from you inner nurturing parent voice instead? What would that voice say?
  4. What emotions you are avoiding with this behaviour?
  5. Does a childhood memory come to mind when you are thinking about this?
  6. If so, what emotions were you feeling then?
  7. Did you allow yourself to feel them? Can you feel them now?
  8. You are now an adult. Can you now cope with this emotion and find another way to deal with it?
Take a few deep breaths and notice your feet again. How can you rewrite your life script?
 

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Disclaimer

The information in this website is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr Kirsten Keighley on behalf of Dr Kirsten Keighley Ltd. We recommend you make your own health decisions based on your own research and consultation with a qualified health professional. We recommend that you consult your and your child’s doctor and/or dietician before beginning a new diet or exercise programme.