Ending Narcissistic Traits and Patterns by Healing the Inner Child

Regardless of how the inner child shows up, it wants what all children want: a feeling of safety, belonging, acknowledgement, and love. Children need to express themselves, and to explore the world around them with freedom and knowing that they are secure.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall; Am I Narcissistic?

All children are innately self-centered and internalize their experiences and the behaviors of others.  This is especially true for traumatized children, who are wired to believe that the trauma taking place is because of them, rather than because of the traumatizer’s lack of internal resources.  Unless this distorted belief is corrected, victims of trauma may develop the narcissistic practice of making everything about them or seeing themselves as the center of another’s world. 

I want to emphasize I am referring to traits of narcissism rather than full blown narcissistic personality disorder.  I think the term “narcissist” is widely overused and often misused.  While there is a correlation between abuse/trauma and full-blown narcissistic personality disorder, not all abused or traumatized people grow up to become narcissistic in their thinking, and not everyone who displays narcissistic traits is a narcissist.  For example, many people feel anxious or depressed, it doesn’t mean they have generalized anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder.

Narcissism can be characterized by an extreme sense of self-centeredness and self-importance.  People believe this egotism is rooted in arrogance, but the opposite is true.  People with narcissistic tendencies and traits lack (or are disconnected from) a true sense of self, instead projecting a false, normally grandiose, image of who they want people to believe they are.  This is entirely dependent upon the participation and buy-in of others.  If there is no one to buy-in to the narcissistic person’s illusory self, they will fall apart.  They have no “self” outside of what others believe about them.  Since who they are depends on the perceptions of others, their primary objective is to control the narrative others have about them through manipulation, deceit, projection, intimidation, etc.

Again, I am speaking to narcissistic traits and tendencies, which can be present in anyone, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.  We develop these traits as a form of self-protection. 

Good Child vs Bad Child

Inner children can take on two forms of expression – the aggressive child consciousness, and the passive child consciousness. 

The aggressive inner child attempts to control their surroundings and others overtly.  Their need for attention manifests as loud, often intimidating behavior.  The passive inner child tries to control their surroundings by people-pleasing and avoiding conflict.  The aggressive child’s behavior is defensive; it says, “DON’T MESS WITH ME.”  The passive child’s behaviors say, “Look at how good I am.”  Both children are trying to ensure their safety; both children are in reaction to perpetual victimization.  One defends against being hurt pre-emptively and becomes emotionally, mentally or physically abusive; the other defends against it by becoming people pleasing and non-confrontational. 

So where does narcissism factor into any of this?  Both children operate from a space of self-centeredness, believing they have the power to influence others’ feelings and behaviors through the projection of a false identity.  The aggressive child scares people into behaving the way they want them to, and the passive child aims to please their way into safety.  They both use manipulation to do so, one just does it aggressively and one does it passively.  It’s manipulation because the intention is to control their relationships with others, rather than be present in the relationship.  They are both inauthentic in that their sense of self is dependent upon how others respond to them.  While one tries to keep other people feeling good to avoid getting hurt, the other tries to make people feel bad when their own sense of safety or well-being is threatened.  They both project their own insecurities onto others, making assumptions about what people will say and do.  This is a survival technique that they’ve mastered, and so they’ll both be good at reading people and anticipating how others will feel and respond.  Everything they do is motivated by others and there is no real sense of self (or true connection to self).  It’s all just a mask.

What Does the Inner Child Want?

When one is operating from their child consciousness, they are really living from a space of UNCONSCIOUS awareness—meaning, they are disconnected from the present moment and instead reacting to their triggers.  Hypervigilance ensues—this means reading people and places non-stop for potential threats and adjusting your own behaviors accordingly. 

Regardless of how the inner child shows up, it wants what all children want: a feeling of safety, belonging, acknowledgement, and love.  Children need to express themselves, and to explore the world around them with freedom and knowing that they are secure. 

Inner child work involves engaging with your child consciousness with radical compassion and acceptance.  Spending time with your younger self allows you to integrate the mini-you into the full-blown adult you are today.  Making time to engage in constructive activities your inner child enjoys, like coloring or playing a game, is one way to restore a sense of peace and joy to your younger self.  Envisioning yourself hugging or talking to your child consciousness is a great way to acknowledge him/her and foster a sense of safety and security.  The safer your child consciousness feels, the less reactive it is to your surroundings.  Over time you will become less self-absorbed and self-conscious.  You’ll find yourself living in the present, and approaching your relationships with more openness, authenticity and curiosity.  You’ll stop trying to control the way other people feel and behave, instead acutely aware of your own feelings and behaviors. 

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3 “Fat Loss” Mistakes That Caused Me to Gain 30 Pounds

15 years ago, I embarked on a health and wellness journey which resulted in a 120-pound weight loss result.  If you re-read that sentence, you’ll see I didn’t say it was a weight loss journey.  It wasn’t my aim to lose weight, it was my goal to improve my overall health because I was pregnant. 

Previously, focusing on weight loss always backfired.  I’d start a very strict regimen, only to sabotage my efforts after a week or two. This habitual pattern is displayed by Chronic Resistant Dieters, one of 3 dieting types I’ve observed over the years (more on that later).  This was my pattern until I found out I was pregnant.  Being pregnant forced me to look at the bigger picture regarding my health and wellness.  Once I tapped into that, I easily shifted into a mindset that supported a seamless weight loss transformation.

Fast forward several years.  Following my success, I became consumed with fear that I’d gain all my weight back.  This fear, coupled with people’s comments regarding the loose skin on my body, triggered some unhealthy patterns of eating for the sole purpose of controlling my weight and “fixing” my perceived imperfections, rather than maintaining my health.  I began falling for fad dieting narratives, which would work in the short-term, but had long-term ramifications.  I developed some unhealthy habits in the name of health, only for my health to suffer in the long-run.

Diet Sodas

Years ago, at a health fair sponsored by my then employer, I talked with a dietitian about my weight loss success.  She asked me about some of the strategies I was using to maintain my results.  I shared some of what I was doing and included that I was swapping my unhealthy vices for “healthy” variations, like trading regular soda for diet soda.

When she heard that I was drinking diet soda, she looked concerned.  She said, “Studies have shown that artificial sweeteners impact your insulin* levels the same way regular sugar does, which can lead to weight gain over time.”  You know what I did with that information?  I ignored it.

Yep, I flat out ignored her, because 1) I felt as though I had already given up so many of the foods I loved which made me obese to begin with and resented having to give up yet another food item; and, 2) I was addicted to soda.  I used to consume at least 3 liters of Pepsi every day.  Switching to diet soda seemed like a fair trade, and it worked at first.  It was a step in the right direction in terms of reducing the amount of sugar I was consuming.  But it didn’t address my addiction to soda.  I was still feeding this addiction and refused to pay attention to the health-related ramifications of continuing to satisfy this dependency. (Read more about Diet Soda addiction here).

Years later, I realized that she was right.  Despite eating well most of the time and exercising consistently, I found myself gradually gaining weight.  This angered me because I was still plagued with a “black and white” narrative regarding food (I’ll address this later).  This mindset results in resentment, resistance to change, and self-sabotage. 

When I finally made this connection, I stopped drinking diet soda.  Within my first week of doing so, I lost 4 pounds. 

I still use Stevia to sweeten coffee and tea.  So far studies support the theory that Stevia does not impact blood glucose levels.  But even still, I use it in moderation and stay away from diet sodas.  Do I miss my Coke Zero?  Sometimes.  Then I realize that’s all in my head.  For years I satisfied my thirst with soda rather than water.  The sweet taste activates the reward center of the brain.  Also, my brain was trained to associate thirst with a need for soda.  It may take a little time to undo that pattern, but I know from years of studying the science of behavior change, it can (and will be done).  So, for now, I keep a jug or glass of water with me.  Giving up diet soda has increased my water intake tremendously.  Adequate water intake has a million and one benefits, one of which is weight loss!

*A note about insulin – everyone’s insulin response (or sensitivity) is different.  People with higher insulin sensitivity (meaning, their body’s ability to remove sugar from the blood) may not experience the same impact from consuming sweets and sweet tasting foods (like diet soda) as someone with decreased insulin sensitivity.  Diabetes Type II runs in my family, and insulin insensitivity is a precursor to the onset of this disease.  Since I have a genetic predisposition for diabetes, I believe this may impact my insulin response.  As such, I can gain weight more easily by consuming sugar and artificial sweeteners.

Low-Carb Fad Diets

Not all carbs are created equal, yet somehow, mass hysteria around consumption of carbs, promotion of fad diets, and the internet’s penchant for viral misinformation, has caused most people to believe that to lose weight, they need to “cut” their carb intake.

Now, reduced carb intake DOES have several benefits on body composition.  Reducing added sugars and decreasing ingestion of starches can: 1) stabilize insulin levels throughout the day; 2) force the body to convert more of its stored fat for energy; 3) lessen water retention; 4) create a calorie deficit; and, 5) reduce cravings for sweet foods—all of which will result in weight loss.  However, many people abuse this method for the sake of losing weight quickly.  I was one of these people DESPITE KNOWING BETTER.

Why would I ignore the downsides of abusing low carb diets, even as a seasoned health coach?  Well, because of that fear of gaining weight back, along with a general sense of “I’m not good enough,” and leaning on a “black/white” dieting narrative. 

Reducing sugar intake alone improves health.  This includes sugars added to various processed foods, yogurts, and grains.  But there is no need to eliminate your intake of carbs.  Whole grain foods, potatoes, rice, fruit and vegetables contain water, fiber, and valuable nutrients which improve health and feelings of satiety over time.

So, how does abusing low carb diets contribute to weight gain over time?  They “can adversely affect metabolic flexibility and impair carbohydrate metabolism.” (Source)  What that means is, your body’s ability to use carbs for energy weakens, so that if/when you do start consuming carbs again, they’re more likely converted to and stored as fat, causing rebound weight gain.  This is especially bad if you are one of the millions of people who carry a variant in a gene called ankyrin-B.  This variation “causes fat cells to suck up glucose faster than normal, more than doubling their size. When an aging metabolism or high-fat diet is added to the equation, obesity becomes all but inevitable.”  (Source)  Low-carb diets often result in higher fat intake to compensate for the reduction in calories.  Low-carb diets are also extremely restrictive, and studies show restrictive dieting leads to increased binge eating behaviors.

When I look back on what I did to lose over 100 pounds 15 years ago, I was following the advice of my dietitian–I stuck to a low/moderate fat diet, and consumed healthy carbs.  When I began implementing this practice again, the weight began to fall off of me like magic.  But I know it’s not magic.  Eating a healthy balance of carbs, fats, and proteins, moving your body, and maintaining a calorie deficit, those are the practical ingredients of losing weight and sustaining your results.  Everything else is temporary.  I think as human beings we’re impatient, controlling, and make things harder than they need to be for the sake of getting quick results.  But in the long run, it’s not worth it.

It’s also not healthy. 

“Black and White” Thinking

A woman is having coffee and cake by a window in a cafe

Black and white thinking is the cause of something I call “chronic resistant dieting.”  Chronic Resistant Dieters have a hard time sustaining health changes because they take an “all or nothing” approach to health and wellness.  They believe that to attain their desired fitness goals, they must forgo all the foods they love for the rest of their lives and live in the gym.  I attribute this mentality to our overall culture and the fat-shaming messages we receive in the media.

I touched on this a little in my intro to this piece.  Whenever I focused on losing weight, I couldn’t sustain my efforts because they were almost always very restrictive.  But when I focused on the bigger picture, weight loss happened with ease and effortlessness. 

Following my transformation, I let that old “all or nothing” narrative creep back into my attitude and that resulted in years of yo-yo dieting and rebound weight gain, DESPITE being a certified fitness professional with scientific knowledge to prove what works and what doesn’t work.

And the reason we can “know better” yet fail to “do better” is because we can’t outrun our subconscious beliefs, values, and attitudes.

I talk about these harmful beliefs in my free 3-day program, “The Diet-Free Life: Eat with Peace, Purpose and Freedom.”  In this program I address the 3 most common types of chronic dieters, what they all have in common, and 3 principles for breaking free from the mental distortions keeping us stuck in patterns of chronic dieting. 

As you can see, my chronic dieting pattern is Resistant.  There are three patterns in total, and we often tend to carry the traits of at least 2.  Find out more here.

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Is your subconscious getting in the way of your exercise program?

Values Conflict: The real reason you’re too busy to exercise.

You ever find yourself wanting to make a change, but life circumstances keep taking priority over your goals? You might want to exercise every night after work, but for some reason you just never make it to the gym because issues at home seem to arise the minute you lace up your sneakers. Or you keep saying you’re going to finish that book/online study program you’re dying to complete, but as soon as you sit down to focus on it, something else gets your attention. Yeah, you don’t mean to sabotage your goals (or your life) consciously, I know. The truth is, it’s not you, it’s your subconscious getting in the way.

The most common response we have whenever we betray ourselves (that is, we say we’re going to exercise but we wind up cleaning the kitchen instead) is to feel helpless (victim) to our circumstances and like there isn’t enough time in the day. Some of us might even beat ourselves up for “failing” to do what we said we would do. And with each failure, we feel farther and farther away from our desires.

A lot of people will tell you that you’re just making excuses. They’ll say you’re not too busy, you just need to make time. They’ll regurgitate this sentence: “We all have the same 24 hours in a day!” They take a righteous approach and it fails. The righteous approach is ineffective because it misses the real point!

What a great coach (assuming you have one) will do when they recognize this pattern in a client is have a conversation around the client’s VALUES, NOT TIME MANAGEMENT. Your goals, whatever they may be, need to be examined through the lens of context and ecology. This means you need to consider the greater impact and total cost of that goal before you can commit to it. How will losing 20 pounds impact your family life, your job, your social life, etc.? Do your goals conflict with your values? This is important because if going to the gym means you’re not going to be able to cook for your children, and your values dictate that your children deserve home cooked meals from scratch, then it doesn’t matter how badly you want to lose weight, you’ll skip the gym every time.

If your subconscious mind detects a conflict with your value system, it’ll sabotage your efforts no matter how important your goal is to you. The subconscious mind always wins (everything we do, and I do mean everything, originates from subconscious programming). You can’t fight it. Willpower has a lifespan of 20 minutes in the brain. You can’t force yourself to change. You have to find a way of reconciling your goals with your values. You have to convince your subconscious that the change you want to make isn’t going to threaten your beliefs or quality of life.

So you’re probably thinking, “How do I get there? How do I get subconscious buy-in?” The short answer is to be honest about your priorities and your values, and find a way to make your goals fit into them rather than the other way around.

NYC– Join me this June for a fitness retreat.

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Trauma & Obesity: The Link We Ignore

One of the first things I do when a client asks me for help around their health and fitness goals is assess their mental health history. I’m not a mental health professional, but I’m trained to detect when someone’s challenges go beyond the scope of my practice as a health coach. For example, if someone is actively struggling with depression or an eating disorder, it’s my responsibility to make sure that they are referred to a licensed professional who is trained to deal with that specific issue.  I also explore their mental health history to see if it may be tied to their current physical state.

The weight loss and fitness industry tends to focus solely on weight loss methodology. This involves attempting to regulate the food we eat, and encouraging exercise. But very few health professionals check in with their clients around their mental and emotional well-being. This is unfortunate, as studies are finding there is a direct correlation between someone’s mental  health and physical well-being.


I was abused as a child, which affected the way my brain was hardwired.  Yes, exposure to various traumas at an early age will affect the physiological development of the brain.  This hardwiring pre-disposed me to depression and anxiety as I got older.  As a result, food became a coping mechanism for emotions I hadn’t learned to process.  But my issue wasn’t just about food.  Exposure to trauma and stress, especially in childhood, also affects our bodies.

In the late 90s, there was a study done which found a correlation between adverse childhood experiences and increased health risks as an adult (watch this TED Talk).  This study came about when a health professional at Kaiser  running a weight-loss clinic realized  many of his patients had been sexually abused.  It was eventually unconvered that stress hormones released during adverse experiences in childhood can predispose them to various health risks, including obesity.

While the brain is especially impressionable in childhood,  scientists studying neuroplasticity are finding that our brains remain malleable  beyond our youth.  This means trauma & grief (loss, illness, abuse, rape, etc.) experienced in adulthood also impacts the physiology of our brains.  And stress hormones (like cortisol) negatively impact insulin sensitivity, making it harder for the body to process carbs and subsequently leads to weight gain. 

So if we’ve known since the late 90s that obesity can be linked to trauma, why is it so often ignored by proponents of fitness and health?   Well for one, I think the topic can be uncomfortable for some people.  Listening to a person’s story around trauma & suffering requires a high degree of intimacy, vulnerability, and compassion.  Secondly, I believe that it has to do with this country’s consumer-driven culture. If we make obesity about people being lazy and undesirable, we can get people to spend money on weight loss products (a quick Google search showed me that the weight-loss industry as a whole was worth $64 billion in 2014).   There may be other factors involved, but I think these two are at the forefront of the problem, and require immediate attention.

Now, I’m not implying that everyone who is struggling with obesity has some type of severe mental health challenge or trauma to cope with. What I am highlighting, however, is in addition to educating people on healthy lifestyle practices, we also start checking in with them around their mental and emotional state of well-being.    If a person‘s unwillingness to exercise is linked to a depressive episode, then it’s the depression which requires attention, not their exercise habits.

Until health conversations become holistic and less weight-centered, we will continue to see people struggling to attain the physical well-being they so desire.   And until health practitioners (and society as a whole) cultivate and utilize compassion and acceptance instead of shame and guilt, we will continue to alienate those we claim to want to help the most.

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The Beauty of the Whole

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, and of the different subjects I am studying, the topic of compassion and acceptance have been the most powerful. Yes, exercising compassion and acceptance towards others is ideal, but the real challenge is exercising compassion and acceptance towards ourselves.

I relate this to many of us who struggle with unrealistic body image goals; those of us who use exercise as a form of punishment because we don’t feel good enough; those of us who are under siege when it comes to food and fear that every morsel will immediately affect the size of our thighs; those of us who hate our stomachs; those of us who cry whenever we step on the scale.

Be kind to yourself. Practice compassion for where you are and what you’ve been through. Accept who you are, as acceptance is truly the key to transformation.

​People think body acceptance means not wanting to change anything about it. That’s actually not what body acceptance is to me. Acceptance is a form of mindfulness–a way of acknowledging what is while suspending judgment. It’s a way of observing objectively and deciding what’s best for you. As that pertains to body acceptance, you can accept that in this moment you want to change certain aspects of your body from a place of kindness instead of shame, guilt, and perfectionism.

Speak to yourself with the same loving-kindness you would a friend or loved one. LOVE yourself, the whole of who you are, instead of ripping yourself into pieces and sorting those pieces into piles of “worthiness” and “unworthiness.” Zooming in on every imperfection makes us miss out on the beauty of the whole.

Regardless of what your body looks like today, you are and will always be lovable and worthy.

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