Serbian bread, Author Srdan Vesic (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported, GNU)

Pantomime dates as far back as ancient Rome.  A form of entertainment which conveys meaning without using words, pantomime is today generally geared toward children.

That, as it turns out, is highly appropriate.

Children – especially the youngest – lack words for many of the things they experience.  They can, however, convey information without being aware of doing so.  Most of us are familiar with the use of puppets and toys to elicit information from little ones who may have been abused [1].  Pantomime can play a role, as well.

Food and Children

Food has emotional significance for children.  Food represents nurture.  It is life.  Children require both physical and emotional sustenance.  When one is lacking, the other may serve as a temporary substitute.

Food and Abuse

This can be useful in the short term.  Even as adults, we recognize the concept of “comfort” food.  However, when children are chronically deprived of love and attention, no amount of food will rectify the problem.

Unfortunately, children may ignore that reality in a futile attempt to have their emotional needs met.  Overeating can be a sign of emotional starvation [2][3].  It may, also, be a sign of sexual abuse [4].

With child molestation, a child can feel overwhelming anger, but lack the means of expressing that powerful emotion.  Food, in this context, may be used to push the anger down.  This is an instinctive response, not one consciously pursued by the child.

Lifelong Weight Issues

The child’s frantic overeating can lay the foundation for a lifelong struggle with weight.

As adults, most of us have long since forgotten what gave rise to our overeating.  Oh, we know the battle with the scale is a matter of life and death.  But our opponent is the woman in the mirror, and our motivation to get those childhood needs met.

We stuff the food down, barely tasting it, forcing our emotions down.  We eat uncontrollably, even foods we may find unappetizing.  And no matter how much we eat, we cannot get enough.

Weight issues become a kind of pantomime for the abuse.  Silently, we cry out – our pain obvious, our shame obvious, our flaws on display for the world to see.  What was to have provided comfort, becomes a means of punishment and public humiliation.  The more we eat, the worse we feel; the worse we feel, the more we eat.

The Bread of Life

The answer is not pie or cake, not a pill or concoction, and not constant dieting.  Dieting, if abuse victims can manage it, is certainly a help.  But the real answer, the long-term solution, is having our emotional needs met.

We can educate ourselves about abuse, rejecting the stigma attached to that formative experience in our lives.  We can choose to treat ourselves less judgmentally, when it comes to weight issues.  We can make a deliberate effort to nurture ourselves.

And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life.  He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst ” (John 6: 35).

Above all, we can take our pain to God.  He is able to meet our needs at their deepest level.  Though others in our lives may have failed us, God never will.

With God’s assistance, we can express ourselves in ways that no longer require pantomime.

[1] This technique must be employed by a trained expert. It is possible to misinterpret what children are actually attempting to convey and, also, possible to confuse them by using leading questions which suggest the desired response.

[2] It is worth noting that neglected children are frequently malnourished. Infants have been starved to death by a parent.

[3] Childhood obesity can result from many factors. By itself, it should not be viewed as diagnostic for emotional abuse.

[4] Loss of appetite may, also, be a sign of sexual abuse. Because loss of appetite is non-specific, other factors should be considered, as well.



Filed under Child Abuse, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse

16 responses to “Pantomime

  1. In my poetry I often use the term “hungry heart”, which I doubt is original–but it works for me. I suspect I’m still trying to feed the emotional starvation I suffered–but at least I have awareness of what I’m doing at 63. God bless you each and every day for your heart, and work on behalf of so many.

    • Thank you for the blessing, Shadeau. I only wish there were more I could do. I think alot of us respond to the term “hungry heart”. Springsteen immortalized it. There is something restless inside human beings — victims and non-victims alike. It’s a longing for love and something more, something we cannot even name. Be well. ❤

      • Ahh, it was Springsteen–how quickly I forget the music of my time!! 🙂 Yes, the “longing for something we cannot name”–which many pastors say is “God” 🙂 I’m thinking “fulfillment and completion” would name it–and only in God do we find both of those. Blessings on your week 🙂

  2. jacky

    As always Anna you have hit the mark, certainly with me, I still struggle with eating issues and even the thought of food at this time makes me feel horrible. But the LORD knows so I entrust everything to him.It is also true Anna about expressing those deep anger issues, I still struggle with the words to find to convey even normal emotions that is why I write to alleviates some of the discomfort. I am much more accepting of this nowadays learning to be patient with myself and kind. Thank you for this Anna God Bless ….. jacky xx

    • You are not alone, Jacky. Because they are so fundamental, these issues can have a long life. I’m glad you found the post helpful. Like you, I unburden myself by writing. As you say, patience and kindness with ourselves are key.


      A. ❤

  3. Monochrome nightmares

    A very interesting and
    eye opening post Anna.
    Thank you.

  4. I ran Christian Weight Control Groups for 20 years Anna after being trained by the Health Department. I had Seven leaders and many woman over the years attended and all had experienced the problems with overweight’s ups and downs and yes what you shared is very True, emotional eating is very often the result of Abuse, Fear and also Guilt and food does indeed tranquilize our negative feelings but only for a short time and than like with drugs we need more.

    As we know Anna, the word dieting starts with “Die” and yes it is often a real bondage but as you shared: Jesus has set us free from all slavery of the flesh so as we aim to be Perfected in Love we put our Carnal flesh to death by the empowering of The Holy Spirit….. yes the Battle is The Lord’s.

    Christian Love – Anne.

    • Thank you for sharing your extensive experience, Anne. I’m sure you helped a great many deal with this painful subject. Those for whom the battle continues must not castigate themselves for their dieting failures. Healing from abuse can take time. Weight issues are only a symptom.

      On the topic of spiritual perfection, I can recommend a powerful post by Bill Sweeney to readers. Bill is a long-time ALS sufferer. He blogs at Unshakable Hope. The post is called “Becoming Perfect”. Readers can find it at ❤

  5. some times abuse survivors over eat to make themselves unappealing to their abusers. and to everyone. because fat women in america are invisible. invisible is safe.

  6. Very interesting post, Anna. One suggestion– I think there needs to be a better transition between paragraphs three and four. The switch from pantomime to food needs a better connection (or perhaps make pantomime a separate post). The essay would begin great at paragraph four.

    The transition from overeating to the solution flows very well.

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