During the last fifty years much attention has been given by physicians to the manner in which emotional development affects the general health of people. Almost from the moment of birth a child begins having emotional experiences. Among the first of the child’s relationships is that with his mother. From her he gets his food; therefore his early emotions are related to eating and elimination of waste material. Later in life his emotional relationship to his mother may be reflected in gastrointestinal disturbances.
Practically all little children suck their thumbs. I asked one of my little grandchildren why he liked his thumb, “Is it salty?”; “Is it sweet?”; “Are you hungry?”. He said, “I suck my thumb ’cause it’s mine.”
Among primitive people much symbolic magic is associated with eating. People devoured their enemies or portions of the bodies of their enemies to gain strength. They would choose the heart of the lion as a special prize. The most intelligent mother looking at her new baby says: “I would like to eat you.” As people grow older these gastrointestinal attitudes are reflected in such conditions as alcoholism, overweight, inability to keep food down, loss of appetite, and ulcers. People reared with ritualistic taboos in their religions against certain foods respond with gastric distress when they violate these taboos after they have become detached from the family shelter.
Babies also react in relation to their habits of elimination and “get even” by refusing to eliminate or by doing so too often. Doctors have related colitis, constipation, and diarrhea to emotional factors.
Modern dynamic psychology also makes much of the family relationships of the older child, including envy of father, mother, brothers, and sisters. Frigidity in women or sexual inability in men may be far more mental than physical.
From the moment of birth the child, who has been warm and almost completely protected in the body of its mother, becomes subjected to great numbers of new sensations. These may include noises, lights, bruises, hunger, infections, smells, and irritations. While no longer a part of his mother, he is still completely dependent on her for food and water and freedom from mental and physical stresses and irritations. Psychologists state that throughout life the individual meets stresses by trying to get back to the security and pleasure of his prenatal and infantile life. If he cannot do it actually in his waking hours, in daydreams, he does it in sleeping and dreaming at night. Some people shut themselves off so completely from reality that they show this in hysterical paralyses like inability to speak, to see, to hear, to eat, or to awaken. Again and again we read of patients, mostly young girls, who have slept for weeks or months. Fainting in the presence of any unwelcome sensation is a similar sort of phenomenon.
As the child grows older he learns to reject or spit out what is bad, to eat or assimilate what he likes. The psychologists use the word projection to indicate the way in which a person will project onto someone else their own unsatisfactory feelings or responses. A jealous husband, one authority suggests, is merely projecting onto his mate his own desire to be unfaithful.
As we grow older we learn by imitating others or identifying ourselves with others or with ideas, to satisfy our cravings for mastery. For that reason generals or leaders who command the admiration of their men get more successful results. We can control feelings of anxiety by translating them into action. Under the threat of bombing in London, those who participated in civilian defense were free from feelings of helpless anxiety. When people become helpless they revert to an infantile state with crying, inability to control elimination and similar phenomena.