What is Emotional Hunger?
What is this thing we call hunger?
Hunger represents the physiological need to eat food. Feeling satiated is the absence of hunger. Appetite is the desire to eat food. When your belly is empty, the hormone called ghrelin is produced by the stomach triggering a hunger message. Satiety is the feeling of fullness that tells you to stop eating.
Now let's look at emotional hunger, its sensations and how it plays itself out.
Every single one of us gets hungry. We get hungry physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. We come into this world needing, from our primary caregiver; our moms to feed us and give us nurturing, and protection and safety from our dads. We need acceptance and permission to play with friends and family.
So what it emotional hunger?
You get emotionally hungry when you don't get what you need emotionally. Some people have this hunger that stems from childhood, leaving them with a primitive condition of pain and longing caused by deprivation.
Often, this is a pattern that gets passed down from generation to generation. Chances are that mom and/or dad were emotionally hungry children who carried those wounds into adulthood and parenthood and unconsciously ignored their child's needs. In this case, the adult child who was raised emotionally malnourished may have a hard time connecting and having intimate relationships. In this scenario, the individual can do their own inner healing in learning how to re-parent their inner child, leaning how to identify and adequately respond to their own inner child so they can engage with their adult relationships in a healthy way.
In other instances emotional hunger can be felt from being in a relationship with someone who doesn't "get" you. You may not feel a sense of safety, feel misunderstood and often feel shut down by the other person.
You may be surrounded by friends who are shallow, don't see you for who you are or may disrespect you. In some instances, you may feel totally ok around friends and your loved ones but being back home with your family of origin, you may notice old insecurities getting kicked up; you may be brought back to the little girl who was always ignored, or the "not good enough" son who was always disappointing dad.
Emotional hunger is comparable to indigestible nutrients in your stomache, leaving an everlasting hunger.
If you notice yourself with these feelings, stop whatever you're doing. Notice if you're spinning with overwhelm in a whirl of anxiety, chewing over the same argument or overthinking the same thing for the millionth time.
Where in your body are you feeling the sensation, the stress, the tension, or the hunger? With gentle curiosity, ask yourself:
What is that part of me holding?
What does that sensation represent?
Notice the emotions beneath the hunger.
What is it that possibly triggered the hunger signals?
Was it a feeling of emptiness?
Is there something that happened in my day that left me feeling abandoned? Afraid? Lost?
Is there something that is needing attention but there's a part of me that's pulling me away from confronting it?
Am I stuck in a pattern that is stealing me from creating any real movement in my life?
Take a breath.
You are not helpless.
Our bodies are made to naturally heal themselves and attain balance. Stuffing ourselves by overthinking, overeating, over-talking, over-analyzing, or asking everyone else for advice may essentially keep you stuck, blinding you from seeing the root of the discomfort.
Listen to the silent hush that comes over you when you slow downand tune inward.
Once your have the clarity you can actually do something about it to create the change you need.
Next blog will address "Satiating the need for Emotional Connection" addressing how to emotionally nourish yourself, and engage in nourishing in relationship. At a later point I'll dive into the biological linkbetween overeating and emotional deprivation.
For today, tune in to you, your body, and the grumbles asking for a deeper look.
Esther Goldstein LCSW is psychotherapist and trauma specialist with a private practice in Cedarhurst, NY. Esther specializes in treating anxiety, trauma, relationship issues and parenting struggles with an emphasis on developing healthy attachments. Esther currently runs Dialectical Behavioral Therapy groups in her practice, and facilitates Trauma Informed Consultation groups for therapists committed to improving their trauma-informed practice. Esther's website is integrativepsych.com.
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