Satiating the Need for Emotional Connection

In the past blog I discussed the concept  of emotional hunger.  If you’re in relationships that feel disconnected or where you're left thirsty for real, steady connections, read on. 

What are emotional needs? And what does it meant to feel emotionally satiated?

Emotional hunger is similar, yet different to physical hunger. Try to remember the last time that you were incredibly hungry. Your tummy grumbled and your digestive track got the walls ready to secrete digestive enzymes, preparing for the food you'll be eating. You digestive track knows what to do to take in the nutritional components to feed your body and release the rest. There are certain foods that are nourishing for your body and leave you feeling satiated and others that leave you craving more.

As well, your mood and state of being  affects how the food settles and when your body signals that you're full. If you're calm you can "Rest and Digest", however if you're in a  state of survival, feeling anxious or worried, you're in "Fight or Flight" and your digestive tract stops working until you're in a "rest and digest mode".

Here are some points between hunger and the way you feel.

  • Research proves a direct connection between early childhood experiences and how you experience connections and hunger. Children who felt safe, were able to express their needs and wants, and were able to check when they were full. 
  • Individuals who are overwhelmed with emotions may often use their mental energy to focus on food to distracts them from feeling the tough feelings beneath. 
  • The body craves carbohydrates which have chemical properties that relax and sooth the body, when you're stressed and depressed acting as an "upper". When you're anxious your body craves fats to sooth the panic, acting as a "downer". 
  • The University of Maryland research proved that 75% of overeating is due to emotions. 

Now that we have that information, how can you know if you're physically hungry or if it's stemming from an emotional place?

Physical hunger has a few components:

  1. The hunger comes on gradually 
  2. Your stomach can be satiated with an array of foods, not a particular crave food 
  3. You can track your belly's level of fullness and stop when you're feeling satisfied
  4. There is a calm, fulfilled feeling when done, not a guilty one.

On the other hand, Emotional hunger is defined by:

  1. A sudden, urgent need to eat something 
  2. A desire for very specific food, a craving
  3. A difficult time tracking fullness, often eating past the point of fullness
  4. It is often accompanied with feelings of shame, upset, guilt or embarrassment. 

Let's talk emotional needs for just a moment.

What are the emotional needs that we all desire in relationships with loved ones, acquaintances or friends?  Gentle care, Interest, Curiosity, Love, Companionship, Affection, and to be heard, to feel seen, to be understood, to feel appreciated, to be nurtured, and to be valued. 

When your relationship(s) is lacking some or all of these components, you may notice feelings of apathy, irritability, feeling tired, angry or just overall blah.  Now, In order for you to get your emotional needs met, you need to feel comfortable asking for what you need. When you're confident with yourself (first),  you're often able to request for what you need with ease. The second part of this is choosing to be in relationships with other healthy individuals who have the capacity, ability and interest in connecting emotionally as well. 

Here's the thing, the exact  opposite of closeness and connection is a feeling of isolation and abandonment. When you're feeling unseen, invalidates or disrespected you may be feeling isolated and alone.  You may have a similar experience if you've recently experienced a loss of closeness or end of a relationship, as it would be normal to experience emotions similar to those of emotional abandonment.

Abandonment can feel like a deep hunger pang, a sense of emptiness and desire for something more.  Emotional abandonment is the exact reason why you can feel alone and unseen even when you're around others, just as you can "eat" but still feel incredibly empty inside. 

So how do you take the right steps for emotional satiety? 

There are a few factors involved in feeling satiated in relationships.

Take a moment and ponder the following. 

  1. Who am I surrounded with? Are they good for me?
  2. Do I feel respected, seen and heard by those around me?
  3. Do I allow the others to really get to see me for who I am?
  4. Am I open to deepening my connection with self and others?
  5. Is closeness something I really want or do I have some worries about getting too close?
  6. Who do I have as a role model for healthy relationship to model after?
  7. How would I know when I'm feeling loved and safe in a relationship?

Ask yourself these questions so you can sense how much of the hunger is due to external factors.

Maybe you're needing to choose better friends, limiting time spent with negative people, and sift out the elements that are weighting you down. On the flip side, you may need more intimacy, nurturing, deepening of connection and alone time with the loved ones in your life.

It's time to be mindful about your interactions, keeping and strengthening the ones that nourish you.

Take these tips to your relationships to help you forge deeper, stronger bonds. Your engagement is a vital component in your relationships!

For today, take a moment to notice who you are within your surroundings.

Practice presence as you lean in to the connectivity the world and others have offer in your day-to-day interactions. 

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 esthergoldsteinpsych.com