(A Therapist's Encounter with a Food Craving)
It often happens at night, when I'm home alone. It sometimes happens when I'm driving, like it did today. I wanted something in my mouth - badly. I was craving something, wanted something, needed something. Then I remembered the caramel chews that I had stashed in my glove box.
Caramel! There's something about the sultry salty sweetness that makes the back of my mouth water with barely a bite. Dare I say, it almost beats chocolate? These caramels were calling me - loudly. And I heard a voice say something like, "You shouldn't eat those. You know the sugar's not good for you." And another voice said, "Aw come on. It's just a couple of caramels. You deserve a treat."
In the past this internal dialogue might have gone on for awhile - the debate between the depriving self-loather and the well-intentioned, but less than completely honest indulger. But today I took my own advice, that which I normally give to my clients. I paused, breathed, felt my feet, got reconnected with my body, and checked in with myself to see what was really going on. I noticed a tinge of what felt a little like sadness. Instead of pushing it away or running from it, I opened up inside of myself and made a space for it. As I did, I noticed that the sadness felt more like longing. I could feel it in my chest - more specifically in my heart.
As I continued to breathe, staying connected with my body, and giving my judging brain a little vacation, I let myself feel the longing a little bit more. And with my thinking, judging brain out of the way, I heard the words,
I want love. I want reassurance. I want comfort. I want to be seen
and recognized for who I am. I want to feel appreciated.
As I heard the words - actually it was more like feeling the words - I cried. I cried with recognition – recognition of the truth in those words – a truth that, up until then, I had been completely unaware of.
I felt real compassion for myself at that point. And then, as it usually happens once genuine compassion enters the picture, the sadness and longing began to dissipate. It wasn't until I was several more miles down the road that I realized I'd completely forgotten about the caramels. My mind had pleasantly drifted off to something else.
I wish I could say it was always this easy - this process of releasing the real feelings behind a craving. But it's not. Like you, I struggle with many things. Firstly, I often forget to use my own tools - the ones I teach others. Secondly, it's sometimes hard for me to stay with the unpleasant feelings. It would for sure be more fun just to eat the damn caramels and be done with it. Thirdly, there are some feelings that aren't as easy for me to feel compassion for. The longing for love feels more OK to me than feeling helpless, for example.
My main purpose in sharing all of this with you, dear reader, is this:
A) If by chance your craving for food is really about something else, I want you to know that you're not alone - not by a long shot.
B) I also want you to know that your longing for love, reassurance, comfort, and to be seen and appreciated is perfectly normal, perfectly human, and perfectly understandable.
C) And lastly, I want to reassure you that with practice, patience, and maybe some help, you can learn how to respond to such longings consciously, so that you can get what you're really longing for, but get it from yourself.
Let me know if you need some help. We're in this together:)
If you feel depressed, anxious, sad, angry, helpless, overwhelmed, or any combination of the above, please know that you're not alone. You're not crazy. And despite how you might feel, there's probably nothing wrong with you.
I can say this with confidence because I've been working with people like you for over 20 years - people who feel bad and are secretly afraid that something's wrong with them, who are beating themselves up for it, and are wondering why they can't fix it.
As a psychotherapist turned Emotions Coach, I can tell you that I know what true mental illness looks like, and that I know the difference between real mental illness and what I've come to think of as a chronic or long-standing emotional state. When I say chronic, I just mean that it's an emotion that has been practiced for a really long time. Now maybe you didn't mean to "practice" it. In fact, you've probably tried hard not to, so don't go giving yourself a hard time - especially since you were probably too young to remember when it started.
Most experts agree that emotional states and patterns get set in prior to age six. And as a child, you would have "chosen" certain states in reaction to your childhood experiences. Whatever emotional reactions you had or choices you made, made perfect sense at the time - given the situation and the fact that you were, after all, just a child. And you would, of course, have chosen those emotions you had the easiest access to - like the ones you had a genetic predisposition to or saw modeled by your parents. You also, young genius that you were, would've figured out the ones you wouldn't get in trouble for and the ones that would get you love and attention.
So now you're all grown up, but like the rest of us, you're still carrying around these practiced emotional states. They're a habit now. And because you've had them for so long you've begun to think of them as who you are. But they're not who you are. They are what you feel. And there's a big difference.
Feelings are just feelings. They are only one aspect of your total humanness. Who you are, the bigger you, is always constant. Emotions, on the other hand, are not - at least they're not meant to be. They are designed to change - like the weather - like a thunderstorm that rolls in and then rolls right on out.
Emotions = Energy in Motion
Emotions are made up of energy. You know this is true because certain feelings or emotions feel good, while others feel bad. If we could hook ourselves up to an EKG-type machine that could chart our emotions, we would see that sadness has one kind of wave pattern, anger has another, and fear has yet another. Each emotion has a certain tone or texture and that's how we know which ones we're feeling.
This is great news. Why? If emotions are just energy, this means that whether they're chronic or temporary, they can be transformed!
But who does the transforming and how? As for the how, we'll get to that later. As for the who? Why the bigger you of course – the you who you really are.
Here's where it gets tricky though. Most of us are confused about who we really are. We think that our intellects, our thinking brains, are the bigger us. We've bought a big fat culture-bound collective lie, which says that our intellects are in control. It makes us feel better to think so. As long as we can pretend that the rational mind is in control, we can try to use it to stay on top of, override, and control our feelings, control our behavior, control our lives, etc.
While I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, it's for your own good, so brace yourself. The latest brain research, and what people like me have known for a long time, is this: most of our decisions and behaviors are driven by our unconscious minds, not our rational minds. No matter how convinced we are that we are making logical decisions, most of our decisions are driven by many things that we're not even aware of - one of which is suppressed emotions.
I say that this is for your own good for two reasons. The first is this: as long as you're trying to control your emotions, they're actually controlling you. Your attempts to control them reveal that you don't like them, that you're afraid of them, and that you don't know what to do with them, which leaves you dear friend, in a disempowered position. Do not take this as a criticism. Very few people know how to work with their emotions. No one has taught us how.
The second reason is this: I'm worried about your health. Every day there's more and more research linking negative emotions with health problems of all kinds. But those on the leading edge agree that it's not the emotions themselves that make us sick, but our chronic suppression of them.
This has always made sense to me. Let me give you an example. Let's say you're called into your boss' office and he tells you that you're being laid off. On the inside you react as if you've been kicked in the gut. Inwardly you want to double over, cover your ears with your hands, and rock back and forth in your chair. Or maybe you want to scream or cuss him out - really let him have it. But on the outside, you sit still, nod your head, and try to stay calm as you listen and maybe ask some questions.
You've been taught to be "professional," keep a stiff upper lip, and suck it up. Now I'm not suggesting that we do away with social codes of behavior, but what do you think happened with all that energy you felt? Where did it go?
I'll tell you where it went. If you didn't consciously find a way to access that energy and release it, you stored it - in your body. And how much storing of highly charged energy like that do you think your body can take before it says, "Enough!"
So if you really want to feel empowered and become a true master of your emotions, and if you want to free your body of stored negative energies, then you're going to have to learn how to access emotional energy and convert it.
This is where Emotions Coaching comes in. Emotions Coaching is a term I made up to try to describe what I do, as a way to distinguish it from traditional counseling or psychotherapy.
In my experience, most people don't need psychotherapy. They simply need to learn tools and techniques that help them access their bigger selves and use it to access and release negative feelings. You actually came into the world wired with this God-given ability, but as a product of your culture and upbringing, it's been trained out of you.
Emotions Coaching, at least the way I do it, is designed to help you reclaim this innate ability. It involves learning and practicing some practical tools and having consistent support and encouragement along the way.
While you may feel depressed, sad, anxious, or bitter, while you might be carrying around some unresolved hurts from the past, this doesn't mean you're bad, screwed up, or defective in some way. It simply means that you're human - a human being having human feelings. And while these feelings, and your efforts to suppress them, tend to cloud your memory and your experience of who and what you really are, I'm here to remind you.
You are made in the image of God. Underneath all of the "stuff" - all of your unresolved emotions and your efforts to suppress them - is a deep well of calm, peace, love, compassion, and well-being. It's the bigger you - the truth of you. You will know it when you feel it. It feels like home. And I can help you get there.