The Importance Of Emotional Needs

From the day we are born we have physical needs. We are taught how to navigate through the world. From the day are born we also have emotional needs. As babies we cry and long to be held, to be comforted and to be loved.  Our cries as children was the first way we learned how to as for our emotional and physical needs to be met. As we grow older however we forget how to identify or ask for our emotional needs to be met. How can we ask for them if we don’t know what they are?  Some examples of our emotional needs are to feel accepted, appreciated, important, valued, loved or respected. When it feels like most of our emotional needs are being met they become “unmet emotional needs.”

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John Powell, author of Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?, believes that unmet emotional needs are one of the two major causes of anxiety. He says the other is supercharged repressed emotions. Emotional needs affect us more than we realize. They stem from childhood to adulthood. We learn from our caregivers how to express or ask for our needs to be met. If in our families needs were never expressed then it will make it difficult in adulthood to be able to identify what our needs are let alone express them. The importance of if our needs have been met throughout our life can often be something we are not aware of, however unmet emotional needs and an inability to identify or ask for them can turn into a negative cycle. If one grows up not understanding how to identify or ask for their needs to be met it will translate into their adult relationships.

I have often times heard people say “isn’t it selfish to ask someone to meet my needs”? My response is, it is never selfish to healthily communicate to someone how they can make you or your relationship better. It is the responsibility of the other person to decide if they choose to meet your needs. All we can do is take responsibility for oursevles and our responses, not the responses of others. If we hold in our needs they will fester and possibly grow into anger or resentment. It can also lead us to look for other external factors to get our needs met.

When What You Say and Do Is Not In Sync With What You Feel

Some Ways We Try to Compensate for Our Unmet Emotional Needs

By managing/controlling/manipulating others

By feeling superior to them.

By seeking status, money, fame.

By competing and trying to be the fastest, the smartest, the best, etc.

By keeping all our emotions inside and never voicing them

By isolating from others

By turning to food, drugs or alcohol to comfort ourselves or deal with uncomfortable emotions

By reacting with passive aggressiveness or hostility

By people pleasing

We do these things to try and make ourselves feel ok, to feel better, to be enough. They are a temporary band aid to a wound that has yet to heal. When we behave in ways that compensate rather than address the issue we are utilziing unhealthy ways of coping. In order to feel emotionally fullfilled we must utilize healthy coping skills and it all starts with identifying what your emotional needs are and then finding ways to ask for them. You hold the key to emotional freedom.

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The Invisible Line: Finding your voice and setting your boundaries

For so many people the ability to stand up for their inner needs and wants can be very difficult. Often times many people I encounter hold many of their emotions and thoughts within themselves. I know especially for the eating disorder population so much of what feeds into their negative view of themselves is driven by an inability to feel they should be seen, heard or have a voice. I work very hard with my clients to not only empower them, but to help them find their inner strength to define their emotions, define their thoughts, define their needs, assert themselves and set boundaries in their worlds. This concept of standing up for ones self is a very hard concept for many people but for the eating diorder community it is especially tough. An eating disorder is a selfish disorder, its a mean disorder, its a bullying disorder. It makes a person feel unworthy, unlovable, and most of all unimportant. This post is for anyone who ever felt unseen, unheard, unloved, for the tears cried at night, for the silent taunting screams that haunt so many. To anyone who ever felt neglected, unappreciated, judged.

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So many peoples lives are spent and driven by the constant worry about what others think, worried about how others see and view them and I ask why? I encounter this pattern with so many of the eating disorder clients I work with, they have such a need and a desire to give all of themselves to loved ones, to worry about how others see them, never feeling good enough, never feeling like they matter. Often times this preoccupation with what others think and how they see us instill a silence within a person. This silence is a dangerous cage, when someone takes their emotions, thoughts and locks them away it’s only a matter of time before all those pent up emotions and thoughts want to break free. I have noticed that for a lot of people who suffer from an eating disorder they have either been surrounded with too rigid of boundaries which leads to suppressed emotions or not enough of a boundary which leads to a sense of not knowing ones own identity. The inability to handle or process emotions from lack of boundaries for someone struggling with an eating disorder can be acted out in many ways.

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Someone struggling with anorexia restricts their food because I often hear it is the one thing that they can control but it is also a way to numb emotions and thoughts. As someone starves themselves and the physical implications start to take affect, the internal implications are unwinding as well. Their is an inability to process or define their emotions and if emotions come up the anorexia serves as a numbing agent. When you are physically depleted, your brain is depleted as well. There is a disconnection between mind and body and often times someone suffereing from anorexia is so malnoursihed or week it serves as a way to disconnect from the world and emotions. This is why in treatment centers when someone is being renourished its an overhwmelming experience. They start to feel again and so many of the negative emotions and thoughts will begin to resurface.

Someone struggling with bulimia its a physical action based behavior. Someone who binges and purges or just purges whatever they ate is coping with emotions and thoughts through a physical act. The pain they feel is often times acted out through purging. It’s a physical release of what has been kept inside of them.  Its a physical representation of trying to purge ones emotions. I hear many comments from so many who suffer from bulimia that its a coping tool for them to release their pain, sometimes its a violent act against themselves, its an aggresive expression of the pain unfolding within them. Within the brain itself the brain associates the cycle of bulimia as a coping pattern so in treatment it is almost like detoxing someone off a drug. The withdrawls from the act of purging leave someone who suffers from bulimia feeling helpless and overwhelmed, when their feelings come up the coping tool they have used for so long is no longer their to serve its purpose and that can be very difficult for someone recovering from bulimia.

Someone struggling with binge eating it’s a way to disconnect from emotions and self. Its an uncontrolable force that takes over its a disociation where a person is not present in the moment until after the binge where guilt and shame then take over. The guilt and shame ruminate and taunt the person which leads to a lower sense of control, worth or value. These negative emotions then fuel the cycle of numbing out and mindlessly eating all over again to further serve a numbing purpose. In treatment for someone who uses food during emotional times this can be a very hard adjustment.

I bring up these three behaviors and components because they all have things in common, they serve a purpose to help someone distract, disconnect and dissociate from emotions that prove to much to bare or handle. I truly believe if someone can develop a way to assert their needs and boundaries and become and advocate for themselves because they believe they are worth standing up for,  it would help them define, process and learn how to handle hardships, needs and emotions. Boundary setting is a crucial skill for people to learn. We must empower our clients to envision and create an invisible line.

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Here is an example list of some unhealthy boundaries:

• Sacrifice their personal values, plans or goals to please others

• Allow others to define who they are and make decisions for them

• Expect others to fulfill all their needs

• Feel guilty when they say no

• Hesitate to share their opinions or assert themselves if they are being treated unfairly

• Frequently feel used, threatened, victimized or mistreated by others

• Afraid of confrontation or conflict

• Take responsibility for other people’s feelings

• Tell others how to think, feel or act

I really work hard to empower my clients to feel comfortable with their voice and their instincts.

Here are some good ways to start defining your needs and emotions:

1. Create a personal bill of rights to slowly feel comfortable identifying  needs and asserting them.

2. Become aware and identify your emotions, thoughts and feelings within your body. This process is about slowly reconnecting with yourself.

3. Set limits for yourself based on your needs and emotions

4. Acceptance- Come to a place of acceptance. Assert your need that you are of value and your thoughts and opinions matter.

For many people when someone starts to assert themselves it can at first be a shock to not only the people in their lives but to themselves. My message to everyone out there who may be struggling with so many emotions that they have pushed down or kept hidden, is to slowly trust in your inner voice, to slowly fight for yourself. There is a purpose to your pain and maybe one purpose is to give you a power you have had all along.

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Breaking the Silence: Eating Disorders and the men who suffer

Eating disorders are commonly associated as a struggle that only women go through even commonly referred to as a “woman’s disease”. Preoccupation with image, body,  and self is highly associated to be issues that women struggle with and think about. I am here to break the silence and inform you that this stereotype is far from true. The reality is that out of the 8 millions people who suffer from Eating Disorders in the US 10 percent of them are male. In fact between 1999 and 2009 the government estimates indicate that the number of males admitted to hospitals for complications from eating disorders rose by a whopping 53 percent. Recent studies and surveys show that young males have admitted to vomiting, restricting or have used laxatives to control their weight as well as taken diet pills. This can be rather shocking as men stereotypically are not thought of to suffer from an eating disorder. I estimate that the rate of men who suffer is probably a lot higher but the embaressment and shame that many men feel stops them from speaking out and seeking treatment for themselves. I am here to shed some light that yes men suffer from eating disorders too.

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I can speak on this personally because I have worked in three residential treatment centers and I have seen many young boys and men come into treatment. I have seen boys as young as 10 and the ages range up to the age of 50. Speaking with these boys and men shed so much insight into the gripping affect body image and pressure that men themselves can feel. I have noticed this especially among male athletes who must meet weight requirments for different types of sports. Men feel their own pressure to achieve a certain look or body image type.

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Today men are more aware and conscious of their bodies. Media portrays the look of lean, fit built men with muscles and depending on the sport or peer groups, more men are feeling pressured to achieve a certain look. I have noticed that especially men who are involved with wrestling, running, football and other sports feel intense pressure to be above or under a certain weight class. This leads men to either overeat, restrict, purge or use laxatives to meet this criteria. The bottom line is we need to end the stereotypes that eating disorders are a woman’s disease. I want to educate and increase the awareness that an eating disorder can affect anyone! No matter what your age, gender, status etc eating disorders are on the rise and affecting more people. Education needs to start at an early age and that begins with parents and in the schools. We also need to end the shame associated with having an eating disorder. It already is a disorder that those who suffer feel guilt and shame and have a hard time reaching out for help, but the men who suffer feel an even heightened shame to seek help.  Treatment and groups have  traditionally been targeted to women so we need to branch out and make avenues of help more open so people feel more comfortable reaching out. It’s time to end the invisible struggle, its time to break free, its time to heal!