One of the most painful human experiences is a feeling of emptiness, a feeling of nothing at your core, or a feeling of nothing or no one being there. This hole is often shared by men and women who struggle with any form of addiction, including food addiction, sugar addiction, or binge or overeating.
This hole originates in childhood experiences. Sometimes it comes from abuse or neglect, but it can also arise from what my teacher in developmental science, Dr. Gordon Neufeld, calls “the lack of invitation to exist.” (Dr. Neufeld is the go-to source for understanding child development and maturation.)
Every child needs “an invitation to exist” – that a child feels invited, welcomed, loved, and accepted by their caregivers – in all their various moods, emotions and messiness. This invitation can be expressed through a warm tone, facial expression, a twinkle in the eye, or a kind word. No matter the form, it communicates, “I love you unconditionally: I love and accept all of you.”
Without this invitation, a child experiences the pain of separation. You may have had very loving parents, but if certain aspects of you weren’t invited – if you weren’t allowed to have feelings of sadness, or frustration, or loss; if expressing these feelings resulted in criticism, shame, or neglect – you experienced this lack of invitation, and this separation.
To cope, a child learns to shut down, shut off, or cut off the emotions, moods, feelings, thoughts, or needs that cause separation from their caregivers. The feelings themselves become numbed. Then, as an adult, a child can carry these tendencies forward. They may be numbed out to their emotions. They may use substances to numb further. They may feel empty inside. They may see these very strategies as part of their personality or who they are – rather than coping mechanisms for a pain that felt too much to bear. They may have low self worth or self esteem.
Fortunately, there are ways of healing and caring for this emptiness, rather than coping with it through food, sugar or other addictions. Listen in to learn more….
Wanting more hands on help?
- The idea that it’s your job/role to heal and fix yourself is one that creates so much suffering when you’re trying to heal from overeating, binge eating or food addiction. I’d love to take this burden off your shoulders and show you a gentler, more hopeful, and more compassionate way.
- If this resonates with you, I invite you to join me for When Food is Your Mother. This class is for you if you’re feeling stuck in food compulsions like overeating, binge eating, and food or sugar addiction and are longing for long term relief. I can teach you a way to heal your food pain that isn’t about controlling or managing the behavior, but what heals it at the root.
Pauline asked: “I wanted to touch on the theme of hacking off parts of yourself that Julie’s question brought up. I guess this really ties in with the ‘When Food is Your Mother’ course, I wonder if you could speak to the feeling of nonbeing or non-existing. Sometimes I have the intuition that in an early point, I kind of left myself behind and stepped into someone else’s clothes, that the shoot of being inside didn’t have the connection to keep growing and coming forward into life. So it feels like it got hidden somewhere.”
“I think it’s what you were touching on when you talked about disowning certain emotions, but this goes a step further and feels like a loss of self. I’d love any thoughts you have on this because my default is self attack or blame and, “Get it together or think your way out of it.” The other way my heart instinctively expresses this is that somewhere the emotional temperature around dropped really low, and it’s like some kind of cryogenic freezing, but part of you has to keep going. I wonder if that is the lack of invitation to exist and the struggle to push through into love and welcome a whole new way of seeing yourself.”
Karly: You have such a beautiful way of expressing things, Pauline. I always love reading your– All of you do. You’re all such deep thinkers and feelers. I love reading how you process and ask questions. So what I sense you’re talking about is that you felt a lack of invitation to exist, and you just left. I think what you’re speaking to– The psychological term for this is dissociating, where we actually dissociate from our emotions. We actually like leave our body, and it’s a form of defense, and it’s a form of self protection.
So there was some vulnerability that was something that felt too much to bear. You felt this lack of invitation. As you say, “I kind of have this intuition. I left myself behind and stepped into someone else’s clothes.” So it feels hidden. Yeah. I think I can sense into what you’re describing, and I’ve felt that too. It’s like this profound emptiness. Dr. Gabor Mate, in his work– He wrote “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts,” which is a beautiful book on healing addiction. He and I shared the same mentor of developmental science, Dr. Gordon Neufeld. I actually cowrote a book with Dr. Neufeld on parenting.
But anyway, Dr. Mate talks about our early childhood experiences. They can actually shape our very biochemistry. They can shape our brain development. They can shape the development of our neurotransmitters, things like serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine. Those early experiences, that loss, that emotional loss, can lead to those feelings of emptiness that you describe, those feelings of emptiness like we don’t have a self or that that self– We’re not connected to it. It’s not there. That emptiness that then moving forward as adults that we can try to fill in other ways–
So yes. That lack of invitation to exist– What that can lead to– This is kind of getting into the science of emotion. I wish I had a diagram, but I don’t. So I’ll try to kind of explain it to you in words. What happens is emotions are like waves. Okay? When they come up is when they’re seeking expression. Part of that lack of invitation, Pauline, is that what we want to do for a child is– When we sense those waves are coming up, to just make space and to make room for that wave.
What can happen when a child doesn’t have that invitation, when they perceive or when it’s overtly expressed of, “No, you can’t be sad. You can’t be mad. You can’t be angry.”– Particularly with the highly sensitive and deeply vulnerable or more emotionally intense or more sensitive child, they’re going to feel more. They’re also going to perceive more. So that child both has probably more strong emotions that they’re feeling, and they’re more perceptive to the fact that there may not be an invitation for them from their caregivers.
So it’s a double whammy, where they’re feeling all this stuff, and yet where it can go to– Because they’re feeling like, “Oh, nope. I experience separation. Mommy and daddy don’t accept me when I’m feeling that way.” And again, nothing has to be even said, but they can pick it up in a tone of voice and a facial expression, or they can feel like, “No, mommy doesn’t like me when I’m angry.”
Now part of this can be that mom just had a bad day. So she’s got a look on her face, but the child doesn’t know that. The child doesn’t have the ego strength to realize that. They’re not meant to. They’re children. So they perceive it as, “Oh, no. There’s something wrong with me.” So the child starts to blame themselves and think, “Oh, there’s something wrong with me. I’m bad. When I express sadness or loneliness or anger, mommy or daddy don’t like that.” So that wave– It starts to shut down. It starts to flatline. It starts to press down.
From a depth psychology perspective, this is one of the things that leads to depression, to depress, to press down. It’s when you edit, minimize, suppress what’s coming up for you, your emotions and your experience. So rather than expressing those emotions and those needs and that vulnerability, you’re pressing it down to preserve the connection with your caregivers. But then the result, right, is that you feel cut off from yourself. That’s when that process starts, where you’re starting to feel– You’re starting to cut off pieces of you.
You are– That wave is being pressed down. It’s like it’s stopping because it doesn’t feel safe to express it. So again, the healing journey for us as adults, Pauline, that might be a grieving process for you. I know it was for me. That grieving of, “Oh, my goodness.” I felt like I was too much. I felt like I was wrong. I felt like there was something wrong with me. All those things that as a child that we may have internalized, we grieve that so we can release it, so we can recognize it didn’t work. It didn’t work.
Let it go, so that we can be free of that. And every time you invite within yourself what wasn’t invited in others, that is that fine process then that will bring up some of those parts that have been squashed down. For me, that was a really messy process because all emotions are messy. In some ways, being numbed– I looked a lot more together. I looked better from the outside. But I’m a lot healthier, and we feel a lot healthier.
It’s how we find that wholeness again. How do we find wholeness? Wholeness is integration. It’s opening to all those parts of us that we’ve cut off from. It’s inviting them back in. This is why Jung said, “I’d rather be whole than good.” The health is in our wholeness.