Years ago I read a book by Linda Kavelin Popov called A Pace of Grace. In that book, she shared a beautiful phrase and practice – that of emptying our cup. I love this image: of taking our burdens, cares, hurts, and frustrations and emptying them, pouring them out. This speaks of a deeper truth, as well: that we must empty before we can be filled.
Why you need to empty
When we don’t empty, our pain, our frustration, our grief, our hurt gets stuck. According to one of my mentors, Dr. Gordon Neufeld, stuck frustration turns foul. Then it comes out sideways, as attack against ourselves or another. Self attack can come in many forms, including self criticism, judgment, or blame. Self attack can also come out as overeating or sugar bingeing.
If you’re highly sensitive, you feel deeply and strongly. You may also feel what others don’t – you may pick up on subtleties and nuances that are under the surface.
According to Dr. Neufeld, simply being sensitive can mean that more things aren’t working – that there’s more you’re already processing or adjusting to or coping with from the get go. (I’m reminded of this when after a long day, an aggravating sock or underwear seam can feel like the end of the world!)
This all points to a great need to empty.
Do you empty your cup?
My friend, how do you empty? Do you give yourself space to empty?
In her audio program, The Language of Emotions, Karla McLaren talks about the benefits of “conscious complaining” – of giving ourselves space to empty and to express what isn’t working. Because we live in a culture that can often look down about complaining or negativity, I find that many of us – especially sensitives – do a lot of self editing. We don’t allow ourselves to empty or to show up “as is.”
So what fills the gap?
Using food to empty
I find that many sensitives turn to food when they need emptying. They may feel reluctant to empty with loved ones – they may carry feelings and beliefs of “I’m too much,” “I’m too intense,” or “I’m too sensitive.” They’re afraid if they showed all of themselves they’d be rejected. So either they put on a smile, suppress their true feelings, try and force themselves to think or feel more positively, or shut down their emotions.
This comes at a cost, as it brings deep feelings of loneliness, of isolation, of feeling as if no one understands or gets them. With no refuge, with no safe place to empty, the emotion remains stuck inside. Until it can’t anymore. Hence the food.
So food is what consoles you in this emotional isolation. It’s also a conduit – how you empty. Food serves as the other, the container: the one who listens to your pain, who holds it, who holds you, who allows the emotional build up to empty, to pour out. The emotion pours out into ice cream, or french fries, or candy bars.
Why food works – and then doesn’t
The pent up emotion and build up is softened, which is one reason why you initially feel better when you eat: the tension from carrying a build up of pain has receded. Ah, relief. But this only works for about five minutes. Then you feel a deeper emptiness: the emptiness of emotional isolation. In addition, you may also feel the shame of turning to food for solace.
Food can never attune to us. It can’t offer empathy or deep listening. It can’t validate our emotions. It can’t soothe our nervous systems in the way a loving other can. And yet in the face of emotional isolation, it may feel as if it’s all we have – the only buffer available.
Emotional isolation is often the deepest layer of pain that drives sensitives to eat. That’s one reason why I believe human relationship is the cure for overeating: both a warm, connected relationship with our own selves and warm, connected relationships with each other.
Meeting your need for attunement
Emotions are meant to move us. They are also meant to be moved. We allow emotions to move when we empty.
In the case of foul frustration, according to Dr. Neufeld, we move it by moving from mad to sad. We move it by fully registering our feelings of futility, fully accepting that what we’re doing is not working. As we’re moved to sadness, to feel our disappointment and loss, we move through it and to the other side of loss.
So as we empty our cup – as our feelings are heard in a warm embrace – there’s space. Emptiness. But it’s a different kind of emptiness. Rather than the emptiness of emotional isolation, abandonment, or rejection, it’s the emptiness of an unburdened heart.
As we move through this emptiness, we move to the other side of loss, of grief, of despair. We move from “there’s so much that isn’t working” to “look at what is working.” We move from sadness to joy. From despair to hope. From loss to new life.
We don’t have to force this process. We don’t have to rush it. We don’t even have to be in control of it. This is one reason why I try not to force myself to feel a certain way, but rather to ride the ebb and flow of my emotions. I trust that “negative” emotions will move to “positive emotions” on their own, when I offer them the space to do so.
This is the design of nature, of our Nature. It is in us. We are simply the willing participant. (Easily said than done, as it means feeling all our emotions.)
If only we truly trusted the wisdom of our emotions. Then we would know that they are there to carry us from one shore to the other, from fullness to emptiness and fullness again.
The next time you’re feeling the drive or a desire for food, I invite you to ask yourself this question: how can I empty? What do I need to empty?
How can I empty to carry me to the other shore?
Needing more hands on help?
- If you’re wanting help to soften patterns of soothing or emptying with food, I invite you to explore my overeating program, Heal Overeating: Untangled. It’s my most comprehensive program and helps you create the holding container – a loving relationship with yourself – to soothe patterns of emotional or compulsive overeating.
- If you liked this article, you may also like this post on soothing your sensitivity to soften compulsive overeating.
- You may also like this audio blog on the correlation between sensitivity and sugar sensitivity.