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.
Photo credit: merwing?little dear / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
I so needed to hear this, last night. I had a really crazy day, yesterday. I went to the school, to pick up my teenagers, and waited a half hour for them, in the parking lot; while, all the while, they were waiting for me, just inside the building. So full was my “cup” or “plate,” that not once did it even cross my mind to go inside and look for them. As a result, I was running a half-hour, behind, the rest of the afternoon and evening with my appointments. By the time I got home I was beyond frazzled.
I could feel the judgment, blame and criticm coming out sideways. I thought of the irritating sock or underwear seam, as I secluded myself from everyone in a hot bath of water. As I lathered the shaving cream and maneuvered the razor, up and down my lower legs, I could feel the hurt-ness stuck, inside, resisting letting me take it out. I retired to bed, earlier than usual.
This morning I awoke to find that my teenager had snuck back into bed and was fast asleep, with just ten minutes to go, until we needed to be heading out the door. (A friend who’d spent the night, had kept him up till 2 a.m.–I heard, this morning.)
My daughter found me, after her first period class, this morning, and leaned up against me, and burst into tears, after having failed an exam she’d studied so hard for. She was beyond frustrated. She has a tutor, and puts in hours of study for the class, while peers seem to breeze through the material with minimum to little effort.
It feels SO embarrassing to empty to loved ones. It feels like I’m saying that I’m not strong enough to keep the pace that “everyone” seems to be keeping, and deeming as “normal.” I keep trying to put on a smile. But my clutter piles keep growing and I’m too tired to get through them all–before I’m supposed to be off to another commitment. I want so much to feel like I’ve got all my stuff together. But it always feels like I’m still processing when it’s time to “be on to something else.” When I come home, I just want to hibernate and hide–and barely move at a pace, where I can take in the smell of the “roses.” And even slower than that. To wonder why they smell beautiful, how they got there, why they are there, etc. It feels like so much of life’s intense, “be there at the exact minute(s)” makes this feel so impossible.
I think that as I write this, I am moving from mad to sad, but I’m not sure. (I don’t even like to use the word, mad, because it feels so distancing and alienating to me, when closeness and empathy are SO necessary for me. That unburdened heart sounds like it would feel SO good, right now.
Thank you SO much, Karly–for helping me trust the wisdom of my emotions to carry me to the other shore. . . I believe you. . . I’ve seen this before, too. Thank you for letting me empty; and for being that light to help me remember there is another shore.
Right now . . . , that “emptyness” of hope feels so peaceful–and beautiful. . .
Justine – this sentence caught my eye “I want so much to feel like Ive got all my stuff together.”
I want to let you in on a secret: No one has all their stuff together. No one. I guarantee that the mom who is always volunteering at school has unfolded laundry still sitting in the basket from 3 days ago. The professional woman who delivers the winning presentation is hiding a stain on her blouse underneath her blazer. The woman who always meets her clients with a smile on her face is replaying a fight she had with her one of her kids this morning. The dynamic conference speaker’s marriage is on the rocks. If nothing else, just realize that WE ALL struggle with something. For me, knowing that everyone else struggles is very freeing. Give yourself some compassion and allow some things to give. Our mothers’ generation may have told us that we can do it all, but they didn’t tell us the consequences of that.
From one frazzled mom to another – I offer you big virtual hugs. 🙂
(Sorry for the hijack, Karly!! I just really felt led to give this woman some empathy!!) xoxo
Oh, Jill, I felt touched that you offered Justine empathy and I appreciate your gesture to reach out. I don't think it's a hijack at all.
Yes, we are all imperfect and all doing the best we can. Thank you for the lovely reminder, Jill.
Oh, yes, Justine – It can feel embarrassing to empty. It's such a deep vulnerability, isn't it – to reveal all of us and trust that our relationships are still safe – that we're still loveable, acceptable and okay? I find that being vulnerable with my closest loved ones is one of the hardest things for me to do. Period.
I'm so glad you emptied here and were able to feel seen and heard.
Thank you for allowing your humanity to be seen.
Thank you SO much!! 🙂 🙂 I’ve been reading your words back to myself, both last night and throughout the day, today. I think this is just the secret I needed to be reminded of, right now. Thank you so much for helping me remember.
Part of me has felt a little sad I haven’t been able to get to my computer, all day, to thank you, very quickly, for your beautiful reply (Someone in my family has been on it, practically, constantly). Yet, as I sit here, tonight, I’m thinking about what you’ve said–about giving myself some compassion and letting some things give. For some reason, I feel nearly certain you’ll completely understand. And this means a lot to me! 🙂
From one very grateful–and, now, a little less frazzled woman (because of this note). Thank you so much for that. . .
Sending big virtual hugs back to you,
It does feel embarrassing. Like, Im risking the relationships to do so. Its so hardone of those things that are so easy to just put off, feeling like the risk is too great.
Seeing your words that youre glad I emptied here, for me, feels akin to being caught in a trust fall activity, wherein one allows herself to fall backwards, from a height, into waiting, caring arms, desperately hoping they will bear her up.
You are so welcome . . . I cant tell you how lifted I feel, letting my humanity be seenand then hearing that Im still loved, accepted, and safe.
This means SO much to me. . . (I have a tear in my eye, Im so happy).
Wow. Karly, I am glad I found you.
I have been dealing with terrible shame for three years and I still don't know how to empty from it. Overeating has been my deeply flawed coping mechanism and it hurts me so badly. I succumbed yesterday and I was in a dark place.
I need to find a better way to empty, and trust that the universe will provide.
Thank you so much.