Separating Feeling Hungers from Feeding Hungers


We have all been there. Waiting in the grocery store check-out line when a young child sees a candy bar with shiny wrapping and in the blink of a reflex, reaches out to grab it. They see it. They want it. And just as quickly as their hand touches the wrapper their parent reaches down, removes their sticky grip on the treat, and says some version of “Not today honey.” or “We don’t need any candy right now.” and BOOM.

The child erupts in abject terror and tantrum. As children, often the very notion that we can’t have what we want, when we want it, is horrifying and incredibly painful. Tears, shrieking, and if they can, writhing on the floor. It’s the end of their world as they know it, at least for that few minutes. Not getting what they want is unthinkable.

This is one of the most powerful teaching moments I use in my work. I share this common scene again again because I want to talk about how this often plays out when we’re adults:

1. We disconnect from the hunger. If we can’t satisfy it, better to not even feel it, right? :: “I don’t want a partner, I’m happy being single” (Sometimes true, but sometimes a cover up for a hunger we can’t satisfy at the moment.)

2. We over do it. If we can’t have it right now, then later on we have it times ten. :: “Fuck it. I’m eating the whole bag.”

3. We think not now means not ever. :: “That ship has sailed. I need to just make do.”

4. We conflate our self-worth with what we can’t have in the moment. :: “I didn’t get the job because I’m not enough!”

5. We become the mother at the grocery store, always denying our adult selves what we want, BUT because we hate feeling denied so much we make denial the norm and become numb to it. :: “I don’t eat carbs...EVER.”

None of these scenarios leaves us feeling particularly well-fed.

When we can separate out our awareness of our hunger and taking any particular action towards it a lot of possibilities open up to us.

Feeling our hungers is separate from satiating them. Let me say that again.

Feeling our hungers is separate from satiating them.

We must be able to breathe around our hungers. Give them space. Be curious about them. We must do this if we are ever to satiate them. If we rush from feeling to satiating, we often fail to identify the true hunger at all. Desperation, grasping, and hurrying are an invitation to notice what is making the present moment (wherein true hungers are identified) so uncomfortable to be in.

When we're young, wanting and having are so enmeshed that their isn’t space to take a breath between them. And as adults we don’t often cultivate this space, even though it’s available to us and so very useful. Simply put, one of the main reasons for all of our seemingly peculiar responses to the momentary denial of our desires is that as adults we don’t hold feeling our hungers and fulfilling our hungers as separate acts.

S L O W d o w n..

Our hungers are patient.

Our hungers simply want to be seen, heard, and cared about.

If you're exhausted at the end of the day, attempting to give your 4 year-old twins a bath and you feel a deep hunger for _______, and there isn't time or energy at the moment, instead of shoving the hunger away, simply say to your hunger"I see you. I hear you. You matter to me. I will feed you as soon as I can. I won't forget you."

Our hungers trust us. (It's us that too often doesn't trust them).

If you're aware that you're hungry for _______, but you have no idea how to feed it, simply say to your hunger"I see you. I hear you. You matter to me. I will spend time thinking about how to feed you. I won't give up on you or us."

You aren't the desperate child anymore. In a just few breaths you have all the space you need to check in with yourself, to dialogue with your hungers, and then, and only then, to decide how to proceed in feeding them. First things first.