Is it Love or Emotional Hunger?
Real love nourishes the other person, be it a child or an adult. The real lover is interested in supporting the other person and encourages the unfolding of his or her personality.
But love can be confused with emotional hunger. Emotional hunger has little to do with the other person and everything to do with oneself. The person driven by emotional hunger didn’t get what he or she needed as a child. It’s a primitive condition of pain and longing that is caused by deprivation.
Often, in a family, it’s passed from generation to generation. The emotionally hungry parent uses the child for his or her own needs.
Parents who are truly capable of giving love are not emotionally hungry. They have a positive self-image and can feel compassion for the child. Parents who are capable of loving can maintain boundaries. The child of such parents feels loved and looks loved. Such a child is deeply secure.
By comparison, children of hungry parents develop emotional hunger. They’re overly dependent and emotionally volatile. They develop clinging behavior and are afraid to explore the environment.
In some homes, for different reasons, parents don’t have the time or take the time to nurture a child. Maybe the parent is too busy or has too many children to care for. In either case, a neglected child may become emotionally hungry. A lack of loving behavior on the part of someone who claims to love you is definitely a red flag. What is supposed to be making one feel good actually causes anxiety and confusion.
Often the emotionally hungry may lack the capacity to truly love another because they haven’t worked out their own identity issues. They want someone to “complete” them and make them feel whole. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. We make a gift of ourselves when we love, to do that we have to be complete to begin with.
Love is those behaviors that enhance the emotional wellbeing, sense of self, and autonomy in both parties. In a loving relationship, the goal is enhancing the other, not yourself. The task is in giving yourself enough love to feel good – at which point you’ll actually have something to offer someone else.
Anyone who claims to love will behave in certain predictable ways toward the object of that love. Their behavior will be appreciative and respectful of the true nature of the other person. They’ll support his or her personal freedom, rather than try to possess.
Those who say they want love but basically avoid it are in conflict. They’ll need to repair the wounds they’ve experienced in the past if they want to be able to tolerate the anxiety that goes along with mature love.
Creating in oneself the ability to love is a developmental task, and often mastering it requires help. But the good news is that it can be accomplished – IF love is something you really want.
Adapted from “Love or Emotional Hunger: Can you tell the difference?” by Colette Dowling.