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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What are the Instinctual Needs That are Often Confused for the Need of Food in Gut Feelings of Emptiness and Fullness?

Much has been written on emotional eating and dieting. I think we all now can agree that there is a direct correlation between eating to fill emotional emptiness and overeating to fill what we think is hunger. It is very difficult to separate the feeling of emptiness in our guts caused by hunger from the emptiness that causes emotional eating but we need to learn how (and certainly can learn) to do this if we are going to be healthy and truly happy people. When we feel emptiness in out guts, empty and alone, then we often grab comfort food to fill this emptiness. Because it is not what will really fill this type of emptiness (emotional), we are not truly satisfied stuffing ourselves with food (even though it is enjoyable at the time) and we keep eating to attempt to fill it, often resulting in unwanted weight gain.

So what does fill this emotional emptiness in the pit of your stomach? What are the instinctual needs that are often confused for the need of food in gut feelings of emptiness and fullness? What is the gut trying to tell us about our needs? This seems like such a simple and important question that we might wonder why more people are not addressing it. Doesn’t this effect us all? Ofcourse it does.

The gut is a brain, a center of intelligence, and has much more to tell us about ourselves than when we need food and when we do not. It isn’t a far step from the awareness of emotional eating to the understanding that our gut feeling of emptiness is not just a gauge of the need to eat food but also the need for more basic psychological needs. We have defined this for you already in these blog posts, but more needs to be said to make it clear. We have decided to include a few pages from our book “What’s Behind Your Belly Button?” that speaks to these more emotional needs that your gut registers and keeps track of the satisfaction of from moment to moment. 

The following is an excerpt from What’s Behind Your Belly Button?,  part of a section titled Our Instinctual Needs, page 133-136 from Chapter 5. We have not included the entirity of the section but suggest that you scroll to the bottom of this post and further read about our book on our Amazon page url provided. We think this section well explains the important reason one confuses the signal of emptiness accompanying the need for food with the emptiness accompanying other instinctual human needs and defines these instinctual needs quite precisely. It is our hope that those of you in the field of counseling, psychology, education, and medicine will give this great reflection and understand the importance and implications for viewing human nature from the point of view of this basic theory on gut instinctual needs and feelings that we are presenting with a new Gut Psychology. There is truly more intelligence in the gut than it has previously been given credit.

Excerpt from “What’s Behind Your Belly Button?” in section titled Our Instinctual Needs, page 133-136 from Chapter 5:

Our Instinctual Needs

“In reflecting upon our own feelings and facilitating the reflection process with our clients, we became aware that the two basic needs of acceptance and freedom-to-be-oneself were being constantly monitored by a feeling center in the gut area of the body. We found that the fulfillment of these needs was being registered as empty-full feelings. These feelings were experienced in the gut area of the body located between the hara and the solar plexus."

“The lack of fulfillment of either the acceptance or freedom issues seemed to register as a feeling of emptiness; fulfillment of either issue seemed to register as a feeling of fullness. In order to understand how this occurs, as it may seem like an illogical equation, it is useful to imagine that our instinctual response center in the gut area is much like the gas gauge in a car. While empty and full are on extreme ends of the gauge, there seems to be fullness and emptiness that is relative to these extremes. If the gas gauge on a car is on empty and we pour into its tank even a gallon of gas, we can be elated in the fact that we can keep driving down the road, at least momentarily. We found that as long as people perceived that they were moving in the direction of gaining a balance of acceptance and freedom, they experienced a feeling of fullness, even though it may be relative fullness. Similarly, if people perceived that they were moving in the direction of a loss of a balance of these two basic needs, they experienced a feeling of emptiness, even though it may be relative emptiness. This relative degree of fullness and emptiness is implied when speaking of one’s energy level in the common adage, “I’m running on empty.”  What people really mean by this is, “I’m running on a relative amount of emptiness, but I must also be relatively full or I could not move at all or even utter those words.”

“We found with ourselves and our clients that it is necessary to continually replenish one’s experience of acceptance and freedom. They are vital needs and the emptiness and fullness that registers as a gauge of how well these needs are met, is engaged in the moment of experiencing. The somatic feelings in the hara area seem to reflect the sense of the moment. Just as eating a meal today registers a feeling of fullness that only lasts for a number of hours and we feel a need to eat again each day, the instinctual needs for acceptance and freedom are cyclic phenomena and require regular attention and maintenance to be fulfilled. For example, we may feel quite full if we already have acceptance and then, from some act of expressing the authentic self, begin to feel an additional sense of freedom. In this case, we may feel fullness with a balance of both needs for acceptance and freedom being met. This sense of fullness may be somewhat lasting, but the need to continue to take the freedom to respond naturally will surely become apparent with a growing feeling of emptiness if we repress our feelings and do not continue to experience freedom. Likewise, if we perceive a sudden loss of acceptance from important people in our lives, we could plummet with a growing feeling of emptiness and a condition of stress in the body."

“We found that the basic needs for acceptance and freedom seemed to determine people’s behavior. These two needs functioned much like a teeter-totter, with one need on each side of the scale. Often one need was given up for another, but the organism was constantly trying to find a balance of these two needs. We saw through reflection on feelings with our clients and ourselves that a struggle for a balance of these two needs was present in behavior from infancy throughout the entire span of adult life. We postulated that this urge to balance the two needs for acceptance and for freedom seems to be leading people toward the feeling of having fulfilled their unique purpose. Because these two needs were found consistently to be present in our clients, we viewed them as shared universally, and thus instinctual in the human family."

“The duality and paradox of these two instinctual needs lies in the fact that there is really no such thing as acceptance without the freedom to be ourselves. People often would say I want to be loved for who I really am. And people found that when they were perfectly free, they desired most to share their experiences with someone else who would accept them as they truly are. Dr. David Viscott, who was a popular American psychiatrist that influenced the self-help approach using talk radio and syndicated TV along with the publication of a number of notable books, speaks to the importance of the fulfillment of both of these needs when he posits that the most fulfilling relationships are those in which people are free to be themselves. He views the feeling of loneliness in a relationship as the longing for the sacrificed part of oneself given up for the relationship. We postulated that it is essentially impossible to experience the essence of one instinctual need without the other.”

“Like the energy of yin and yang—opposites of light and dark forming a unity in our lives—or the Uroborous symbol —the completion of one world creating another in the natural evolution of the planet, we eternally seek a state of harmony and balance of our two instinctive human needs of acceptance and control, which are felt in our gut as emptiness and fullness. The urge for a balance of acceptance and freedom works in a similar fashion as does Dr. Jung’s idea of the urge of the self-individuating through holding a union of opposites. We see in the natural world, or the holistic force of the morphic field described by biologist Rupert Sheldrake, this pattern of dual energies as opposites forming a unity, repeated again and again, and it is no surprise that our gut intelligence contains this same pattern originating, expressing, and evolving our human nature. We found in our counseling that if these needs do not feel like they exist in balance, it is as if they do not exist at all, and people feel empty. The people we counseled expressed that their lives were in constant transition, and that they were often experimenting and yearning for a state of harmony and  balance of both acceptance and freedom of their own responses."

“It became clear from the communication with people in our counseling experiences, that the instincts of the need for acceptance and for feeling free to respond naturally were rooted in the somatic experience. In our experience with people, the gauge for the fulfillment of both the instinctual needs of acceptance and freedom, like the biological need for food, was located in the gut area. The feelings of emptiness or fullness that were experienced as a signal of the instinctual needs of acceptance and freedom were easily confused with somatic feelings related to the biological instinct of hunger. With its attendant sensations of emptiness and fullness, this confusion concerning the similarity in feeling of these needs in the gut area seemed to explain why there was a propensity for some people toward over-consuming food. People expressed to us that they attempted to fill empty feelings in the gut area with food. This caused over-consumption and a denial of the real needs of the person that could result in food addictions, as well as other unhealthy life choices."

“We found that in order to get in touch with their instinctual feeling responses, there was a need for people to reflect back to a much earlier time in their lives. The emotional issues in the present were generally what Dr. Jung identified as triggers for issues that began in early childhood. It seemed sensible to trace the feelings in the present back to the earliest possible experience of that emotion so that the original source of the issue could be worked out. Reflecting on inner somatic feelings—on the impact of life and its meaning to the person—during earlier times gave people access to the record of their inner awareness. We often found that people were more aware of emotional feelings than the somatic instinctual feelings of emptiness and fullness. Because the emotional feelings are directly connected in the solar plexus, to the more purely somatic level of feelings in the hara, we used the awareness of them as a signal and starting point to become aware of the feelings of emptiness and fullness."

Click on book cover below to go to Amazon to Buy:

"What's Behind Your Belly Button?" is also available on Amazon USA and Amazon UK
as well as Amazon,de and and Amazon.CA and other international Amazon sites
and it is on The Book Depository with free international shipping.

"Increasing Intuitional Intelligence" is available on Amazon USA and Amazon UK
as well as Amazon,de and  other international Amazon sites

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  1. EVERY ADULT should read this book. It's amazing how clearly it explains issues that we all experience but don't understand. Our quest for solutions send us on endless journeys through diverse therapies and alternative treatments, at the end of which (is there an end?) our levels of anxiety continue to be the same or worse. Thank you, Martha, for considering the somatic experience that many discard.

  2. I have read this book and reviewed it. It's an amazing piece of work dealing with how we process our emotions and how those"gut feelings" we often get, really do come from the gut--the second brain. This is a book I will be reading over and over and referring back to whenever I have a problem or need reinforcement.

  3. Marta and Micki, thank you both so very much for your supportive comments.

    It is wonderful to have you, Marta, here to give us your insights with your therapeutic experience as a counselor. Speaking of a book everyone should read, I have just bought your book, "Living with Stress", and look forward to reading it as I have heard so many positive responses on it.

    Micki, I would also like to recommend your book which I have had the pleasure of reading, "And the Whippoorwill Sang", to anyone dealing with loss of a family member. You have combined in one of the best memoirs I have ever read the best of storytelling with the experience of loss and grief and then ultimately acceptance and renewal.


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