Do you ever feel a sense of emptiness and loneliness; a hard-to-describe feeling of something missing, a sad and aching sense that this world is a lonely place and no matter who is in your life now, eventually you will be alone forever? Oftentimes this is an experience so integral to who you are that it may be challenging to notice. It is the lack of something you may not even realize you are missing, something you might not even know you deserve. Perhaps you recognize yourself in the quote from Catcher in The Rye, “Sometimes I act a lot older than I am - I really do - but people never noticed. People never notice anything.”
You may notice this feeling express itself in your tendency to give much more in relationships than you get. You may resent your partner for not caring for you more, but have difficulty saying it. You may have had friends tell you that you always choose emotionally distant partners, but it does not feel that way to you. Alternately, you may act emotionally demanding, expecting your partner to always know what your needs are and how to fill them, even without you telling them directly.
If anything I’ve said thus far sounds familiar, I commend you for noticing. It took me years to notice this in myself and noticing it has made my life happier and more meaningful. Changing this inner experience is very possible and very rewarding.
How do I change this?
The first step is to put a name to this experience and recognize its impact on your life. Notice that experience of something missing, of feeling alone and detached. Notice the impact on your romantic relationships, such as a pattern of not telling your partner what you need, and then feeling disappointed when your needs are not met. You may find that you accuse your partner of not caring enough about you, or that you become distant and unreachable. Start by noticing this and allowing yourself to feel it.
The next step is to notice where this is coming from. For some of us, this step is easy to do alone, for others this may be something to do with a trusted friend or a therapist. This feeling has been with you as long as you can remember and likely started in childhood. Maybe your parents were unable to show you emotional care. They may have been unable to give you the time and attention you needed as a child, or were unable to give you the sense of being precious and valued.
Many of my clients who are grandchildren of Holocaust survivors recognize this experience in themselves. Their parents, the children of Holocaust survivors, were raised with the message of “survive”, of “do what you need to do and feelings are not relevant.” For many of my clients, this resulted in them being raised with parents who did not provide for them emotionally as children, leaving them with the scars of this lack of parental nurture and care.
If you recognize in yourself these feelings of deprivation and disconnection, how can therapy help?
These feelings we have identified have likely been a part of your life as far back as you can remember. To borrow a line from the Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, "there is a certain... security in familiar pain. It seems safer to embrace what we know than to let go of it for the unknown." Imagining addressing these feelings, discussing them with a therapist, and changing them can be immensely scary. I encourage my clients to pay attention to their hesitation, and go through this process at the speed that feels safe for them.
The role of therapy is to help you become aware of your emotional needs and accept them as natural and right. A goal of therapy will be to learn how to choose people in your life who can care for you, how to ask in appropriate ways and discover that there are people in this world who can give to you emotionally. You will learn to identify ways that others can give to you and ask for those needs, and learn to stop responding with overwhelming anger or dejection when your needs are not met.
What to expect in therapy?
Your relationship with your therapist is an opportunity to experience what it means to be emotionally nurtured and cared for. As your therapist, I will pay attention to what is bothering you and respond in a caring manner. You may find this comforting. This is an important part of therapy for you. You also might find this unusual at first, as you are uncomfortable with the emotional care and warmth that a therapist provides. Both situations are important opportunities to learn what your relationship is with your emotional needs. An attuned therapist will work with you to identify and learn about your emotional needs, building a healing emotional experience. Your therapist will then help you generalize this to other people and relationships in your life.
If you find that some of the descriptions in this article resonate with you, I invite you to come in for a consultation session to see if therapy can help you on your journey to fulfilling relationships and a happier life. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 058.781.9788. I look forward to hearing from you.