It’s supposed to go like this:
We’re supposed to grow up in a good-enough family, one strong and healthy and nurturing enough to provide adequate supplies of the 4 A’s: attention, acceptance, approval and affection.
The 4 A’s are the components of love.
If we get enough of these components, we fill up in childhood, just like kids fill up with good food.
And we enter adulthood feeling reasonably solid, reasonably valuable and lovable and confident in our dealing with others.
But if we grow up in a not-good-enough family — one burdened by abuse, or addiction, or mental illness, or parents who dislike each other or their children — several things happen:
~ We enter adulthood emotionally hungry, with unmet needs that appear as holes in our confidence and self-esteem.
~ This hunger is so painful that it forces us to try and fill those holes by getting our needs met by others.
~ For the most part we do this unconsciously, unaware of why we feel how we feel or do what we do.
~ We also do it covertly, hiding our true motives from ourselves and others, trying to control and manipulate other people into feeding us what we didn’t get as kids.
~ Others may sense our hidden agenda — even if they don’t understand it — and respond defensively by rejecting us or distancing themselves.
~ The rejection and distancing increases our hunger, triggering another round of unconscious controlling and manipulation, often followed by more distancing and rejection.
~ All this tends to continue until we see what we’re doing and learn better ways of getting our needs met.
I’ve known many, many people like this.
I’ve been one myself.
There’s no shame in it. Emotional hunger is more common than anyone realizes.
But if I’ve learned anything about this whole business, it’s this:
We cannot get fed until we identify our hunger and understand how we keep ourselves hungry.