Emotional Malnourishment

Woman sitting on hardwood floor by window alone – emotional malnourishment

Healing the parts of yourself that cannot receive love.

If your stomach could not receive nourishment and outright rejected food, you’d have a critical situation on your hands. I experienced this when a low blood sugar coincided with a stomach flu, and I simply couldn’t keep glucose in my stomach or convince my body to process it.

There must’ve been thirty people ahead of me at the emergency room, but they rolled my withering ass right in for immediate medical attention.

Because not being able to absorb what your body needs is a serious fucking problem.

Emotional Malnourishment

How many of you are living daily in the emotional equivalent of this life-threatening inability to receive nourishment?

Someone gives you a compliment. You swat it down by saying something sarcastic or self-deprecating. Or maybe you give them an even better compliment, just to make sure you’re in the red on this transaction.

People invite you to a cool event of some sort, and you immediately decide that you can’t go because of some lame excuse.

The perfect opportunity for romantic connection shows up, but you’re already convinced that they’re out of your league.

You hide all of your gifts and your talents from the world. All forms of self-expression. Your art, poetry, music, ideas, and opinions — all of the things that might garner love, connection, and admiration — you stuff it all away somewhere the sun don’t shine.

You find ways to isolate and reject your wants and needs. Working on your Ph.D. in self-abandonment, self-sacrifice, and self-pity, you’ve got all the makings of a martyr, except a worthwhile cause.

Honestly, what are you saving?

What are you accomplishing by making your life suck?

Who is your emotional malnourishment helping?

Many people are convinced that they’re making all these sacrifices for their family. “I would do anything for my children!” That’s great, but the one thing I wouldn’t recommend doing for your kids is showing them precisely how self-abandonment works. That shit will cripple them for life or cost them one million dollars in therapy.

Please don’t.

Deciding To Change

If you want to change, you must identify the parts of yourself that chronically reject love and teach them to receive. They are usually infected with fear and toxic shame. Some are covered over with addictions, various forms of escape, and self-medicating. But they are there, for sure, waiting to be discovered.

Some will be easy to heal, and some may require professional soul-surgery. Some people will need to go inpatient to be medically withdrawn from their acutely harmful mechanisms of self-loathing.

In any case, you can begin right now.

Receiving Love

If you are someone who cannot receive compliments, teach yourself how. Make a list of all the things you love, admire and appreciate about yourself. Then, ask close friends and relatives to do the same. Yes, literally ask them for compliments. Add the delightful things they say about you to your list and hang it on your bathroom mirror. This way, you can read it every single morning while you brush your teeth. There is zero time commitment. You’re just standing there looking at the mirror anyway. Read the damn list.

You will probably feel uncomfortable doing this at first and may not even believe the words on the paper. This is called cognitive dissonance and is conclusive evidence of shame living in your skull rent-free, repeatedly telling you that you are not good enough.

Most people learn shame as small children, and if you’ve been telling yourself that you’re garbage for decades, negative experiences will be largely unremarkable. You may even welcome them with open arms. Yes! Gather ‘round and validate my self-loathing. Fuel the burning fires of self-pity. Justify my addictions.

Destructive habits absolutely require shame in order to exist.

Evidence that you are a wonderful human being, however, will be quite contradictory to the operational belief that you are a piece of shit and threaten to take away your Chanel safety blanket made of booze, Häagen-Dazs, and one-night-stands.

Loving yourself really takes all the fun out of self-destruction.

Doing Things You Love

Those who struggle with self-worth often spend little time doing the things they love. In fact, many of them haven’t even the foggiest notion of what would be fun for them. They’ve chronically denied themselves the simple joys of living for so long that they couldn’t even tell you their favorite color.

Write a list of all the people, places, things, and activities you love. Types of food and music. Genres of movies and books. Puppies, hammocks, billiards, and road trips. Baths, new socks, hot cocoa, and trampolines. List everything that makes your heart smile.

Then, start incorporating those things into your life on a daily basis. You’re in charge of this whole operation. The choices you make will either manufacture misery or cultivate joy. Choose wisely.

I just went upstairs and ate a spoonful of peanut butter. You know why? Because that shit is delicious. I love it so much I would eat it with a spoon.

Ok, back to writing… where was I? Oh yeah, treating yourself like your favorite person!

Little Acts of Love

In his book Feng Shui and Money, Eric Shaffert writes about “petty deprivations.” These are the small pleasures of life that people deny themselves for no apparent reason. You see a new flavor of gum in the checkout line that looks ahhh-mazing. Immediately you say to yourself, Nahhh, I don’t need that. The gum was ninety-nine cents. Certainly wasn’t going to break the bank. What’s that all about?

Did you literally need that gum? No. You could certainly get by with a crust of bread and some pond water. But you don’t have to model your life after a concentration camp, for fuck’s sake. Buy the goddamn bubblegum. Ask for the extra whipped cream. Turn the heat up. Take the nap. Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure you can afford it.

Turn all those paper cuts of self-denial into little acts of love. You’ll be astonished at how you can transform your life with such minor adjustments.

Recognizing Love

If you deeply believe you’re unworthy of love, you’ll find plenty of evidence to support that conclusion. It may even be automatic for you at this point. You’ll need to make a concerted effort to reverse that cognitive bias.

When you reach the end of your day and the red-assed baboons in your head want to rehash all the awful things that happened to you, I want you to try something different. Write in a journal (or text a friend) three beautiful experiences from your day — three things that you can be grateful for, that felt good, that made life a little more splendid. If you’ve been applying the suggestions above, this shouldn’t be too hard.

Did you connect with a good friend? See a lovely sunset? Eat some fresh strawberries? Surely you weren’t just getting punched in the face for 24 hours straight.

Recognize the love that surrounds you before climbing into bed every night. You will sleep better, and you will hate yourself less. I promise.

Emotional Nourishment

There are innumerable ways to love and care for yourself. The activities above are a great starter-kit for folks who couldn’t point out self-care in a lineup of hardened criminals.

So many people were simply never taught that they matter — that they are lovable, worthy, and capable of receiving love. But as Jen Sincero says, “It’s not your fault for being fucked up — it’s your fault for staying fucked up.”

Maybe your parents never uttered the words, “I love you.” Perhaps they neglected you, beat the crap out of you, or passed out drunk on the kitchen floor on a school night. Whatever the case, they probably would have done a better job if they could have. But they obviously couldn’t.

You can.

Start now.


Published by Adam

Mentor, coach, speaker and educator for over 12 years. I have survived, recovered from and triumphed over many obstacles and afflictions. It brings me tremendous joy to help others overcome similar circumstances so they can live their best lives.

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