Emotional Nutrition

emotional nutrients

In an earlier blog post I explored how emotions can affect our health in a negative way.

Here, I’d like to give you some idea of your “Emotional Bill of Rights” as well as what are legitimate emotional needs since we often have had our emotional needs shamed while growing up and thus we ignore those needs because we feel that it’s not okay to have them.

The first material is borrowed from Non-Violent Communication and is a list of the range of our emotional needs that we all have:


Individuality, being whole self



Preservation of life
Respect, seeing one another as whole

The well-being of those we love


Affinity/ Empathy
Love/ Intimacy/ Closeness
Shared values
Shared history and/or culture


Connection with life


The next information is an “Emotional Needs Audit” given to me by a dear friend, Adam Greer, from Griffin, J, Tyrrell I, 2007. It is rather lengthy and is for you to read when you have some quiet time and can really self-reflect and journal and answer some questions. You will see some overlap of the needs shared above only this time it goes into detail about those needs and how to hone in on what’s missing:

Emotional needs are inbuilt templates which we are born with. A template is like a partially completed pattern, which we need to attempt to find a match for, in the external world. They are called needs because they are imperative for maintaining mental health and integrity.
Examples of emotional needs include:

Security — safe territory and an environment which allows us to develop fully

Attention (to give and receive it) — a form of nutrition

Sense of autonomy and control — having volition to make responsible choices

Being emotionally connected to others

Feeling part of a wider community

Friendship, intimacy — to know that at least one other person accepts us totally for who we are, “warts ‘n’ all”

Privacy — opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience

Sense of status within social groupings

Sense of competence and achievement

Meaning and purpose — which come from being stretched in what we do and think.
In addition to Emotional needs, we are equipped with emotional resources, which help us to ensure we meet our needs successfully.

These include:
* The ability to develop complex long term memory, which enables us to add to our innate knowledge and learn
* The ability to build rapport, empathise and connect with others
* Imagination, which enables us to focus our attention away from our emotions, use language and problem solve more creatively and objectively
* Emotions and instincts
* A conscious, rational mind that can check out our emotions, question, analyse and plan
* The ability to ‘know’ — that is, understand the world unconsciously through metaphorical pattern matching
* An observing self — that part of us that can step back, be more objective and be aware of itself as a unique centre of awareness, apart from intellect, emotion and conditioning
* A dreaming brain that preserves the integrity of our genetic inheritance every night by metaphorically defusing expectations held in the autonomic arousal system because they were not acted out the previous day.
If these needs are not being met in a way that truly nourishes us, then we will feel unfulfilled and seek to meet them in other ways. This could mean compromising one need for another, such as trying to get an excess of one need met, or using sex, drugs or food, for example, as a replacement for human contact and attention, or eating for a sense of control. Our body naturally knows when we are not truly meeting the right needs in the right ways, and it lets us know through symptoms such as depression, anxiety, guilt etc.
Sometimes when we find ourselves doing things we don’t really want to be doing, or experiencing certain uncomfortable emotions, it can be helpful to re-evaluate how we are (and aren’t) currently meeting our emotional needs. This way we can take actions to get us back on track towards meeting our needs and living a more rich, varied and emotionally resourceful life.
So take some time out when you’re not likely to be distracted or disturbed, get a pen and some paper, and for each need, rate first how well you feel this need is being met, at a core, deeper level, rather than a surface level, then ask yourself how you meet your needs (for better or worse). Take some time to think about it.
Do you feel secure at home, work, in your environment, with friends, within yourself? Eg. Do you live with someone who loves you and cares for you, supporting you unconditionally and with interest, or do you live with someone who criticises you, or do you live alone? If you live with others, what are their relationships like? Do you feel secure in your relationship with them? Are you confident and happy at work? Is your work culture inclusive or authoritarian? Do you dread social isolation? Do you worry about money, debts, mortgages, arrears? Do you worry about being burgled or attacked? Do your fears prevent you from doing things you would otherwise like to do, or from living in ways you would like to live?
Attention (receiving).
Do you feel you receive enough attention? If so, is it the right type of attention? Does it leave you feeling happy, connected and nourished, or craving for more, or wishing you could avoid it. Do you spend most of your time doing things for other people eg. Parents, friends, family, partners at the expense of your own needs? Do you ever feel that certain people sap your energy, always demanding support but never giving it in return? Are there people in your life who are genuinely interested in your thoughts, feelings, interests, development? Do you feel appreciated? Or do you spend a lot of time alone, either because you want to or because you feel you have no other option? Do you feel too shy to socialize, or fear such occasions so much you avoid them completely? Do you get attention by being anxious or fearful, by being ill, or by creating dramas, dilemmas and ‘scenes’?
Attention (giving).
Do you spent time wholeheartedly doing things with or for your friends, parents, children or neighbors? Can you ‘hear’ what your partner, friends, family, colleagues are saying to you, or do you only hear what you expect, or what you want? Do you ask questions genuinely wanting to know the answer, or do you just wait for your opportunity to speak? Do you find yourself interrupting people or listening intently and asking open questions? Do you let others know regularly how you feel about them, by telling them and through your actions? Do you enjoy being the center of attention eg. Giving speeches, presentations, seminars, or performing on stage? Do you engage in certain activities just to win attention, eg. Turning to politics or taking up a sport just to share the interests of the new love in your life? Are you genuinely interested in what others think and do, or just in how their opinions and actions affect you?
Do you feel in control of your life? Do you have sufficient responsibility at home or at work, or in your social/personal life? Or do you have too much or too little? Do you have targets and deadlines you struggle to meet? Can you handle the responsibility for important decision in your life? Does someone in your life have too much influence or power over you? Have you recently lost your sense of control, perhaps because of a new person at work, a new baby, or new in-laws? Do you try to control everything and everyone in your life? Do you worry when you can’t control things? Do you think you should be able to control things that in fact you cannot, eg. How someone feels, what their interests are, how much your children study, how well they do in exams, and blame yourself..or others..unjustly if things don’t work out as planned? Have you developed a physical disability or chronic illness that has taken away some of your control? Or do you have debts that you feel you cannot control? Do you feel out of control of your body, or your thoughts or emotions, perhaps resulting in panic attacks or compulsive behaviors? Do you feel left in the dark by others about things that affect you? Or do you deliberately leave others in the dark to keep more control?
Do you feel part of the wider community?
Humans are social creatures and need social connections. Do you know people outside your close family and circle of friends? Do you help others, such as neighbours, or do you volunteer somewhere? Are you involved with a local sports, politics, drama, fitness, parents or religious group? Or are you a member of a committee? Do you have people you can say hello to on the street? Have you ceased to participate in regular activities because of a change in circumstances eg. New job, baby, illness, responsibility, hobby? Have you withdrawn from activities you enjoy because of anxiety or the need to perform secret compulsions?
Can you obtain privacy when you need to? Do you have anywhere you can withdraw to or quietly reflect, or get on or get on with some task or hobby in peace? Do you have a space that is ‘yours’? Do you feel your space is constantly invaded? Do you live or work in an open plan environment? Do you feel your private belongings or even beliefs/interests are respected and not pried into? Are you always available by mobile phone? Can you or do you take off somewhere alone if you need to? Do you give other people privacy and respect it fully?
Do you have at least one close friend? Is there someone in your life you trust completely and who trusts you and with whom you are in contact a lot? Do you see them often? Do you do things together? Do you see them less since you started a new relationship? Do you care what they think about do? Do you want the best for them and do they want the best for you? Or are your/their interests purely selfish? Could you call on them at any time for help, could they call on you? If you are lonely do you try to mask it with alcohol, smoking, or food?
Intimate relationships.
Do you have an intimate relationship in your life? Do you feel totally physically and emotionally accepted for who you are by at least one person, even if this is a close friend? Is there at least one person who will always be in your corner if the going gets tough? Can you tell them anything? Do they comfort or advise you when you are down, and bolster your confidence and enjoy your successes? Do you think you are a fun or funny and great person to be around? Do they? Are they? Can you be yourself with them? Or have you lost the person who meant the most to you in your life, eg. A break-up, falling out, or has someone recently died? Do you use substances including alcohol and cigarettes, or food, to mask the pain of bereavement or separation? Do you fear a partner will stray or is your partner fearful that you might? Have you or your partner developed agoraphobia in response to accusations of infidelity, or as a means of ‘keeping an eye out’?
Emotional Connection.
Do you feel an emotional connection to others? Do you have friends/family you care a lot about apart from your closest friend? Do you feel cared for by them? Do you speak to or see them often? Or have you lost touch with them or stopped seeing them lately? Do you find it difficult to relate to or connect with others? Do you find it difficult to empathise with or understand others’ situations, or have you just lost interest? Or do you feel no-one understands or empathises with you? Have others lost interest in you?
Status and Recognition.
Do you feel you have a status in life that you value and is acknowledged? We only know we are accepted by the wider community when we get feedback in the form of acknowledgement. Do your friends, family, colleagues or neighbours respect you for the roles you play in life, at work, socially, as a parent or musician etc.? Do you feel valued for how you perform them? Do you feel suitably rewarded or appreciated for what you do? Do at least some people give you high status in at least one area? Do you feel you should have achieved more, or that others could have done better than you? Or do others feel you never did well enough, or that you weren’t naturally good enough? Do people discount your achievements, through expectations, by saying for example ‘Well that’s no surprise you always do well’? Do you feel you fit in somewhere or do you feel an outsider or even a non-entity? Do you feel inferior or hostile, or jealous? Do you yearn for what you haven’t got? Do you feel you have been denied chances? Or do you feel too superior, judging others unfairly?
Are you achieving things in your life that you are proud of? We all need to feel a sense of achievement eg. Are you doing what you want to do with your life, or have you outgrown or lost interest in what you are doing? Do you enjoy the way you spend your time and feel satisfied and stretched, or do you feel bored or out of your depth? Is it more of a stress to you, or is it just passing the time? Do you like new challenges? Or do you avoid challenges and stick to what is comfortable and familiar, blocking out the thoughts that perhaps you could achieve more? Do you feel unsatisfied or unchallenged, stuck for direction, or do you feel you have reached a dead-end? Are you not sure what to do now your children have left home, or are you resting on your laurels, relying on past success to feel good about yourself?
Do you feel competent in at least one major area of your life? Do you think you are good at least at some of what you do, eg. Parenting, holding down a job, managing a career, playing a sport, using an important life skill eg. Cooking? DO people respect your skills? Can people rely on your skills?
Being stretched, having meaning and purpose.
Do you feel mentally and physically stretched in ways that give you a sense of meaning and purpose in life? Do you feel needed or valued in life? Do you feel you can offer something, that is of value to others? Are there people in your life who need you? Do you have a caring role as a parent, teacher, doctor, adult child of an elderly parent or work within a caring profession? Do you engage in activities that having meaning for others, eg. Volunteering, walking someone dog? Do you have activities that interest and continue to challenge you, even if you are retired from work (retirement from life is not an option!) Do you set yourself realistic goals and regularly stretch yourself? Do you have an overarching philosophy or approach to life that helps you to see life as intrinsically meaningful? Do you have a commitment to a project or to people, to something bigger than yourself, that stretches you, whether that’s spiritual, political, environmental or otherwise?
What have you found out?
How well are you meeting your needs (maybe rate 0-10 for each)?
What areas of your life are lacking? Are there any needs you aren’t meeting at all?
What areas of your life are really rich and fulfilled?
How are you currently meeting your needs (for better or worse, just be honest)?
If you were to draw out on a pie chart, how evenly distributed would your needs be, and the way you meet your needs? Have you been over doing on one to compensate for lack in other areas?
What, if anything, have you been avoiding? What has been preventing you from meeting your needs more resourcefully until now?

What would need to happen for you to be able to start meeting your needs more resourcefully right now?
What can you do to improve the areas of your life? Make a list of at least 5 things you can do to take control of those areas of your life. Think about how you could meet your needs in a variety of ways, that you would enjoy, and that would leave you feeling nourished to the core.
Be specific. For example, rather than saying you don’t want to feel anxious, how will you be instead? What will you feel, see, think, believe, do instead? How will that positively impact on your life? What will this change enable you to do?
What skills would you need, if any to be able to do these things? How would you describe someone who did or could do all these things? What skills do you already have/use?
Have there ever been times in the past when you feel you have meet your needs in different or more fulfilling ways? If so, what was different then? What skills can you identify that you needed or used then? What stopped you from doing these things upto the present date? Would you be willing to do any of these things again. If so, is there anything you need in order to make this happen? How can you go abuot making this happen? Whats the first smallest step you could take? If no, how could you transfer these skills to new activities meet your needs in different ways?
Be concrete. Make a decision about what you want to change and stick to it. What’s the first small step you can take towards achieving your outcome?
Be realistic. Is this something that is really within your control (eg. You can’t bring someone back from the dead, or force someone to stop drinking or being angry if they don’t want to)? Is your time-scale realistic?
Make it achievable. Set yourself small goals so you have lots of achievements to look forward to. Make them easy enough to attain and enjoyable.
Be inspired. If you find it helpful, read about motivating or inspiring things, spend time visualizing the new you, or you achieving these outcomes. Spend time around people who are like who you want to be if possible.

Regarding your resources, think about:
How actively do you use your innate resources?
Rate how well and how actively you use your resources and write down what you do for each resource (good and bad), noting any areas of deficit.
Have there ever been times when you have been more actively engaged in using your resources? What was different then? How successful were your efforts then? What happened for you to become less actively involved?
How can you start to become more actively involved in using your resources? Whats the first smallest step you could make towards this, today?
What strategies could you put in place to monitor your active engagement in using your resources, and the effectiveness of your efforts?

Once you’ve zeroed in on the areas where there is a void or lack, you can devise a plan to get those needs met in healthy ways that do not involve food or any activity that involves self-harm. Self-awareness is an important first step and naming the need goes a long way in recognizing what needs to be fixed. Then you can ask for what you need or search for a way to get that need met.



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