7 Habits That May Indicate You're Emotionally Hungry

by Eva Taylor Grant
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If you've ever felt like, despite how hard you try, you can't quite fill your emotional needs, it's possible that you're experiencing something called emotional hunger. Emotional hunger in adults is relatively common, and although the habits related to this feeling can be difficult to live with, the root of the problem can be fixed with a little bit of self-reflection and mental health work.

Emotional hunger is a state of being. "Emotional hunger is experienced as a constant, underlying sense of want or that something is missing," licensed clinical social worker Jude Treder-Wolff, CGP, CPAI, tells Bustle. "It can be a result of trauma, rejection or lack of social skills that makes it difficult for a person to connect to others." Since it's so constant, however, it can be hard to pinpoint.

Still, ignoring these feelings can be detrimental. "Feeling emotions are necessary just like food," therapist Markie Keelan, M.A., LPCC, tells Bustle. "If we don't express emotions we will lead ourselves into an emotional starvation state that's unhealthy for us and the people around us." This means that it's really important to identify that habits that signify emotional hunger, then work on dealing with the issues that cause them.

"No matter what emotional damage has been done in our lives, we can heal and engage with life in a positive way by growing the strengths that help us cope," Treder-Wolff says. It may just take a little bit of work.

Here are seven habits that indicate can you're emotionally hungry, according to experts.


You Give Too Much Of Yourself

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If you're looking for emotional comfort anywhere you can find it, giving too much of yourself to others can become quite tempting.

"Over-giving to others in hope that being available and helpful to others is a kind of emotional insurance [is an example of being emotionally hungry]," Treder-Wolff says. Being constantly available, however, can drain your emotional reserves. Taking stock of what your personal needs are may help you build up some strength and become less emotionally hungry.


You Think You Know What Everyone Thinks About You

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Seeking approval is a hallmark of emotional hunger, but seeking approval based on your own conclusions is a particular habit that emotionally hungry people have.

"[One habit of emotional hunger is] trying to determine what other people like or want and adapting to match it in order to make and sustain connection," Treder-Wolff says. If you have decided that you know what others think, and act accordingly, you're likely stressing yourself out and not actually giving your loved ones exactly what you need. It may help to take some burden off yourself by remembering that the best way to help someone is to ask them what you can do.


You Are Overly-Attached To Social Status

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If you feel like you don't have the emotional reserves you need, it's possible that you may develop a habit of trying to find this support from others.

"[Emotionally hungry people may become] overly-attached to people who are social 'stars' — those have a great number of friends or high status of some kind — and [take] a role in that person's orbit because it provides access to a dynamic social world," Treder-Wolff says. Unfortunately, thinking that the more friends you have, the less lonely you'll feel, may not be the healthiest approach. Finding ways to boost your self-esteem may prevent this habit from turning toxic.


You Have Sex To Feel "Alive"

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While casual sex is completely OK, someone who is emotionally hungry may seek "nourishment" by avoiding serious emotions and replacing these feelings with sensations like thrill. This tendency can create habits of wanting to feel "alive" and "connected," Keelan explains.

"A frequent activity that does just this is meaningless sex," Keelan says. "Sex can be the easiest way to trick ourselves into getting our emotional needs met. We get validation that we are worthy of another person's time mixed with endorphins and the pleasure centers of our brain to make us feel 'good.'" If you know you have healing to do, but have found that sex numbs the pain, it is perfectly valid to explore your emotional needs without stopping having sex completely. A therapist or trusted friend may help you explore these feelings in a healthier way.


You Use Substances To Meet Emotional Needs

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Like sex, substance use can be a habitual coping mechanism for emotionally hungry people looking to numb the pain.

"Other short-term fixes that people use when they are unaware of how to get their needs met include self destructive tendencies like isolation, [...] or even drugs or alcohol," Keelan says. If you feel that you've lost control of your ability to moderate when it comes to substances, or are using substances solely to meet emotional needs, it's important to reach out to a doctor or therapist as soon as you can.

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).


You Can't Accept When A Relationship Ends

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For someone who is emotionally hungry, the prospect of being single can be especially daunting. To avoid feeling alone, you may end up doing unhealthy things to fill the emotional void you are so afraid of.

"For instance, an emotionally hungry [person] might refuse to accept [their] partners' desire to break up and [they] might behave irrationally," clinical psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Lori Whatley tells Bustle. If you find yourself exhibiting this habit, it may be worthwhile to ask a professional for help. You may also find some comfort in finding new ways to feel secure in your own ability to meet your emotional needs.


You Struggle With Boundaries

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Since you're always searching for emotional support and approval in others, it can be difficult to respect boundaries if you're emotionally hungry.

"People who are emotionally hungry don't usually have good boundaries," Dr. Whatley says. However, being aware of this possible bad habit can be an important step towards healing your emotional hunger. "One way to avoid emotional hunger is to respect another's boundaries," Dr. Whatley adds. "When we have a positive self-image, emotional hunger is not a problem for us." Like many habits of emotional hunger, dealing with the habit can be vital to the bigger picture.

In all, healing emotional hunger is largely about self-reflection. You don't have to go through this process alone though. "Surround yourself with others who are willing to be emotionally vulnerable and authentic with you," Keelan says. "The people we surround ourselves with influence how we view ourselves. If you are surrounded by emotionally hungry people, you will most likely end up also being hungry. Seek connections that meet your needs and are in line with what you want for your lifestyle." By finding outside support, and internal validation, you may find yourself less emotionally hungry in the future.