One of the fundamental themes I weave into my work with coaching clients has to do with fully embracing and focusing upon what hurts in them and how they have learned to deal with or avoid their suffering. This is usually the antithesis of where they want to look. Usually people perceive the source of their suffering to be ‘out there’ in the circumstances and relationships of their lives. Most get lost in their stories about what is happening to them out in the world and they want to find a strategic solution to achieve their desired success. Many operate under the assumption that if they change the outside, the pain they feel inside will go away. This is true when you have a nail in your shoe, but when your pain is emotionally driven, external changes never yield permanent results.

Those seeking external solutions are typically residing in what I call “the land of if only’s.” It sounds like this: “if only so and so would change in the way I think they should, then my suffering would be relieved.” Or, “if only I could lose twenty pounds, then . . .” Or, “when such and such happens, then I will be really happy.” These are all forms of emotional hunger and wishful thinking.

There are several key problems with this approach:

1. The imagined happiness, if achieved at all, will be temporary at best and the hunger will return.

2. Attempting to sate emotional hunger displaces our focus away from the present into an imagined future that we then attempt to create.

3. We fail to examine the real source of our hunger, thereby forfeiting the possibility and opportunity of knowing what is really going on within us.

Emotional hunger runs far deeper than we imagine. For many, it expresses in addictive behaviors. As in the examples above, our hunger takes the form of present yearnings and cravings for something that we imagine will make us feel fundamentally better than we do. The fact of the matter is, the satisfaction of our hunger does not lie outside ourselves, but inside in the form of unresolved wounds from the past coupled with our early reflexive responses to pain and suffering that have now become autopilot reactions.

Consider the fact that when we are infants, in the absence of language, we are socialized to communicate our perceived needs by crying out to let our caregivers know what’s going on with us – “I’m hungry.” “I need to be touched and comforted.” “My diaper is dirty.” It’s a very effective way to get our needs met. However, if in adulthood we continue to empower others to determine our sense of well-being, we will live as victims rather than as authentic, self-empowered creators and participants in our own lives.

Most of us have been emotionally wounded as a child – often without anyone realizing it. If we have not healed that wound, we develop emotional baggage and adaptive behaviors that unconsciously seek to get the outside world to give us what we didn’t get emotionally as children. The impulse is to heal, but we go about it the wrong way. If we continue to cry out and make our problems other people’s problems and/or to see ourselves as powerless victims of circumstances or the behavior of others, we never learn how to handle our emotional challenges in a healthy way.

If you are in a persistent state of emotional hunger or dissatisfaction, you may need professional help in getting to the bottom of your own particular pattern, but personal observation can also yield amazing results. If you really want to sate your emotional hunger, you need to understand what beliefs are driving your experiences. Here is a process that should help you get to the bottom of it:

1. Pay attention to your own self-talk. If you repeatedly hear yourself saying things like the ‘if only’s’ listed above or some other statement like ‘I never . . . ‘ or ‘I always . . . ‘ recognize that every time you reach that conclusion you are claiming to believe that to be the truth. For example, if you have a belief that you never get what you want – guess what! You will make that a self-fulfilling prophecy.

2. Take ownership of the fact that you hold such a belief. Write it down and make a conscious choice to change your belief.

3. Pay attention to the ways that you repeatedly affirm your belief by creating, promoting, and allowing experiences that are consistent with that belief. Write down every example you see with enthusiasm and neutrality and never with self-judgment. Remember you are in the process of healing this pattern instead of remaining an unconscious victim of it.

4. Play detective gathering evidence of how and why you make the choices you make that keep bringing you what you do not want.

5. Pay attention to and document how it feels inside of you (physically, emotionally, mentally, etc.) when you do not get what you want.

6. Challenge your belief. Pose ‘what if’ questions to yourself of what might be so if you let go of your limiting belief. For example, if you hold the belief that no one will ever love you, be creative in breaking down that belief. Use affirmations that claim your worthiness – do them in front of the mirror with great enthusiasm – “I am lovable!” Play the ‘act as if’ game of behaving as if you are lovable, smile at total strangers and start letting other people in – open up to the possibility of being loved. Love yourself!

Remember that your beliefs are powerful self-fulfilling prophecies. The bottom line of this is that if you change your beliefs, you will change your experiences. You are not a victim unless you choose to be. Health and well-being in adulthood is not achieved through the accumulation of external successes, but rather through cleaning out your internal emotional closets.