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The Dark Side of Your Emotional Needs – Mind and Body

Part eight: How the drive to meet your mind/body needs can lead to disaster


Swimming against the tides of our natural physical and mental rhythms can have dire consequences

“The human body experiences a powerful gravitational pull in the direction of hope. That is why the patient’s hopes are the physician’s secret weapon. They are the hidden ingredients in any prescription.”

– Norman Cousins

To eat another person. A horrible thought (I’m hoping!). But if you were desperate enough? Sure, I know cannibalism has been a grim practice among some tribes, and the odd, extremely odd, serial killer. But I’m not asking whether you would want to eat another person. I’m talking about if there were, or seemed to be, no other options.

You’re all at sea for months on end, or wandering the Andes after the miracle of surviving a plane crash.1 You have a physical need, and you have to meet it.

But our needs are not just physical.

This whole Dark Side of Your Emotional Needs series is, in a way, about cannibalism. Metaphorically speaking, I hasten to add.

When we feel there is no actual ‘food’, we might be driven eventually to cannibalism – or we might need to learn what we can legitimately eat. We might need to learn to distinguish between real food and fake or poisonous ‘food’.

Someone starving for attention may cannibalize a learning situation, for instance, by doing all the talking. They may monopolize and take attention away from the teacher and others. By ‘eating the wrong thing’, they prevent another need from being fulfilled: the need for them and others to learn.

Someone starving for some kind of recognition from his peers might behave badly as a way of gleaning some status. Someone starving for the nutrition of intimacy might glean it from some poisonous source such as an abuser or even a kidnapper.

How we meet our needs determines what kind of a world we live in.

How we meet our needs determines what kind of a world we live inClick To Tweet

If you want to know human motivation, understand emotional problems and recognize how evil operates, then you have to appreciate how the drive to meet our basic primal needs can fulfil or destroy us.

In this piece we look how thwarted mind/body needs can play havoc with lives and how trying to meet a desperate physical need in the wrong way can send us spinning into catastrophe.

But first let me tell you about Dave, whose inability to meet a fundamental mind/body need had him balancing precariously on the edge of madness.

What do you say to the Devil when you meet him in the subway?

“I kept thinking that if God exists, then so too must the Devil. And I kept sensing I was about to bump into him. Maybe at the top the stairs, or in the lonely, late-night stillness of a deserted underground station at the bottom of some Godforsaken escalator.

“The weird thing was, I got to thinking… what would, or should, I say to him if our paths were to cross? I mean, what’s the diabolical etiquette? And one day… there he was. As though waiting for me. A tall gentleman in a Trilby hat…”

Not to sleep perchance to dream

Dave wasn’t psychotic in the normal sense. He was sleep deprived. He was under enormous pressure. His house had become worth less than he was paying for it. He’d had to take on two jobs and would “maybe catch 10 minutes of shut-eye here and there”. He had four dependent children.

Eventually he crashed (and couldn’t work at all for six weeks), but not before begging his hallucinated Prince of Darkness, “Please… I just need to sleep… please let me sleep.”

Dave told me he’d actually seen into the evil eyes of his Devil. Though he knew now, and even partly at the time, that he was merely dreaming while awake. If your brain doesn’t get enough REM sleep – in Dave’s case because he wasn’t sleeping at all – then the dream mechanism will start to operate when you are awake.2

“The night after I met the Devil in the subway, I collapsed into bed. I slept for 16 solid hours. I felt much better, but still drained.”

I wasn’t surprised. Dave hadn’t been eating properly, but had been drinking “up to 30 cups of strong coffee a day”.

Your body matters, and so does your mind, because they’re the same matter. Your emotions directly affect your body, and it goes the other way too.

Our amazing intertwinement

Mental and physical health cannot be disentangled. Dave’s sleep starvation had a huge impact on his mental wellbeing.

Dictatorships often use sleep deprivation or physical stress techniques (along with more direct ‘interrogation’) on members of their hapless populations. The mind is influenced through the body. Body and mind. Mind and body.

Depression is a physical stress condition as much as, or I should say, alongside, an emotional disorder.3 Its effects can feel as much physical as emotional.

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Long-term stress causes inflammation in the body, which in turn contributes to all kinds of diseases.4 Even the simple act of recalling a time you were really angry can reduce the pumping efficiency of the heart.5

Perceived social rejection lights up the same brain regions as the experience of physical pain.6 On the other side of the coin, viewing a picture of someone you love lessens the impact of physical pain by 44%,7 and being in an emotionally supportive relationship helps both mental and physical health.8,9 I could go on (and on), but I won’t. You get the idea. What is good for the mind is good for the body.

And what is good for the body is good for the mind. Having a terrible diet (or eating foods your body is intolerant of) can make you feel depressed and anxious.10 Conversely, physical exercise is protective against anxiety11 and a wonderful mood enhancer,12 especially when done outdoors in nature.13

We all understand that attempting to assuage thirst through drinking engine oil is a terrible idea. Yet you will have seen clients, and perhaps loved ones too, attempt to do something very similar.

What are your relationships with?

Michelle (whose video session you can watch inside UPTV) had been eating a large chocolate bar every night for around a year. I asked her if anything had happened a year ago, and she told me it had. Her relationship had broken down. She wasn’t slow to recognize that this was all an unconscious attempt at meeting her need for intimacy.

Michelle had a relationship with chocolate. Many of us do have some kind of relationship with sugar, or caffeine, or drugs, or chocolate. But these are stop gaps.

There is a very real part of all of us that knows full well that a relationship with alcohol or drugs or sweet pastry pies is no real substitute for a warm loving romance or friendship, or for a life rich in meaning or social connection.

But in the moment it can feel like a solution. Just as, for a few seconds, eating cardboard may feel like a solution when we are starving. But if there were real food to find and we knew how to gain it, why even think about eating the cardboard?

When your client is abusing themselves in some way, whether through smoking out their poor lungs, ‘comfort eating’ (which has been shown to not even provide comfort!)14, or any other destructive behaviour, it’s vital to discover just what they really need. And of course help them meet that need (or needs) legitimately.

Intolerable side effects

It’s a cliché to talk about ‘self-medicating’. But people do. Whether through alcohol, or barbiturates, or cannabis, it’s a common way to ‘switch off’, forget about the day and absorb oneself in the moment.

But self-medication is always accompanied by self-delusion – convincing ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, that the ‘medication’ has few side effects, or that somehow we can cheat the future.

Cliché it may be, but ‘self-medication’ is a fine analogy. Indeed, it’s the side effects that are the problem. Side effects that can make it harder for people to meet their actual physical and emotional needs.

When we seek in the long term to provide ourselves with energy through coffee instead of rest, to distract ourselves from problems through the oblivion of drugs, or to resort to any form of self-harm rather than actually working to solve our problems, then the attempted ‘solution’ becomes the enemy – not the comforting or encouraging ‘friend’ it might masquerade as.

And, at the real risk of sounding like a bearded, wind-chimey man sitting next to you in a Peruvian hippy sweat lodge, there’s something else.

Listen and you will hear

We all need to work at being attuned to our bodies. If we don’t, we can lose the capacity to interpret the signals from our bodies. We need to listen to our bodies – always. What is it you actually need?

Each and every one of us has a natural current running through us called the ultradian rhythm. Every 90 to 120 minutes we shift from left-brain dominance to right-brain. The shift takes about 20 minutes, and it usually makes us feel a little entranced or daydreamy.

This is the time at work we might feel like just stopping for a chat. Maybe we need to just slow down for a little while, or shift from outward to inward focus. But too many of us try to override the feeling with more coffee or a crafty cigarette. We silence the body’s attempts to let us know what we need. Or we just refuse to listen.

It’s during this shift that the immune system does its upkeep, the brain incorporates new learning, and the gut digests and absorbs nutrients. It’s little wonder that when we continue to swim against the tides of this natural rhythm we start to feel broken and emotional.

Sure, you can refuse to listen to your physical needs for a while, override them for a bit… but do it for long enough and you’ll come to feel depleted on every level.

I see the shift in ultradian rhythm in my clients sometimes. It’s as if a ray of light has altered their features when someone who has been very outward focused suddenly becomes glassy eyed. Their breathing naturally changes and slows. Their jaw slackens. Sometimes I even hear their tummy rumble as they digest food.

And that’s when they more easily travel inward. Hypnotizing someone is often a case of just letting the sails catch the breeze of this warm and wonderful natural shift in physical and mental focus.

We need to listen and work with, not against ourselves.

I not robot!

People increasingly treat themselves as machines. We work through lunch, sleep too little, eat junk on the run, skip the gym, and prop up our flagging bodies with ‘energy drinks’.

But neglecting proper nutrition, sleep, rest, and exercise long term leads to psychological problems and stress-induced illness, and not just on the individual level. In unhealthy populations, collective emotions run riot. And that can lead us down some dark paths.

With too little exposure to natural light, poor nutrition, and scant exercise we start to feel second-rate. Weak and sick in mind and body.

But the very ways we try to meet our physical needs for activity, energy, and relaxation can leave us with a ‘cure’ even worse than the ‘disease’.

We all need to stop cannibalizing ourselves.

And you can catch up on all the articles in this series so far by clicking below:

Just added to UPTV

In her third session, this client has continued to become more assertive and recently stood up to her critical sister around the care of their demanding mother. In this session she opens up more about her former alcoholism, her marriage and her dreams.

In this live filmed session inside UPTV, Mark does some role play with her which, at first, feels strange to her but she soon really gets into it and says she finds it useful. She reports feeling the beginnings of a migraine just before trance induction but after the session, she says all signs of the incipient migraine had vanished. Click here to be notified when UPTV is next open for booking.

New Ways of Seeing Ebook

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Download my book on reframing, "New Ways of Seeing", when you subscribe for free email updates

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Mark Tyrrell

About Mark Tyrrell

Psychology is my passion. I've been a psychotherapist trainer since 1998, specializing in brief, solution focused approaches. I now teach practitioners all over the world via our online courses.

You can get my book FREE when you subscribe to my therapy techniques newsletter. Click here to subscribe free now.

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