Why Psychological Nutrition Is Food for the Soul
Imagine if emotions were labeled like food. Would it encourage you to reach for heart-healthy happiness more often? Would it stop you from binging on the empty calories and toxic ingredients found in guilt and resentment?
That’s the premise behind “Psychological Nutrition,” a new book by clinical psychologists Shoba Sreenivasan, Ph.D., and Linda E. Weinberger, Ph.D.
The book is primarily geared toward women, but the strategies it teaches will resonate with anyone capable of a little introspection and imagination. Sreenivasan and Weinberger say that just like junk food, junk emotions—such as anxiety, jealousy, or fear—deplete the body and leave us starving for the nourishing relationships and enriching experiences that truly feed our soul.
Since nutritional labels for feelings don’t exist, readers are asked to make their own by way of a daily emotional inventory. Think of it as a food diary for feelings. Throughout the day, jot down your experiences and how they make you feel: depleted or energized.
When you start to examine the energetic impact of your emotional reactions, it may illuminate some aspects of your behavior and experience you couldn’t see before. For example, a relationship you thought was good, under examination may not be very nourishing and may in fact take a heavy toll on your psychological energy.
Epoch Times talked to the authors of “Psychological Nutrition” about the cost of consuming too much junk emotion and how monitoring your daily emotional intake can lead to a happier, more fulfilled life. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Epoch Times: What inspired the idea of nutritional labels for emotions?
Dr. Linda E. Weinberger: Today people are very concerned about their diet. They’re very concerned about whether it’s high in fat or fiber, low in sodium, and yet we’re not as attuned to our psychological nutritional intake. We really don’t assess whether our interactions with people are good for us or not, or whether if engaging in certain situations is going to help us psychologically or not. So we thought this would be a way of introducing this concept.
Epoch Times: How does indulging in junk emotions hurt us?
Dr. Weinberger: If you’re consuming a lot of junk food, it’s not healthy for you. You’re going to put yourself in a situation where you become malnourished. You’re not getting all the essential aspects: vitamins, minerals, protein, or whatever you need.
Similarly, if your life is consumed with negative emotions—stress, anxiety, fear—these can consume you, and in essence it can also make you psychologically malnourished where you’re not really open, aware, or willing to consider the positive things that can energize and help you.
Having a malnourished psychological diet is going to deplete you. It’s going to make you weak and impact all of your functioning. And you end up closing the door to a happier life.
Dr. Shoba Sreenivasan: When you consume food that is not good for you—it’s high in fat and calories but doesn’t do anything to nourish the body—you’ll start to see it in your belly. You become lethargic and fatigued.
We developed an analog concept in the psychological arena in which certain emotions cause an emotional jelly belly and psychological flab. You could end up in a state of emotional anorexia because you’ve burned out all your psychological energy with martyrdom or self-sacrifice. Or you could be binging, or gobbling up negative emotions. All you’re filled with are anger, resentment, envy, jealousy, and pessimism.
This has an impact if you’re suffering from any kind of physical ailments, particularly pain. We interpret pain through the brain, and our emotional activity also comes out of our neural centers and circuitry.
The detection of chronic pain is in the prefrontal cortex, which also interprets what you’re feeling. A lot of how you react is going to then mediate how you perceive whatever physical suffering you’re experiencing.
Dr. Weinberger: Pain can lead to a whole variety of negative emotions. And when you get into that loop where you become anxious, you wonder if this will ever go away, it really impacts the quality of your life. It really takes away a lot of your motivation to see things in a different light.
You learn that if you consume more of these positive emotions and experiences, the sensation of the pain will be reduced. It really is a natural phenomenon that we tend to forget.
Epoch Times: Your book is aimed at women. Why are women in particular prone to a diet of depleting emotions?
Dr. Sreenivasan: Women tend to be nurturers, so there is a biological push to be helpful. There is also a social push for women to be accommodating and nice and look after others before they look after themselves.
While being other-centered and helpful is a good thing, a lot of women get pushed into being people-pleasers. We want to do things so that other people will like us. If you do this to an extreme, you end up going into what we call pathological helpfulness. We call this pathology “Helpful Helen.”
Helpful Helen ends up getting burned out. She is in emotional anorexia because her own emotional needs aren’t being met. She’s just sort of existing. She feels angry that she’s not appreciated. It’s not a mindset of genuine giving or loving. It’s a mindset of feeling imposed upon.
This kind of pathological helpfulness is really toxic to our psychological health. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help others, because the key to a meaningful life is to be other-centered, but you should not do it to the point where you’re not even part of that relationship.
Helpful Helens obstruct the growth of the people they want to help, and they obstruct their own growth too. These people believe that they’re helping, but they’re irritable, and people have to walk on eggshells around them.
Dr. Weinberger: Sometimes these women who are so giving and helpful may think that their well-being is all about whether their family is happy and taken care of, but you can only do that for so long. Eventually, you need to be nurtured. You need to attend to your own health.
These women start to feel as if they are invisible. Losing oneself and being so involved in other people’s lives is not only going to cause dissatisfaction, but it’s also going to stop your growth and your ability to be more than just always helpful for others.
Epoch Times: If you’re a person who wants to be helpful, and you have a deep sense of obligation, how do you do step away from pathological helpfulness without feeling like you’re shirking your responsibilities or acting selfish?
Dr. Sreenivasan: It’s about understanding the difference between giving that is genuine and loving, and giving that comes out of a sense of resentment.
When you’re giving, and you’re experiencing the good emotions of joy, feeling energized, happiness, and love, that’s not pathological helpfulness. That’s a genuine relationship, and it’s a two-way thing. You’re giving without feeling like you’re being emotionally drained.
On the other hand, if you’re giving, and you’re looking for rewards and attention, and feeling emotions such as anger, resentment, and a sense of cynicism that nothing you do really matters, that is not really true giving.
There’s a related concept called “ego addiction” that the Dalai Lama talks about. During ego addiction, your ego is inflated. You’re overwhelmed with emotions, and you can’t find peace from that kind of process.
So Helpful Helen is ego-addicted because it’s her ego that’s involved in giving, and not really loving kindness, the part of you that should be in the relationship of giving.
Epoch Times: One of the concepts you talk about at the end of your book is the feminine divine. Could you explain what this is and why women may want to avoid a male-centric path to success?
Dr. Weinberger: The feminine divine is a concept that we identify as women. It is peaceful, cooperative, and nurturing. We call it the feminine divine because it is driven toward giving birth and maintaining life, rather than competing with or destroying others and destroying life.
If we look at a workplace that is feminine-centric, it is going to tap into our natural desire to nurture growth. Oftentimes, a male-centric business model is more identified with people having to be driven: You have to compete, you have to be the best, and you have to have something over another individual to succeed.
This is something we want to shy away from. We want to have a cooperative, nurturing, and giving approach. As women, we want to share from our experience and wisdom.
We strongly encourage people in the construct of the feminine divine to open doors for others, give them jobs, make introductions. It’s not about telling them how to do it, but actually helping assist in their endeavor. This is definitely our passion.
Dr. Sreenivasan: We view the feminine divine almost as a revolution. We want women, in particular, to engage in something we call entrepreneurial philanthropy. We don’t see this as a male-bashing thing, because we like men.
But we’re not men. We women have our own legitimate strengths in the business arena, the scientific arena, and the academic arena, but it is different from the male-centric way of doing things.
When women try to become men and take on the cloak of what they think they should be like—tough as nails, stepping over people to get ahead—we call this Machiavellian Mary. This doesn’t really benefit anyone. Even successful men understand the need for cooperation to unleash creativity in others.
The feminine divine signifies cooperation, generosity, and giving. You often hear that it’s in the giving that you receive, and that’s where we see this going. It’s about women who have had some success getting together and forwarding that success to unleash creativity in other people. That in turn will benefit all of us.