Straight off, real love is love that nourishes the other person, be it a child or an adult. Love supports the other person and encourages the unfolding of his or her personality.

But love can be confused with something else--emotional hunger. And that has little to do with the other person and everything to do with oneself. Emotional hunger is the result of not getting what one needed as a child. It's a primitive condition of pain and longing that is caused by deprivation and tends to get passed down from one generation to the next.

The emotionally hungry parent uses the child for her own needs. What are some signs of emotionally hungry parenting? It can be seen in a variety of behaviors.

* anxious over concern and overprotection

* resentment of a child's accomplishments

* wanting an attention the child gets for oneself

Parents who are capable of giving love are not themselves emotionally hungry. They have a positive self image and can feel compassion for the child. Parents who are capable of loving can maintain boundaries. The child of such a parents looks loved.

By comparison, children of hungry parents develop reciprocal hunger. They're overly dependent and emotionally volatile, write Firestone and Catlett, in their book, Fear of Intimacy. They develop clinging behavior and are afraid to explore the environment.

As adults, children of emotionally hungry parents have higher than normal anxiety states. They fear success (which, emotionally, would mean separation from the parent) and in love relationships they tend to be withholding because of earlier fears of being depleted or sucked dry. Emotionally hungry parenting has put them "on the take", in other words. They feel deprived. What is given to them, by the other, is never enough. They may be terrified of having children of their own for fear they will be emptied.

Some questions for assessing your own level of emotional hunger:

* How willing are you for your mate to have friends of his (or her) own?

* Are you envious or your mate's successes and involvement with work?

* Do you believe your mate should spend all of his (or her) spare time with you?

The victim of emotional hunger does not feel loved, can't feel loved, because life will never offer enough compensation for what was lost in childhood. The sad truth is that love can't cure the victim of emotional hunger for the simple reason that he or she can't FEEL love.

The things that stand in the way of feeling love can be worked out in a therapist's office. There the chain of intergenerational hungering can be broken. In fact, it needs to be broken if one ever wants to be able to truly love another.

Author's Bio: 

NYC psychotherapist Colette Dowling, LMSW, has a private therapy practice in Manhattan and specializes in the treament of conflicts with love, intimacy and personal success. Colette has written eight books and is best known for uncovering women's psychological conflicts with independence in her best-seller, The Cinderella Complex: Women's Hidden Fears of Independence. Other books she's written are "You Mean I Don't Have to Feel This Way?": New Help for Depression, Anxiety and Addiction, Red Hot Mamas (about women's lives after 50), and The Frailty Myth, about the psychological effect on women of having been historically discouraged from developing the full strength of their bodies. Excerpts from Colette's books can be found at
Her mental health website is

NYC psychotherapist Colette Dowling, LMSW, is a graduate of The Smith College School for Social Work and has done Post-masters training at The Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy,in New York. Write to Colette at