Longing: The Secret Emotion

This article was originally published on Psychology Today on October 30, 2016.

Longings are hushed and hidden. Along the way, we're taught to tuck away our longing and ignore it.  

Early in my career as a psychotherapist, I realized that longing and loneliness were universal. In the security and safety of the therapeutic relationship, my clients unpacked their longing slowly while gauging my reaction to the secrets they've held in their hearts. Witnessing their courage made me curious about my own longing.

I've wondered if I was born with an unmet longing. I don’t know where it came from, or if it will ever leave. What I do know is I’ve spent significant portions of my life vacillating between ignoring the unsettling yearning and trying to fill it up. There is no way to solve or satisfy the longing—all of my attempts have failed. Longing lingers.  

At times, the desire for something I’ve yet to identify is dormant. I wonder if maybe it’s mysteriously left—or was fulfilled—tempered for a time. But then it returns, almost as suddenly as it left. I’m never exactly sure what triggers my longing, this deep craving to settle back in, heavy and weighted somewhere between my heart and the pit of my stomach. The pressure and intensity of its return are undeniable. 

My old way was to rush towards the intensity of the sensation with a remedy—a few cocktails, a willingness to be seduced by a person or desired object, and then once that proved empty and faulty, I buried the craving under massive amounts of food until the only solution was to get rid of it. To repent I starved and ran as far and fast as I could from something that was so a part of me that my attempts were futile. Longing remained.

Longing seems to show up in a song, a season, a sensation—a stranger’s laugh or smell as they walk by—so familiar to my soul.

It's never what it seems, though. I get lost and confused, all tangled up with desperation and desire. Uncertainty. The not knowing. What was taken that needs replaced? Or just never was…

Eventually, I surrendered to the longing. I’m still not sure if something is unmet, unsatisfied, or unrevealed. Time will tell. In the meantime, I breathe into the deep, soulful longing when it shows up. I remind myself that other people feel this way too.  

Longing is an inside job, not an outside job. Recognizing this may be part of my work while I’m here—to hold the longing, to find the beauty and mystery in its complexity, or even just tolerating its massive waves until they subside. These days, I sit still; no more trying to solve what is clearly unsolvable. Accepting of what just is...  

Longing reminds me of grief and looks a lot like love. Sorrow and serendipity—sultry, toxic, and insistent. It’s just one part. One part of me.

This piece of me sees that part of you. It recognizes your neediness, the way you endlessly search, the way you pine for the past, a future, or something other than what just is. I love this about you. You are rich and decadent and vast to me. Deep and devoted. Someone who seeks rather than subsists.  

Can we be real with our longing? Would it be ok if we talked about it, not just in here, but out there?

People tend to prefer we stifle our longing, but that’s ok, those aren’t my people. You are my people. Love my longing, and I’ll love yours too.  

Image Source