One of my superpowers is self-reliance.
It’s also my achilles heel.
I am the queen of “if you want something done right, do it yourself” and rarely want to rely on other people.
This week, however, a loved one came over to check on me while I was sick without being asked or invited, and I found myself on the verge of tears.
They had come over, unannounced, just to make sure that I was OK, and upon finding me asleep, settled in and hung out until I woke up.
You know how when you’re already under the weather, tired and exhausted, any small thing can make you cry? Well, that was me.
My tears surprised me. They made no sense, at first.
I remembered a time years ago, when I was lying on a body-worker’s table and tears began streaming down my cheeks.
Embarrassed, I’d muttered, “I have no idea why I am crying. I’m sorry…”
She’d replied, “Your tears are welcome. We cry for many reasons: when we’re angry, sad, happy, joyful, moved, touched, tired… There are so many reasons to cry. Just let the feelings come and release them. Crying is welcome.”
Remembering those words, I let the tears flow.
I left home at 16, and have grappled and scrapped my way through my life, fiercely independent. But underneath all that strength and resilience, there is also a lost young girl who wants to be nurtured, tended to, and be taken care of.
But in that moment of unexpected kindness last weekend, she felt seen, heard, and tended to. There was space for her to exist too.
This simple act of nurturing kindness was so surprising to me, that it actually highlighted how little of that I have had in my life. Pent-up sadness from too much aloneness and too much self-reliance washed through me.
I had been so out of touch with how much I longed for more moments in my childhood that were nurturing, gentle, loving, and tender.
An emphasis on independence, being a “big girl,” being praised for how little I needed, or being punished and mocked for how much I needed, had encouraged me to stay out of touch and disconnected from the younger child-parts of me.
I was rewarded for being strong, not for being needy. When my needs weren’t met as a young child, I learned to simply put them away. It was safer to focus on everyone else’s needs, and to deal with my “neediness” alone.
I was struck by the beauty of this moment. A simple act of selfless care from another human, combined with my willingness to let it impact me, to take it in.
Three things stand out to me:
- We are deeply interdependent beings who need each other and are enriched by one another’s kindness and generosity.
- Counter-intuitively, healing often happens when we give up our demand that the world show up the way we wish it would and instead engage with life on its terms.
- We can go back in time and nurture ourselves today in ways we weren’t able to nurture ourselves when we were little. We aren’t dependent on history or other people being different for us to heal and create a new future.
I have a renewed focus on my own deep desire for more nurturing and care.
Watching all the ways that I tell myself that I don’t matter or that “it” doesn’t matter, I am finding delightful ways of tending to myself more fully and consciously.
If you’d like to join me, here are some practices I’ve enjoyed and found helpful:
when I catch myself thinking I don’t matter or “it” doesn’t matter, I put one hand on my heart, one hand on my stomach, take a deep breath, and tell myself, “I am here, we are here. It matters. I will not leave you. You’re nurtured, you’re cared about, you’re safe.” And then I just focus on the warmth of my hands as my nervous system settles down. (Inspired by Kristen Neff’s practice for cultivating self-compassion)
Second, I listen to super cheesy (or quite fabulous) music that helps me connect to words that are meaningful to me, such as …
- Jewel’s Life Uncommon
- John Lennon’s Imagine
- Colbie Callait’s Try
- Mark Stanton Welsh’s Surrender
- Pentatonic’s version of Hallelujah
What about you?
In what ways do you tend to and care for the people who matter to you, including yourself?
What practices work for you? What music is meaningful to you?
What gets in your way of letting nurturing in? How open are you to receiving from others?
Let me know in the comments below.