Accepting Nurturing (free)

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How do you feel about being nurtured or looked after?

How do you feel if someone does something for you (that you like/enjoy), without asking?

I’ve been having some conversations about this recently. Someone asked about finding time and space to look after yourself, and also allowing yourself to be a person you look after, similarly to how you look after other people.

The conversation also turned to people wondering how to allow people to help without being asked. Being vulnerable and letting go of control to allow other people to step up.

To me these are intrinsically linked.

Learning to look after yourself and taking joy in it truly requires being vulnerable with yourself. It’s about asking for what you need, and then providing it. This is a complicated thing, it’s all caught up in what you want vs what you need vs what you should want. Then there’s the issue of what you can do practically. Untangling this mess takes effort, which is a lot to ask when you’re already having trouble looking after yourself.

Back to the conversation: My answer was a little off topic, but it was how I started to think about how to look after myself from a place of joy.

One of the things that really helped me was thinking about nurturing as a concept. How do I feel about nurturing others? How about nurturing myself? How about other people nurturing me?

Because really, I want someone to take care of me without having to ask, which means being vulnerable enough to be nurtured, and know what that means with me.

Also, to go deeper, if I think about when I do things for other people without them asking, I’m doing it because that was my duty growing up, and how I got positive regard. Now I don’t need to get that positive regard, so my relationship to doing things for other people had to change in order for me to really get to a place where I can ask and allow myself to feel nurtured.

If, deep down, you do things for other people because this is a role that was thrust upon you as a child, or young person, and it’s how you got positive attention (or simply a lack of negative attention), then this becomes a coping mechanism. I admit I do this for me as much as for anyone else.

I’ve told this anecdote before I think, but once, a couple of years ago, I was heading down to London to go to my then employer’s office for a few days. I was feeling a little anxious – trains are not great here, and there was a bunch of stuff going on. I dealt with this anxiety by making sure my partner had food in for the week. He is fully capable of looking after himself – he’s a better cook than I am – and he didn’t ask for this at all.

Later that day I was talking about how I was anxious and so I did shopping as a form of control because I’m well aware of my patterns, and he said something along the lines of ‘I really appreciate not having to think about food, but I don’t want to encourage an obvious trauma response’.

That’s what it is, when I do things for him without him asking. There’s a difference in how I feel about them.

I make my partner an oat latte almost every morning. I don’t drink coffee, but I enjoy weighing out beans, setting them to grind, pulling an espresso, and steaming milk. It’s meditative and brings me joy, because I know he appreciates it.

When I’m micromanaging food, or laundry, I’m doing it to assuage my anxiety. I don’t want to feel like a burden, or that I’m not being a good enough partner.

One of these is an act of love, the other is an act of anxiety.

Realising this was a turning point in how I feel about asking for and accepting help. If I subconsciously assume other people also feel a lot of anxiety, and help people to prove their worthiness, I’m not going to be able to accept that help. It’s going to feel like I’m burdening them.

There’s a confounding factor here, because if you’ve never stated your needs, and have learned to micromanage other people’s needs, you have little to no frame of reference for how to state needs in a healthy way. This is something I’m still learning, and I still find it difficult.

So, where do we go from here?

The questions throughout my empathy as a skill series (last post out next week), will help you start to empathetically think about your own patterns. Once you start to unpick things without judgement, you can start to change. Think about where you put pressure on yourself to help others. Think about what brings you joy, and what just removes anxiety. What does joy feel like when engaging in work for others? Sit with that anxiety, see that it can pass. Notice your self talk, and start to gently push back on negative thoughts.

It’s a journey, and all these things are inter-connected. It starts from gentle, empathetic self awareness, sitting with those feelings, and then moving through them to change. It’s difficult, but can be joyful.

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