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The Art of Being There for Yourself

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“If I needed you, would you come to me, would you come to me and ease my pain? 
If you needed me, I would come to you, I would swim the seas for to ease your pain.”
– If I Needed You, Lyle Lovett, Step Inside This House
 
When my youngest son was three weeks old, he began to cry and fuss much more than he had for the first weeks of his life. We didn’t know why, and the medical and alternative advisors we consulted chalked it up to colic. All I knew was my little one was in pain, couldn’t get comfortable, couldn’t eat well, couldn’t sleep well, and it was our duty and biological instinct to nurture and care for him. My heart ached for him. I would have given anything to ease his pain. So I spent hours in of middle of the night (for the next 3 weeks) walking circles in the kitchen, holding him, and listening to this song. It wasn’t easy, but then again it was. It hurt to be with him while he was hurting, but I wasn’t going anywhere. He needed something but couldn’t tell me what. I was going to stay with him and hold him, even if it didn’t solve the problem. I was going to stay with him in his pain.It turned out he had fractured his clavicle during birth and they had missed it. There was nothing to do, even if we would have known. All we could do was be there and attempt to comfort him. We Can Learn To Be There for Ourselves
It’s easy to hold our scared or hurt babies. It’s easy to comfort our dear friend. It’s easy to comfort and care for our furry family. It’s hard to hold, comfort and stay present with ourselves when we’re scared or hurt and feeling deep emotions and sensations. Most of us aren’t taught to do this, but we most certainly can learn it now.We can learn how to hold ourselves when we’re upset, hurt or scared. We already know how to be loving and compassionate. We know how to listen. We know how to care. We’re just not taught to give it to ourselves.We’re often taught it’s selfish and egotistical to care for ourselves. As women, we have the extra emotional labor and burden of taking care of everything around us. We’re taught to pay attention to what others want and need. Men are, too, but they have a little more latitude. Not much, but a little. Most of us tend to our own needs last. 

Allowing Authentic Emotions
This being with ourselves through our emotional, painful or fearful times is challenging. We may not be very good at it yet. We often get mad, criticize and belittle ourselves for feeling an authentic inner emotion or response. That’s a learned behavior from parents, teachers and community leaders. They were teaching us what they had learned. And they were doing their best.

As we consciously move into our personal growth work, these fears, traumas and even points of pride, begin to emerge from the inner basements and closets from which we buried them. It’s necessary for our healing. We’ve been taught these emotional and pain responses are weaknesses or imperfections. They’re inconvenient and take time to move through. We’re taught to push them away and move on.

Our task in growth is to remember how to hold onto ourselves when we have emotional responses and painful sensations. They arise for a reason and they always have information and wisdom for us. Essentially, we’re learning to re-parent ourselves. This happens by allowing the energy of our emotions and sensations to process through while we are present, loving and compassionate.

When we let experiences fully process through, we actually come into a more integrated, wider experience of the world. Our nervous system —both our brain and neuropeptide chemistry — literally changes. When we experience emotions and sensations fully, we actually experience a greater sense of wholeness, ease and well being.

Here’s a simple ‘How To Be There For Yourself’ process. 

  1. Notice when you start push away, minimize or ignore what you feel. Notice when you start ‘giving yourself away’ through compromising values or boundaries. Notice when you stifle your feelings when overwhelmed, or for your vocation or relationships. Awareness is the beginning of any change.
  2. Pause and find a way to consciously note what you’re doing. Name what you’re noticing. Literally hold onto yourself by practicing a containment hold [hug right hand across to left (heart) side of ribs, hug left hand to right elbow], take a long, slow deep breath. Internally say, ‘Oh, I’m feeling _____. I notice I’m pushing a part of myself away that’s trying to communicate with me.’ 
  1. If you are in the middle of something you cannot take a break from, promise yourself you will revisit this experience later. Revisit when you have space and time.
  1. Practice what I call the ‘many minds’ approach. When you have time and space, let yourself feel and process your experience.
    • First, remember you are a mature adult that has comforted others through rough patches.You know how to be a kind, compassionate, caring friend. Do this now for yourself. Literally tell yourself, “I am here with you. I’m not going anywhere even if I feel like running away. I know this is painful. I’ll stay with you while you feel your way through.” Be honest with your thoughts. Your body already feels what you’re thinking.
    • At the same time, let yourself feel your sensations and emotions. They may not be ‘sadness’ or ‘anxiety,’ they may be a tightness, heat, coolness, or rapidly vibrating energy in one or many places in your body. Name them in your mind. Hold as many of these in your awareness, noticing and feeling. Tell yourself you know how to comfort and stay with others through emotional experiences. Remind yourself you are now holding space for you. One part of you is holding a space for another part of you to feel and have an experience here.
  2. Keep your breath full, deep and moving. This is important to keep your nervous system from flying into overdrive. Feel your breath move your body. Squeeze and hug your arms a little more firmly into your body. Feel where you are sitting, standing and connected to the earth. Notice and feel where you are touching the ground again. This is your steady foundation.
  1. Ask the energy how it would like to move. Your body has an inherent wisdom. This energy and these emotions naturally move, like wind and water. Your body knows how to support this movement. Practice trusting your body. Let your imagination be present and notice how this energy moves. It may ‘off gas’ as if it’s coming out your skin, in may unwind, twist, rotate, shift or flow. It may move out hands, feet, seat or head. It may dissolve or change shape. Your job is to hold onto yourself, stay with your experience and let this energy and emotion have its time to move through its process and experience.
  1. Once this energy moves, begin to notice where your body is touching the earth again. Then notice the front of your body. Now notice the back of your body. Notice your head, your feet, and then your whole body. Notice your breath. Keep it moving deep and full. Thank this experience, and thank the part of you that stayed present and held you. Once this energy moves, we have a wider sense of self and integration. Now rest.

When we practice staying with ourselves, we are practicing presence and wholeness. We are allowing body, mind, emotions and a wider and wise part of ourselves to weave our individual aspects together into an integrated whole. When we practice staying with ourselves, allowing our natural and authentic feelings and experiences to move through, we learn to trust ourselves. We create trustable and sacred ground on which we are able to truly emerge into our fullness of expression. This is our birthright. It’s time to reclaim our wholeness.

Please send me a note here if you’re looking for more clarity, understanding or practice reaching into a more harmonious experience of wholeness.

As always, take good care and keep allowing and moving!
Chris