"I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do."-Georgia O' Keefe
Beautiful people, let's go...
Self-care, in general, is a struggle for those of us who are by nature caregivers whether personally and professionally. And although allowing others to care for us is a key part of self-care, it can be harder than being kind to ourselves. This is worth investigating because we are social creatures and relatedness is a key psychological need. We cannot have true intimacy without vulnerability, without at some point putting ourselves in the hands of another as they too will need to put themselves in the hands of someone else.
Believe it or not, as an adult, it can actually bring a lot of ease when we let ourselves let go and can be taken care of.
What your Early Attachment Style Says About How You Recieve Help
Clues to whether or not it is easy or difficult for us to care or be cared for may be found in attachment theory. Psychiatrists Robert Maunder and Jon Hunter have long researched how the stress of illness triggers early attachment styles formed by our infant relationships to primary caregivers. In their research and book (Love, Fear, and Health: How Our Attachments to Others Shape Health and Health Care. University of Toronto Press, 2015) they show how we all express varying attachment styles described as secure; preoccupied, anxious, and security-seeking; self-reliant, avoidant and dismissive of support; and cautious, disorganized and fearful of support.
Even those of us who are chiefly secure in our attachments have degrees of guilt, loss of control, and loss of identity that offers of support may trigger when we are vulnerable. This may explain why allowing others to care for us can feel threatening.
Four Things to Remember When Others Want to Care For You
In allowing others to show their care for us it is important to consider the following:
It’s a gift to allow others to care for you. Your partner, friends, and family want to help out to the degree they are able and it benefits them. Ideally, there’s a balance between expressions of care of you to them, and them to you. Remember, being of service, makes people happier.
It doesn’t mean you’re weak. Allowing others to show their care doesn’t mean you stop being able to care for yourself (or others). It is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of our interdependence and what it is to be human.
It’s an act of compassion. Opening up to care is an act of compassion to self and others. It is the desire to be of assistance and following through on that desire.
We all need community. Care from others is part of any self-care plan and helps us build communities of care in an increasingly isolating society. Those who are part of a care team become a community unto themselves.
A Mindfulness Practice to Open Up to Care
Come into a comfortable posture, one that embodies ease and wakefulness, and close the eyes if that’s available, turning attention to the body sitting.
Bring attention to the sensations inside the body and outside the body, at the surface of the skin and to sounds………After a few moments shifting attention to the body breathing……to the movement of the breath in the body and out of the body, to any associated sensations of the inhalation and the exhalation…….(engaging with this breath practice for a few minutes).
And now, bringing to mind a time when you took care of someone. It may have been a significant event, such as a catastrophic illness, or a small event, such as helping a child, or the planning of a dinner or party.
Checking in with the body now and any sensations and noticing the feeling tone of those – pleasant or unpleasant; and what emotions are showing; what thoughts – how did you relate to that experience – welcoming or unwelcoming and what did you do? Exploring this for a few minutes or so….Perhaps saying to yourself – this is a person or these are people in need of care, just like me.
And now, bringing to mind a time when you needed to be cared for. Again, it may have been a simple event or something really serious such as an illness, or perhaps you experienced a significant loss. Contemplating what happened? How did you relate to this situation? How able were you to let people take care of you if you did? And if not, what got in the way?
Imagining what it might be like to say yes, to receiving care from others. Considering how that might affect your relationship with those caregivers. How might it be beneficial to you and them? Contemplating this for a few minutes.
And then bringing your attention back to the sensations of the breath in the body, resting here. And when you’re ready, opening your eyes, and if it’s helpful writing down any significant thoughts or insights that came to mind.