I’ve been reaching out to let you know that one of our most popular courses, When Food is Your Mother, is now available as a home study course.
In the course, I encourage you to find a listening partner – a buddy to pair up with throughout the course.
Listening partners are the brainchild of Hand in Hand Parenting founder Patty Wipfler, where you each take turns sharing your experience while the other person listens with warmth and empathy.
A listening partner can be a friend, loved one, or a fellow student. It’s not therapy, but having a space to let down and receive regular emotional care is very therapeutic.
Our hunger for emotional support – and the vulnerability in receiving it
In the stressful demands and busyness of modern life, so many of us have a deficit of warmth and care in our lives. We can feel so hungry for emotional support.
And yet even though we want this care, it can feel vulnerable to ask for help, or to be listened to in this way.
I received a note from a woman in the When Food is Your Mother home study course, and she shared how indulgent it feels to receive this kind of care.
I hear this from so many people. It may feel safer to receive care from food, shopping, or a favorite show rather than from other people – even our most precious loved ones.
Sometimes this befuddles us. You may have a good relationship with a partner, or the support of several friends. And yet you may find yourself turning to food – or some other refuge – at the end of the day.
You may wonder why this pattern is so ingrained when you have loving relationships around you today.
The stories that live in our nervous systems
Our nervous systems carry the imprints of all our significant relationships, whether these relationships have touched us in painful or nurturing ways.
These imprints live on in our bodies, hearts and minds. They shape what we’ve come to expect or experience in the world.
If your needs and vulnerability were shamed, minimized, dismissed or criticized by your loved ones, it makes so much sense that it can feel unsafe to open up to another to receive care.
This is why our adaptations carry so much dignity. When we turn to food, or shopping, or overworking for holding and warmth, our system is seeking safety and care in the best way it knows how.
According to our latest understanding, 85% of the information we process about ourselves comes from the bottom up, from the body to the brain. Only 15% of the information comes top down, from the thinking brain to the body.
This means that our bodies and nervous systems, our heart brains and gut brains – and not just our skull brains – are communicating to us.
Your thinking brain may know that there are people who are able to care for you when you’re sad or lonely. But your nervous system or gut brain may have a different sense of things.
Noticing the stories that live in my own nervous system
When I slow down and feel into moments of sadness or loneliness in my own life, I can feel the presence of the story that lives in my gut, heart or nervous system.
I can feel the tinge, the remnant of other times in my life when I was alone and scared in my pain.
This understanding brings a warm surge of compassion into my body for all the ways that my nervous system has steered me to food for comfort – even when my thinking brain ‘knew better.’
There’s an older story that lives side by side in my nervous system, and it’s this story – the body’s story of needing food to temper the aloneness and fear – that comes up when I feel sad or lonely today.
Healing into a new story
The good news is that as our systems feel safe, they can heal.
Each time we meet our stories of pain and aloneness with warmth and holding, our bodies start to graft a new story – one where we’re not alone in our pain but held in it.
This process takes time, safety, gentleness and lots of warm emotional support.
Our bodies, hearts, and nervous systems need rich support as they touch these painful places, feel the grief and pain, and begin each tentative tendril of new life.
This is why trying to force change with food does not work. We don’t ‘cut out overeating’ so much as we nurture safety so our systems can open to receive love and care from others.
‘Start close in’
If there’s something I can offer you when you feel vulnerable about reaching out for help or listening support, I’d invite you to ‘start close in,’ as the poet David Whyte writes:
Start close in,
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
you don’t want to take.
For this is the journey we all share – whether our form of refuge is food, or sugar, or shopping, or overworking, or alcohol. We all start close in.
The poem reminds me of a story another woman shared with me – how she visited a neighbor when she was feeling sad during the holiday week instead of overeating at home.
She said the visit with her neighbors changed the tone of her entire day, and she went home feeling less alone.
It may feel like something small, but these kinds of experiences signal ways that we’re expanding our sense of nourishment, ways we’re taking a risk so we can take in care.
These shifts represent ways that the ‘story of aloneness’ is changing – in our bodies, in our hearts, and in our minds.
Creating a rich nest of connection
Like our relationships with our neighbors and loved ones, a listening partner can be a place where your story of aloneness can change.
Over time, listening partnerships can be a place where your vulnerabilities and relationship with food can be held in non-judgmental presence, in love, care and warmth.
When we have a couple of places to turn to receive care, it weaves a sense of holding around us.
One of the reasons why we’re making When Food is Your Mother available as a home study is to give you more opportunities to find a listening partner and receive this kind of support.
It’s one more weft in the weave.
A bonus webinar for all When Food is Your Mother home study members
I’m offering a bonus webinar for all When Food is Your Mother home study members on Thursday, January 18th at 2 pm where you can ask questions, get extra support, and share your experience.
It’s my hope that this webinar can bring a little extra support to nourish your time in the course and connect with others.
You can purchase and learn more about the When Food is Your Mother home study course here.
If you have any questions on whether this course is the right fit for you, please reach out – we want you to find the help you need, whether it’s with us or with someone else.
And it’s my hope that all of us, as we start close in, can start to feel a little more repair, a little more safety in the world, and receive a bit more care.
IMAGE CREDIT: This beautiful illustration, Release Your Anger, is used by the kind permission of the artist, Australian artist Eddy Sara. It’s part of a series that he created on befriending emotions – they are powerful images, and I invite you to explore them!
Just sharing some emotional responses to this rich blog post.
Lately, I’m feeling exhausted from searching for warm relational support. I do have therapeutic support, but the type Bonnie Badenoch is talking about is not easy to find, in my experience, and probably still quite rare in the world. My own history has been as everyone else’s emotional support person with little to no reciprocation, so reaching out to others often leaves me even more depleted instead of nourished. I’m on an ongoing journey of outgrowing this pattern of “co-dependent” behaviour. I’ve come a long way in learning to prioritize my own needs and relate to myself with a measure of warm curiosity, but yearn to be further ahead. And the further I get, the more clearly I can see the true immensity of my wounding as well as the healing work still ahead. The road ahead feels daunting at times, depressing, hopeless …. “too much”. And I’m already so tired from five decades of living inside a traumatizing nervous system. It’s been exhausting, and isolating. And yet I know giving up is not an option. I wish I could “hurry up” and perfect the art of self-compassion. I feel an unbearably intense urgency to tap into the field of compassion. It would also be sweet to be able to connect with a vibrant, dynamic supportive community of others like me who are also on the healing path with passion, dedication and integrity. A listening partner would be awesome.
Thank you, Sujata, for your sincere and honest reflections. Yes – to find this kind of listening can feel like a rare thing. And many people find that they are the listener for others but feel a lack of others who are able to listen to them.
The urgency to rest in the field of compassion, and the desire to ‘hurry up’ and get there is something that makes so much sense, and has been a part of my own and so many others’ journeys, too. As you describe, when the body, heart and nervous system are weary, we can be so hungry for rest, for compassion, and to receive rather than give care.
Listening partners fill such an important need. Soon, we’ll be opening up an alumni community here in Growing Humankindness where you’ll be able to reach out and find listening partners. We’ll share more in the upcoming newsletter as this offering unfolds.