One of the things that delights me is coming across a video or article that touches on themes we explore in our signature class, When Food is Your Mother.
Today I have a video to share that’s connected to one of the most common – and tender – questions I hear from folks:
If connection heals, what do I do when connecting with others doesn’t feel safe?
It’s a really good question!
We have to feel connected to regulate
When we’re under stress, we’re wired to reach out, to connect with others. One of the reasons we instinctively do this is because our brains need to feel connected in order to regulate.
This is one reason why we initially feel calmer after overeating. The eating soothes our nervous system.
It’s also one of the reasons who overeating can be so sticky: we’re using food to meet this foundational need for regulation in the absence of other forms of connection.
Needing is holy
I want to pause here to invoke a sea of compassion for all the ways we use something outside of our being to regulate.
With overeating, there are often deep feelings of shame for the ways we use food for regulation – especially when we’re heart centered, sensitive, or spiritually oriented.
True – we can feel this way about any overconsuming. But food seems to tap into primal feelings of shame that seep over into other areas of our lives – especially our business and the sharing of our gifts.
This shame can lead to a lot of feelings of self hatred, contempt and disgust about our bodies, our needs, and the ways we eat.
I know I’ve felt all these feelings in my body, and oh my, they are so tender.
Needing support to self regulate is okay
For many, many reasons – including temperment, culture, conditioning, trauma, or having a more sensitive nervous system – some of us may need more outside support for regulation that others.
It’s really important not to shame ourselves for this vulnerability, for feeling dysregulated, or for needing help.
It’s also helpful to know that, like a muscle, our capacity to self regulate can deepen – especially when we feel safe to do so.
When food is shelter, a refuge for regulation
For many people, the idea of connecting with others brings up both desire – a longing for closeness and contact – and fear – worries, anxiety, alarm, tension, and feelings of avoidance, or even danger.
It’s a challenging mix, whew.
In the face of this inner conflict, it makes so much sense that we may choose food instead – a temporary refuge free from the anxiety of connecting.
And yet this causes its own pain.
So what to do?
Safe ways to connect
Fortunately, there are other ways we can engage our ‘connection system’ that don’t cause the harm of overeating.
These are good options when it feels unsafe to connect with others – or even when loved ones are unavailable, like in the midst of a pandemic.
In this video from nervous system specialist Irene Lyon, she shares four ways you can self regulate:
- Sound – listening to music, especially music that matches – or attunes to – your mood, allowing you to express your feelings or to feel heard; humming and singing (I love to sing my spiritual practices!)
- Books – any place where you’re listening to or reading a story, whether it’s a book or a podcast
- Nature – being in nature as well as caring for gardens, pets, and plants
- And interacting with strangers – interacting with someone you don’t know, like someone at the post office or at the grocery store
I love these ideas, and use them often in my own life.
The regulating power of movies
To this list I’d also add movies. Like books and music, watching another person’s story help us access our own feelings and helps us feel connected to others.
I have my own personal list of ‘go to movies’ that I watch when I’m feeling lonely, disconnected, or overwhelmed. One of my favorites is the BBC/PBS show, Call the Midwife.
Watching this show not only helps me feel connected to people, but I also feel strengthened and encouraged by the stories of these people I don’t know, but that I can empathize with.
You can use these ideas to build up your nervous system – which builds your capacity to self regulate when you’re under stress. This means you have other outlets and ways of regulating besides food.
Would you like to join this year’s When Food is Your Mother class?
Once a year I teach a class, When Food is Your Mother, a love letter to our vulnerability and our yearning for connection.
One of the themes that runs through the course is how we relate to our neediness – how to nurture a sacred, compassionate relationship with our neediness and vulnerability.
Neediness, like physical hunger, arises regularly, ebbing and flowing throughout our days. But so often we see this neediness as wrong, or shameful.
When we feel overwhelmed by neediness, vulnerability, trauma, or stress, we can turn to subsitute forms of connection – like overeating – in an attempt to feel held and cared for. It’s an attempt, based in exquisite love, to try and self regulate.
We can also feel shame. Like any trauma, this shame can create barriers in our lives, impacting our relationship with others and with our own hearts.
If this topic speaks to you, in this year’s When Food is Your Mother class, we’ll be building up your capacity for self regulation, helping you replace food as a primary source of connection and refuge.
This class may be for you if you’d like more support in shifting your relationship with food and deepening the connection you feel with your inner life, with others, and with Love itself.
We have a beautiful, smaller, more intimate group taking shape this year. This kind of group can be a good fit for you if you’re more introverted, or if you prefer the more in depth attention of a smaller group.
And we have a payment plan option for those who need help to stretch out their payments.
If you have any questions, please reach out. We’re here to help!
And I’m curious – are there other ways you use your connection system to self regulate? I bet you have your own instinctive ways of supporting yourself, even if you hadn’t been able to put into words why this was so healing and helpful.
To the holy desire for connection, and to her satiation,