In When Food is Your Mother, I talk about how food can serve as a base of security and safety in our lives – especially if our relationships have not felt like places of secure holding or rest.
Food can arise as a substitute, a place that attunes to us: food hears our pain, cares for us, listens to us, and offers us warmth and care.
This search for a secure, loving relationship – and all the warmth and relaxation that this connection brings – is often underneath the drive for food.
This drive can also arise in our relationships with other people. Because of our relational wounds, we may feel alarmed about our relationships and alarmed about getting them ‘right.’
In his research with infants and parents, Ed Tronick found that healthy, secure relationships share something in common: the ability to repair rupture. A healthy, secure relationship is only attuned 1/3 of the time – 1/3 is rupture, and 1/3 is repair.
When we hear those ratios, our bellies might soften. Knowing that we only have to be attuned 1/3 of the time – and that there is so much generous room for mistakes and repair – brings sweet relief.
It gets even better.
Not only is rupture and repair necessary, but repaired rupture is some of the healthiest food for the brain.
When rupture is repaired, our brains learn that conflict can be repaired, that love includes mistakes, and that love includes this coming back around to heal what was painful.
In other words, a healthy, nurturing relationship – one that supports ours and others’ unfolding – includes conflict. Rupture is not the exception to health but is included within it. What mercy.
We’re not expected to be perfect. Or to even get it right most of the time. Just 1/3 of the time!
But with this truth, we are asked to repair, over and over again.
My mentor Bonnie Badenoch calls this ‘happy humility:’ to recognize that we will make mistakes, will misattune to our loved ones’ experiences, will inadvertently hurt each other and step on each others’ toes.
This is the dance of human relating. Sometimes it’s really clumsy, and really awkward! Sometimes we feel like we have two left feet.
This is also true in our relationship with ourselves. In the Growing Humankindness community, we were talking about how these ratios also hold true for ourselves: we don’t have to relate perfectly to ourselves, either.
There’s room for rupture and repair.
If we’re hard on ourselves, we can repair. If we jump on our own case about a mistake, we can repair. If we misattune to our limits and overdo, overwork, or get too little rest or sleep, we can repair.
If we overeat, we can repair.
There is so much rest in knowing that rupture and repair aren’t the exception to health but are included within it. Perhaps our ease comes from our growing willingness and delight in repairing.
If we approach our relationships – including ourselves – with humility, curiosity, and wonder, this happy humility opens into a ground of safety where we can stand.
Our safety isn’t found in needing to be perfect or in trying to be perfect, but in expecting to be imperfect.
The Zen Buddhists have a gorgeous phrase for this truth – ‘to be free from anxiety about our own imperfection.’ Or as one woman said in a Tara Brach talk many years ago, “There’s nothing wrong with me anymore.”
Attunement, rupture and repair: this is the dance of being human. Mercy, and mercy and mercy.