Many people who are sensitive or intuitive struggle with structure – having regular, nourishing rhythms and rituals in place in their daily lives. And yet they may also recognize their need for and desire for structure: that having more structure would help them relax into life, feeling held, supported and cared for.
Where the struggle with structure appears
I find that those who struggle with structure often harbor feelings of resistance towards the regular care of their bodies, hearts and minds. Sometimes this is simply because structure is hard and a source of frustration.
Sometimes we simply get tired of the daily care that needs doing over and over.
Other times, we feel resentful or irritated at our bodies for needing so much. It’s as if we have an idea in our heads of how much care we think we should need. And if our real needs differ, we may feel angry. We feel frustrated by our very human neediness itself.
This can show up in thoughts like:
- “I don’t want to care for myself everyday! I just want to wing it.”
- “I get so tired of cooking and eating and shopping and preparing food…”
- “I’m hungry again?!”
It can show up in internal arguments about your body’s physical, relations or emotional needs. You may put off even basic things like going to the bathroom, getting water, or making yourself a meal when you’re hungry.
It can show up in behaviors like skipping meals, staying up late, and skimping on sleep, exercise, rejuvenation, and spiritual practices that nurture you.
What the lack of structure feels like
Feeling ungrounded hurts. It doesn’t feel good energetically or physically. When I’m feeling ungrounded, I feel like my energy is all over the place. It’s a feeling of being overstimulated and exhausted at the same time: like having a bee hive buzzing in my head while also feeling like I’ve been run over by a truck.
A lack of structure often leads to feeling out of touch with your needs, body and emotions. When you’re feeling this depleted, you may end up turning to comfort objects – food and sugar, primarily – to feel more grounded, centered, or calm.
Longing for mothering
When this happens, you’re turning to comfort objects to feel cared for, to feel loved, to feel mothered – to counter the feelings of neglect and frazzled-ness you feel when there’s a lack of limits, rhythm or consistency. When you reach for food in this way, what you’re truly longing for is the Mother.
The mother offers love, limits and structure. When you long for this mother, you’re longing for someone to take care of you, to put you to rest, to come alongside you and say, “There, there, you’ve reached your limit. You’ve had enough.”
Think of a mother caring for an overtired, overhungry, or overstimulated young child. Think of a mother whose regular structures in a day – the swing and arc of meal times, play time, bath, and bed – create a rhythm that leaves a child feeling safe, secure and cared for.
Food is merely a symbol of your deeper need for structure: how you attempt to grasp for structure or soothe yourself from the absence of it. So the healing work is to foster a shift: instead of using food to voice your need for structure or limits, you create the structures and limits themselves.
Opening to your sensitivity
If you find that you resist structure or grounding yourself, it may be because you’re defended against your vulnerability and sensitivity itself. We often push ourselves very, very hard – pushing ourselves past our limits – to overcompensate for the shame we feel about being sensitive. It’s like we’re saying to the world, “See? I can be tough, too. I’m not too sensitive.”
One of my most painful habits as a sensitive has been to push myself past my limits. This always hurts and leads to my feeling like a neglected child or prostitute – like I’m giving away little pieces of me until I’m spent. This is what I learned as a child, and what I saw modeled in the culture around me.
Think of how many cultural messages still communicate this idea of “no pain, no gain,” to push harder, better, faster, to ignore your limits and to strive for more, more, more.
I find that these messages discount our very humanity and are often based in insecurity about our inherent worthiness itself. We don’t need to earn the right to rest, to accept when we’ve reached our limits, to pare down our obligations so we have the time and energy to care for ourselves, and to say no when we’ve had enough – whether it’s enough food, enough tasks, enough stimulation, enough small talk, or enough errands in one day.
It’s not your fault
If you struggle with structure, or if you have habits of pushing yourself past your limits, first, I invite you to offer yourself tremendous compassion. This compassion – the mercy of acceptance, the balm of understanding – is what softens our hearts to our sensitivity itself.
If loving structure wasn’t modeled or given to you, of course this is something that may be difficult for you. Please, please don’t judge yourself if structure is a source of frustration.
Finding tenderness for your needs
Secondly, if you struggle with honoring your true needs, I invite you to open to your human neediness. To live in a human body means that there’s a continual, never ending nature to our physical, emotional and relational needs. Structure, grounding and rhythm help us honor this part of our being, rather than fight against it.
What a sensitive needs is to ground down: to move their energy into their body and to implement regular, structured routines. This helps you feel centered and calm. Your brain and nervous system can relax, trusting that it has what it needs. You become the loving mother to your own heart, body and mind.
Attuning to your physical needs also fosters feelings of tenderness towards your very humanity itself. To live in a body – and to live with a nervous system – means to be vulnerable. We – and I’m speaking of human beings in general here, not just those who are highly sensitive – are such tender, fragile creatures. We’re easily hurt. We’re deep beings who have emotions and feelings.
And our inherent nature is one of neediness. We regularly need all kinds of nourishment: to be filled with food and water, rest, and love, acceptance, and contact and closeness. Rather than seeing this as a sign of weakness or shame, open to it. Yes, as a sensitive you may need different things – or seemingly more things – more rest, down time, recalibration – to thrive. It’s okay. You need what you need.
You may need to work on implementing structures and routines. This requires a soft heart and a willingness to be with the frustration and learning curve of growth. (To this day, implementing structure is still one of the hardest things for me to do for myself.) It’s truly okay to be wherever you are, and even to struggle with something that helps you. (I mean struggle in the sense of it not always feeling comfortable or coming naturally, not struggle in struggling unnecessarily.)
Lastly, I invite you to let others walk with you and offer support. My mentor, Dr. Gordon Neufeld, calls this “coming alongside.” When something feels too much to bear on your own – when implementing the structure feels hard or uncomfortable – it helps to have the presence of another loved one. Simply having them with you can help you move through the feelings of discomfort that arise when you’re trying to implement structure.
I’ll offer a concrete example. A friend of mine, who was feeling overwhelmed at organizing her home after a move, asked me to come over one afternoon and help her. Sure, I unpacked a few boxes. But the main thing I lent her was my presence: my energy and support. My simply being with her – when the task felt overwhelming and monumental – helped her move through the overwhelm and begin.
Wanting more hands on help?
- If you liked this post, you might also like this post on how structure helps you stop overeating.
- You may also like this post on finding true rest and sanctuary (instead of seeking this in food.)
Photo credit: visualpanic / Foter.com / CC BY
I'm so glad I found your website Karly! This post really spoke to me because I mentally scream at my need for structure although I know, deep down, I do thrive. For example, I've worked for 4 months as a temp at a vocational school then I applied and got the full time position. I mentally freaked out! I almost sabatoged myself out of the job!! Things are calming down now. My most common stress is planning my packed meals. I have a wheat allergy so it seems more monumental.
As I said, I'm glad to have found you and know I'm not alone with my super-sensitive self.
I'm glad I was able to normalize your feelings about structure and be a source of rest for you. It's such a tender place, isn't it, to recognize we need something, and yet to find it super challenging – a real heart stretcher – to actually implement it.
Best of luck with your new job – and congratulations on supporting yourself through all the mixed feelings it brought up in you.
In love and care, Karly
Oh Karly, Karly!! Yet again you leave my, usually very loquacious self, reeling. For years I always thought of my “betterquickerfasterMOREMOREMORE” personality as being indicative of how energetic and driven I am. Having had the rug pulled out from under me in the last year has been very good for me. I’ve come to see that this, along with my insecurities, my sugar addiction/overeating addiction is all simply just parts of the same thing… my need and longing for love, for security, for comfort, for being a part of something, for needing to assuage the deep, deep loneliness that has been at the core of my being since birth. My mother prided herself on the fact that she never ever had to hold me and feed me. She was immensely proud of the fact that the first time she brought me home from the hospital, she was able to prop me up with pillows and walk away while I sucked on a bottle (no doubt filled with some nasty sugar/wheat/soy/gluten-laden formula – all of which I am allergic to) all by myself without being held. The first time I held my newborn God child in my arms I was blown away by how vulnerable she was. It was inconceivable to me that someone would want to leave a creature like this to feed herself. This was the start of a huge healing journey for me… a journey of seeing how vulnerable I am and how strong I am and how it is the recognition and accommodation of this vulnerability that makes me stronger. During this year I’ve learned to feed myself nourishing delicious foods; to put myself to bed early each night; to stop watching movies or busying myself on the internet early in the evening, so my mind has a chance to wind down and relax; I’ve learned to say “No” to the stuff that winds me up and flusters me… and so much of this has been because of your teachings and writings. I always thought that my “food stuff” was the problem, but now I recognise that it’s merely a symptom, a cry for help from my battered heart. I’m learning to listen and Mother myself. What a journey this is!! Thank you for being such a wonderful pioneer for us on this path.
So true for me. Even right now. I know I need to eat and go to the bathroom. But, I just keep wanting to read one more paragraph . . .
Aloha Karly, Thank you for this wonderfully written post. We do need what we need and when we need it.
I found this passage particularly brilliant:
"We dont need to earn the right to rest, to accept when weve reached our limits, to pare down our obligations so we have the time and energy to care for ourselves, and to say no when weve had enough whether its enough food, enough tasks, enough stimulation, enough small talk, or enough errands in one day".
How insightful, Karly! I totally relate… and REALLY don't want to create structure in my life. I hold onto thinking that a right brained free spirit like me has no need for structure… why bother about a real meal… just grab a few sweets to keep fueled. Hmmm
So funny, isn't it? I wonder if this trait is something you also develop as a parent of a large family 🙂 Love, Karly
So glad this resonated with you. It was what my heart needed to hear too!
As a fellow right brainer, I totally get it! In my fantasies, I can just focus on being an artist and focus on creation – while I have someone else to take care of me and to be my patron. 🙂
It's such a balance/paradox for me of accepting myself as I am (my right brainedness) while also encouraging myself to do things that may not come naturally or easily – or that I may even resist. What a dance! Love, Karly
Ah, my friend – I understand. Yes, that longing for love, to soothe emotional isolation, to feel held and cared for – it is what drives so many of us. Perhaps the entire human race.
Your story about your newborn God child touches my heart. Yes, we are so, so vulnerable – I can see how this was so healing for you, both to see and honor your vulnerability, and I imagine, to grieve what you did not receive as a young one.
I celebrate this with you: "During this year Ive learned to feed myself nourishing delicious foods; to put myself to bed early each night; to stop watching movies or busying myself on the internet early in the evening, so my mind has a chance to wind down and relax; Ive learned to say No to the stuff that winds me up and flusters me."
And yes: "I always thought that my food stuff was the problem, but now I recognise that its merely a symptom, a cry for help from my battered heart."
It sounds like you're meeting the deep needs – what the sugar and food was merely a symbol for. I love that you are the Mother to your tender heart and feel honored to be a part of your journey.
Tears for you.
Karly, Thank you so much for writing my story. I'm currently struggling so much with a sugar/food addiction and just dealing with being an overly sensitive person in general. Identifying the problem is one thing but doing something about it has been incredibly scary. I want to break free from this. I'm on a journey to improve myself and starting with your story has really made me feel like I'm not alone and that it CAN BE DONE. I've printed out your insightful entries and will put them in my journal as a reminder to myself that I am worth the effort it's going to take to make certain changes. Thank you for such beautiful honesty.