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.)