As human beings, we have a fundamental need to belong – to connect and interbe. We also have a need to be fully ourselves – to live and be all that we are.
For many of us, these needs often come into conflict. We may feel caught in an either/or – where we can have connection or authenticity, but not both.
This can create a push and pull, where we yearn to come close to others, to be known and loved, and to be a part of others’ lives – and yet also have a strong protective instinct to keep ourselves safe.
We may stay a bit hidden. We may do our best not to hurt others in the way we’ve been hurt. This helps us feel safe. And yet we ache with the unmet need for belonging, connection and care.
As I reflect on these twin yearnings to belong and to be safe, what comes to mind is my time in college. It was one of the most painful times of my life.
I was bingeing and purging every day, and I felt swallowed by the shame of bulimia. I was also really depressed. I hungered for soul friends and authentic connection – yet my university didn’t feel like a place where I could sincerely share my struggles.
So I did a lot of hiding and pretending and toughing it out on my own. I felt protected, but alone, caught in a tide of loneliness, bingeing, and hiding; loneliness, bingeing, and hiding. So painful.
I hear versions of this story over and over – how so many of us feel caught between the desire to be known and the desire to be safe. It can be an excruciating crucible.
There is where food can step in. Food can be our comforter, how we cope with the pain of loneliness and disconnection. Food can also be a surrogate source of connection – a safe place where we can be known and be fully alive.
Food accepts all of us – it doesn’t judge, shame, dismiss, scold or rationalize our suffering. It invites all our pain and hunger. It’s the unconditional loving mother that holds and welcomes all our experience.
Food is both safe and connecting.
Understanding the ways food holds us – while also keeping us safe – can bring compassion for the ways we self soothe with food. It’s how we’ve ingeniously solved this double bind.
But food doesn’t really work. Food works in a way – but it doesn’t give us the true depth of connection and closeness we long for. No matter how much food I’ve eaten in my life, it hasn’t given me the depth of seeing and warmth that I long to receive from another human being.
And this is the human bind, for all of us: we yearn to be known even as it also means we’re exposed to the potential to be hurt.
Perhaps this is why we care so much about connection and compassion here at Growing Humankindness. Each ounce of compassion, gentleness and kindness we receive from others – and that we receive from ourselves – helps soften the terror of intimacy and connection.
As the Sufi poet Hafiz wrote:
Did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
It felt the encouragement of light
Against its Being.
We all remain
This is the yearning and task for all of us: to feel the warmth of light, the safety of acceptance and compassion against our being. In this way, we can be known and loved – and known and loved by something greater than food.
We also offer this light to each other. Oh, how you matter! Each ounce of warmth you offer to another softens the double bind in their soul – I can’t think of a more precious gift you can give.
Through the light we give, we can step out a bit, one breath, one teeny step at a time, and allow ourselves to be fully seen, fully known, and fully loved by each other.