Here as we head into the weekend I wanted to send you a brief note about the power of connection – and why this can be helpful in your relationship with food.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about this week because I just finished wrapping up a group class, where a tribe of people gathered together to support each other in changing their patterns with sugar.
In every class, common themes tend to arise – places where people get similarly stuck.
In this class, a few themes arose:
- feeling enough – healing a sense of needing to push ourselves hard or needing to rush
- resting – not needing to work so hard on ‘fixing myself’
- softening the feeling of “There’s something wrong with me” or “I’m the only one who struggles”
- and softening criticism and the fear of mistakes
I know I can relate to all these themes, as they’re things I’ve wrestled with, too.
I was really moved by the class – by their courage, sharing, their support of each other, and the tenderness that arose when we practiced together.
This is something I wanted to share with you because I have one more group class coming up this year, When Food is Your Mother.
I wanted to send you a brief note talking about group classes and why I’ve found them to be such a powerful form of support. This might help you understand if this class – or some other class – might be a good fit for you.
I hope it also encourages you to seek out more support, in whatever form nourishes you!
We’re wired for connection
So when we feel isolated and alone – when it doesn’t feel like any connection is available – we can retreat into solitary methods of self soothing, like eating.
When you eat, you’re trying to regulate your nervous system and soothe stress. You’re trying to care for yourself, to give yourself nurturing.
The power of co-regulation
In a group class, one of the things you’re doing is replacing this reliance on food with other forms of connection. And you’re doing this together, with others! Like breathing together in a yoga class or working out with a group, the power of the group lifts you up and makes doing hard things – like sitting with uncomfortable emotions – easier.
Neuroscience calls this co-regulation – where we regulate our nervous systems together, in relationship.
(If you want to learn more about co-regulation, I encourage you to listen to this talk by therapist and teacher Bonnie Badenoch. She does an excellent job of explaining this process, combining the science with heart.)
Like a midwife holding your hand and rubbing your back as you breathe through labor contractions, we are so much stronger when we have someone at our side, when we feel this felt presence of co-regulation, this felt presence of another.
It’s this connection and strengthening that I see happening over and over in the group classes. When we share our experience and vulnerability with others, and our experience is met with warmth and acceptance – connection, attunement, understanding, and compassion – our brains are ‘fed’ by these relational experiences.
As one woman described to me, “I felt so safe and cared for that I could let the food go.”
It’s this feeding that makes such a difference in healing from food.
The positive after effect
In my classes, we have regular Q&A webinars where we practice things like:
- being with the tension of craving
- feeling emotions
- softening shame
- and caring for vulnerability together.
People often write and tell me how much calmer they feel after these webinars. Like the glow that lingers after being with loved ones, or the elevated mood that lasts even after the workout is done, people notice that there’s a positive effect that lingers from these webinars, where the desire to overeat and anxiety is diminished for a time.
These experiences tend to build throughout the class, creating spaces of calm, safety, and connectedness.
So even though you may still have times when you feel cravings or eat to regulate yourself, you also experience more and more of these ‘holding space’ where you’re not caught in food.
This can feel really empowering!
A group isn’t the only place where you can receive this relational nourishment. You can receive this in friendships, with a partner, with a group of friends, in community, and with a healer or therapist. There are so many places where we can be nourished and connected.
Healing the shame of needing co-regulation
There’s much I could say about Western culture and how its mindset – an overreliance on self regulation and self sufficiency – breeds shame, fragility, disconnection, and addiction.
One of the consequences of this cultural belief is that you can feel ashamed and broken if you’re someone who needs help regulating.
Healing this belief is a form of emotional justice, a compassionate understanding of what it means to be human, and what it means to be in the world together.
It’s okay to need support
In my own life, I’ve needed – and still need – lots of help to regulate my nervous system. For a variety of reasons, I have a really sensitive nervous system and one that’s easily overwhelmed and stressed.
For many, many years, the dysregulation, anxiety and depression that lives in my nervous system filled me with such shame, a sense of being broken and damaged.
As a consequence, I was driven and anxious, trying so hard to ‘fix’ myself. Because of my shame, I often presented a facade of “I’ve got it all under control” – something I’ve done since I was young.
I shied away from truly connecting with others, and tried to do it all myself, primarily with self help tools or spiritual practice. And because I was a spiritual seeker, and cared so much, I felt even more shame that I couldn’t fix my nervous system. Somehow I thought my devotion should be enough in itself!
When this didn’t work, my shame compounded, and I felt even more broken.
It was such a painful cycle.
Receiving support to co-regulate
When I finally found safe spaces where I could be seen by others and be met in relationship, and when I dropped the need to keep it all together, my shame about my need for co-regulation began to soften. I was able to feel more compassion for myself and have a different relationship with my vulnerabilities, and truly let people in.
This meant I felt more comfortable acknowledging my need for co-regulation and seeking out support when I struggle.
More days than not, I’m able to embrace my vulnerability – including my sensitive nervous system – as something I care for, and not something I feel so driven to make different.
So when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I know I need to connect and co-regulate. It can be as simple as running an errand and enjoying a visit with the grocery store clerk, or working out with a group, or calling a friend.
Your vulnerabilities aren’t wrong
This shift – of embracing your neediness, and no longer seeing yourself or your vulnerabilities as ‘wrong’ – is a key turning point in the healing journey. In my experience, this shift is something that’s best facilitated in connection.
When we connect, we feel better. The false belief that says we should do it on our own – or that there’s something wrong with us for needing support – dissolves in the face of warm connection.
Connection seeds the ground for a stronger, deeper attachment – to life, to ourselves, to each other. It’s what builds the internal village of self regulation that resides within ourselves. And it’s what softens our false refuges – food, and otherwise.
I’ll close with a quote from one of my favorite books, A General Theory of Love. A woman shared this quote from the book in our class this week, and it speaks to the beauty and power of relationship – of not doing it on our own:
“Adults remain social animals: they continue to require a source of stabilization outside themselves. [Their] open-loop design means that in some important ways, people cannot be stable on their own – not should or shouldn’t be, but can’t be.
This prospect is disconcerting to many, especially in a society that prizes individuality as ours does. Total self-sufficiency turns out to be a daydream whose bubble is burst by the sharp edge of the limbic brain. Stability means finding people who regulate you well and staying near them.”
To the power of love, and to the power of connection,