There’s a right-on Jules Feiffer cartoon of a man curled up in a cave in a posture of sulky defiance, the caption reading, “If you loved me, you would find me.”
It’s true, we can feel so hurt and rejected, so unsure of our own lovability and worthiness, that we pull away from people, self-protectively withdraw and hide out, hoping against hope that someone will reach through our walls and rescue us from our isolation. The deep, deep yearning and longing for love and connection moves us to cry out, but we may not know how, at all, to take a risk and act on our own behalf to risk and trust moving toward people again.
I’ll be addressing those deep longings for connection and attachment in the “Healing Attachment Trauma by Rewiring the Brain” trainings in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne, Australia August 25-September 2, 2016.
In the meantime, five practical suggestions to help you act on your own behalf to risk and trust moving toward people again, whenever that’s necessary.
We need to feel safe within ourselves, to trust, love and accept ourselves, to dare to reach out to others again after we’ve felt rejected, neglected, dissed. And we practice feeling safe within ourselves by feeling safe anywhere with anything – with a beloved pet, curled up in a cozy armchair with a good book, in a favorite place in nature.
The emphasis is on feeling safe, whatever object helps us engender that feeling of safety. It’s the feeling of safety (the relaxing in the calm equilibrium of our body and the accompanying neurochemical bath in our body-brain) that’s the point. When we can feel safe within ourselves we simply extend that feeling to more and more objects, including more and more people we can begin to feel safe with (I’ve practiced on my local librarian and the grocery store clerk) until it feels safe within ourselves to take a risk with another.
2. Interest, curiosity
The curling up in the cave is the contraction of our nervous system into the numbing out-collapsing protection against a sense of danger or life threat. Interest and curiosity – in anything – counters that contraction. Interest and curiosity – in anything – shift the functioning of the brain toward more openness, more willingness to approach life, experiences, people. Of course it helps to become interested and curious about any person we meet, to engage to inquire. We can practice, perhaps again with the local librarian or grocery store clerk, simply to experience ourselves engaging, inquiring, connecting.
We do pay attention to whether an engagement with a new experience or a new person feels safe within the interaction. Does the encounter, even with the librarian or the grocery clerk, help us stay open or does it trigger our wanting to shut down again. [Sometimes therapy is helpful in helping us discern whether we are in truth reacting to the actual person/experience in front of us or whether we are reacting to our own inner projection onto that person/experience. With practice, we become more skillful at owning our “stuff” and allowing the other person to be who they are without losing who we are.]
Accurate discernment – this connection is for real – creates further safety, reinforcing our trust of ourselves when interacting with other people.
4. Reaching Out
The reaching out to another, for an experience, for an encounter, activates the mobilizing sympathetic nervous system. We engage with the world – to explore, play, create, learn, love. The activating the sympathetic nervous system counters the immobilization of the parasympathetic nervous system. We may still be discerning, cautious, assessing, but we are moving, we are acting on our own behalf, and that creates new possibilities for safe, healthy, resonant relating.
5. Opening Up and Connecting
When we feel safe, loving, trusting of ourselves, no more hiding out in shame, or a quicker and quicker recovery from any triggering of shame, we can trust life enough to open up to another, offering transparency, vulnerability, the very energy that draws other people to us. To paraphrase Gandhi, we “become the love we seek.” We can move in relationship in the full light of day, no longer hiding out in a cave, waiting for someone to rescue us from our loneliness. We move to create connection ourselves and with more and more practice, we heal and learn to relate safely, skillfully, deeply.