I have been thinking about belonging, and the various points in my life when I felt I more or less belonged. At this particular phase where I live a rather secluded life due both to personal choice and the more recent COVID-19 pandemic, all of my attention is going toward taking care of my most basic needs, I set up my daily schedule so I can get all of that important self-care stuff in like I never have before. My house is set up so it can be as efficient as possible. If I didn’t make a concerted effort to do it, I assure you, it wouldn’t get done.
The quality of my life, of my future, depends on how well I meet my basic needs. This was also true when I was an infant. Like all infants, I had many needs and obviously a good many of them were met because I survived, right? I am here writing this blog post. But as I am getting more clear on my unmet infant needs now, my home was set up primarily to meet everyone else’s needs because either they were providing the income necessary to put a roof over our heads or because they were attending to one urgent emergency after another, juggling financial hardship and probably postpartum depression, leaving me not feeling particularly safe or cherished. The home was not set up to make sure that my unique needs were well met.
I have more clarity about this today because of a book I’m reading called Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, by Dr. Sue Johnson (a little hint as to what I was needing and not getting). The book’s basic premise can be summed up with an acronym, A.R.E., which stands for Accessible, Responsive, and Emotionally Engaged. The level of belonging I felt in my family of origin was directly proportionate to the degree to which I felt that my caretakers were accessible, responsive to my needs, and able to emotionally engage with me.
The quality of my relationships and my adult life have been a reflection of the absence of the accessibility, responsiveness and emotional engagement that nobody but me was even aware of. Through this lens, I can finally see what it was that caused me to create relationships where I did not feel connected or safe. And now that I am in the process of parenting myself well, I am experiencing what it feels like to be safe and connected, if only to myself. And it is with great joy and anticipation that I can say that I feel as though a whole new world awaits me. As a result of the ongoing dedication I have to caring for myself well, and books and other resources such as this, I am broadening my vocabulary, my capacity to experience new things interpersonally and educating myself about what is possible when we feel truly attuned to, and are accessible to our tender selves, responsive to our own needs, and committed to staying emotionally engaged with ourselves – uncomfortable emotions, vulnerable needs and all.
I see a very different life opening up for me, where the dialogue involves a whole lot of listening to and paying attention to what delights me (even if that sounds silly or selfish), and at the same time offering myself an environment that provides safety, along with the structure and tangible practicalities that are necessary to meet the more typically recognized needs like adequate rest, good enough hygiene, sufficient exercise, hydration, routines that ensure that my spiritual needs are met, human connection and remedial care that my body requires after a lifetime of neglect. A lifetime of not being sure that I was the kind of person who could get attuned to, responded to, and emotionally engaged with – at least with a parent or a primary partner. Holding it all together on the outside is a very different thing from feeling that sense of safety and true belonging on the inside that is a result of strong bonds and healthy intimate relationships, whether it is the mother-infant dyad or the couple who knows how to stay calm and listen and offer assurance when his or her partner is experiencing intense emotions or an automatic reflex that harks back to an earlier traumatic moment.
Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, by Dr. Sue Johnson is a godsend. It is just the material I needed to catapult my healing work forward. I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to experience more depth, connection and oxytocin in intimate relationship.
“…once distressed partners learn to hold each other tight, they continue reaching out to each other, trying to create these transforming and satisfying moments again and again. I believe that A.R.E. interactions turn on this neurochemical love potion honed by millions of years of evolution. Oxytocin seems to be nature’s way of promoting attachment.”
– Dr. Sue Johnson in Hold Me Tight