If you’re used to being the ‘strong one’ in life – the person who’s there for others, who gives help rather than needing it – it can be easy to convince yourself that you don’t need looking after too.
This can be due to a role we adopt to deal with life circumstances, or a way of avoiding feeling vulnerable. But to stay strong, we do need self-care.
Indeed, for those of us who see ourselves as strong, it can be challenging to allow ourselves to be vulnerable – and also very valuable to acknowledge these buried feelings.
This month I’m exploring a few ways to discover your own needs, and begin to meet them.
Stress isn’t in the external circumstances of life, it’s a physiological response to those events that happens in the body. If we’re not tuned into the physical ‘early warning signs’ of the stress response, it can escalate so that we only pay attention when it gets serious (such as burnout or physical illness).
Body awareness practice helps us become more sensitive, so that we can spot the signs and do something to support ourselves. There are specific meditations to develop body awareness, but I also find it equally impactful to check in with my body throughout the day.
Learning to pause and notice what sensations are present in the body can help to let go of – or ‘discharge’ – some of the energy of tension before it builds up too much. This takes practice and patience, but the good news is it’s most effective when developed gradually.
Do you allow yourself to have needs? I’ll be honest, my skills in this area were extremely limited before I came to self-kindness practice. Giving ourselves permission – to have needs, to not feel ok, or even to feel ok – can be a significant step towards self-kindness.
Perhaps you can notice if anything conflicts with acknowledging your own needs, such as a caretaking role or a hectic busy life. A certain belief might be a stumbling block, eg that you’re not deserving, or that needs are about weakness.
What if you gave yourself permission to have your own needs? It’s worth exploring, especially if you always tend to put others first.
Once you’ve opened up to the possibility that you have your own needs too, it can be an entirely different step to to discover what those needs actually are, and how to meet them. Regular self-kindness meditation encourages this quality of self-attunement to grow over time.
Whether you meditate or not, this is a powerful question to begin asking yourself: What do I need?
Sometimes the answer might be quite practical, like a sleep, a sit-down or some food. Or it may be less tangible: we might need a quality such as safety, acceptance or kindness. We might realise we need to let in the support and help offered to us by others. If we know what’s needed, we have a better chance of finding a way to providing it.
Self-kindness is sometimes described as a practice of offering ourselves care, but it’s also a case of learning to receive that care. I’ve included a poem below that really spoke to me of this dual aspect of self-compassion when I was first learning.
My next mindfulness session in Heaton Moor (South Manchester / Stockport area) will explore some of this material in more depth – see the workshops page for info.
I also run 1-to-1 coaching sessions (by Skype) that include options to work on this type of self-kindness practice.
Rick Hanson’s book Hardwiring Happiness includes some exercises that help develop self-attunement.
Short meditations to help you pause and check in can be found at the meditations page – along with longer ones focusing on body awareness.
For me, this poem by Meister Eckhart about a donkey has always evoked the power of self-attunement, and the need to let go of being unecessarily ‘strong’:
and even seems to laugh.