LESSON 3: OBSTACLES TO RECEIVING CARE
In the last lesson, we talked about noticing the moments of care that happen throughout our day or life. What this practice invites us to do is to start to see how these moments of care and connection are weaved in and throughout our day. We learned that we are not trained to notice these connections as much as we are both wired and trained to be more on alert. What we are doing in this practice is learning to deeply connect with the care in our lives so that we might start to feel more at home, at ease and welcomed enough in our lives so that we might then extend this welcome, sense of home and ease with everyone in our lives, especially the children and teens we interact with every day. I think we can all relate to being with people who feel a sense of home inside themselves - just being with those people allow us to also relax and feel at home. We are tuning forks for the children in our lives so the more we can settle into ourselves and be at home in ourselves and in our world, the more the whole environment around us becomes more safe, warm and welcoming. As we practiced last week, we might have noticed that we become more aware of simple moments of care that are happening every day. That makes a lot of sense. In neuroscience they call that experience dependent neuroplasticity - or as a teacher of mine always said, “what you pay attention to grows”. So as we pay more and more attention to the care in our lives - we notice more of the care that actually exists. However, we might have also noticed that experiencing ourselves as the object of care was challenging for a variety of reasons. We may find it difficult to open ourselves to care from others if we have been let down before. We may also fear that receiving care makes us weak or dependent upon others. Or we may feel that somehow we are undeserving of care.
We’ve talked before about societal norms that say parents and teachers should be seen as care givers, not necessarily care receivers. Some of the folks we have worked with have noticed that receiving care creates a sense of guilt or shame.
We want you to know that this is really normal. In some ways care can put us at ease. But there also has to be some sense of basic safety to even open up enough to feel care. This is a bit of a catch 22.
Brooke, our President and Co-Founder loves to talk about her favorite species, the Daphne flea. - a species when placed in an aquarium with a predator develops a shell. When the predator is removed from the water, it sheds the shell.
IF we have felt hurt, not good enough, not seen, we may have developed our own shell. This makes sense. One the one hand, we want some version of the shell to be safe in the world. On the other hand, that same shell can be what keeps us inhibited and not able to connect to care in the world.
Paul Gilbert has researched the common fears and blocks to receiving and extending compassion, and to exercising self-compassion. His research has shown that fears of compassion and other positive emotions are not uncommon, and also that fears of exercising self-compassion are closely related to difficulties in receiving compassion from others. As we mentioned last week - we learn to love in and through being loved. We need this so badly that we become quite distressed when we don’t get it and develop all sorts of ways to cope. Later in this lesson, we have included a clip of a study done by Ed Tronick, an attachment researcher, on what happens to children when they don’t get the responsiveness and care they are expecting and needing.
One way of talking about this pattern of being in the world and how early relationships influence us comes from a field of study called attachment theory.
Some of you may already know a bit about attachment and attachment styles so I’ll give a brief overview.
Children who are raised by primary caregivers who are more or less attentive to needs. Reliable loving caring figures tend to feel more secure in the world. A basic sense of safety. They can be curious, explore the world, feel less of a sense of being on guard. A basic sense of being at ease.
Dan Siegel, an attachment researcher and founder of the field of study called interpersonal neurobiology talks about the 4 S’s of secure attachment. The first is that these children feel SEEN - they feel like the adults in their lives “get them”. These children also feel SAFE the adults in their lives avoid frightening them unnecessarily and they have what they need. The children are SOOTHED when they are hurting, physically or emotionally and finally they feel SECURE - they are able to internalize a stable sense of self that is a reflection of the relationships in their life. Before you use this information as another source of guilt it is important to note that no one is attuned to their child 24/7. In fact, according to attachment researcher Edward Tronick, even the best parents are only attuned to their children about 30 percent of the time. The key for secure attachment is when parents are able to "repair the ruptures" that occur between them and their kids.
On the other hand when care is not always provided: either it is inconsistent or absent altogether. Children can develop insecure attachment.
If care was totally absent - we can develop this way of “I’ve got this, I don’t need anyone”. This is called an avoidant attachment style. The basics were given but the emotional life of the child was rarely seen.
If care was intermittently given - sometimes it was OK and other times, not so much - kids can develop an anxious attachment style. This is one where we don’t always trust or feel safe that the adults in our lives will be there for us. In this situation the feeling of care might also accompany the feeling of fear or anxiety.
Our attachment styles are shaped in and through our entire lives. They are in a sense predictive. If we have had access to certain kinds of care they can shape the trajectory of our sense of safety in the world. That said, they are not fixed, we can learn to be more safe in the world and in a way change our attachment profile.
A note to parents on this topic. Over the years I have taught many parents about attachment styles and this topic can trigger all sorts of feelings and doubts about themselves and their ability to parent given their own personal history of care in their lives. Dan Siegel often says it is not necessarily the attachment style we have that determines the quality of our own parenting but rather, making sense of that attachment style. Understanding the pitfalls of how we were raised and of course, the strengths as well. It does highlight for us, however, the power of this work - of the ability for us to rewire in a sense our basic safety and security in the world. Because even those of us who had the most secure attachment (and by some estimates, that is only about 66% of us), we still are deeply socialized by our individualistic world and to sort of celebrate our independence rather than acknowledge our deep interdependence with one another.
This raises another obstacle we can run into which is the narrative of superhero many teachers and parents are trapped in. The truth is we are not alone. There are many people who have come before us and shown us how to love. There have been many who have been tutoring us in ways of being more caring, kind and loving. There have been teachers, aunties, uncles, neighbors, parents, grandparents, store keepers, coaches, babysitters, friends, co-workers - many people who have cared for us, letting us know we belong, we are welcomed. In this way, we are part of a lineage of care and connection, we simply need to notice it. So being able to connect with a moment of care - even if the person is not perfect - can connect us to a field of safety and belonging that we can draw upon so we don’t feel alone in our parenting and teaching. It is a beautiful aspect of this work.
As part of this lesson, we introduce you to a teacher in Japan who embodies this type of care and love in a film called “Children Full of Life”. Please take a moment to watch the clip and allow the care this teacher provides for his students to wash over you and in that way be a source of care and inspiration for your work and life.
I also want to invite you this week to practice with the deep receiving care meditation. In this meditation allow yourself to soak in the care. If and when resistances come up - allow them also into the field of care. When we deeply love and accept the places in us that don’t feel worthy of love and care, we start to crack open our own daphne flea shell. Once we can “be with” and connect with these difficulties we also open the door of empathy for others - particularly our students and children - who also struggle with receiving care.