FLOWING to Wellbeing – (part 6)
N for Nurture
Have you ever noticed times of illness arising just as a stressful period reaches its conclusion; the annoying cold or strained muscle that lingers through your well-earned vacation? As old energy blocks move through our lives and our bodies, a sort of systemic detox can emerge at physical emotional and inter/intrapersonal levels, across the lifespan. Knowing as we do that recovery from trauma is tied directly to the nervous system via attachment processes in primary relationships, it should not be a surprise that NURTURE is a central component of the FLOWING model of recovery. The meaning of nurture is to participate in providing the means of furthering one-another’s continued growth. In terms of mental health, nurturing is a process of consolidation of neuro-INTEGRATIVE gains from feeling accepted, WITNESSed and valued. Such witnessing is essential to recovery, whether in earliest relationships, current ones or within our internal relationship with Parts holding onto old pain or loss.
Nurturing is at the heart of parenting. Those early emotional models and energies have lasting influence in adult relationships. In some cases, those first relational patterns are positive, offering developmental support through OPEN-HEARTed acceptance. In other cases, including among many who seek therapeutic support, the family model extends to more negative beliefs tending to block growth and wellbeing. Such blocks may arise as internal mistrust or bodymind pain - limiting emotional regulation, disrupting relationships, and even compromising our immune systems.
Disruptions in the environment have broad implications across the bodymind spectrum. The ACEs research of recent decades, has left no question that familial and social dynamics influence physical and mental health in profound ways (Felitti et al., 1998). In the study, adult patients’ family histories were collected from those receiving services at medical facilities. “Adverse Childhood Experiences” and their chronicity or combination were discovered to predict with nearly mathematical precision, severely compromised immune systems leading to illnesses and death from diseases ranging from obesity, to drug addictions, to cancers. Adversities such as poverty, mental illness, child abuse and violence were vastly over-represented in the family histories of those seeking treatment for these diseases, when compared to patient populations reporting more nurturing home environments. While there can be many contributors to ill health, the results of the ACESs research are too extreme to be ignored.
Turning our attention to “detoxing” from developmental PTSD or other traumatic experiences, it’s clear that physical and psychological recovery includes the release of neurochemical, biological and other emotion-based processes. Such efforts demand engagement with bodily states of imbalance (e.g., pain, disease and “body memories”) at the body’s “weak link” on its immune system chain. However, history need not determine outcomes. Despite the ill effects of stressors or the number of ‘ACEs’ in our histories, the good news is that our minds and bodies remain amenable to change at the deepest levels of influence.
INTEGRATIVE opportunities available in the practice of FLOWING can be renewed continuously within Self-NURTURING practices. It would be simplistic to think that all effects of developmental stressors could be reversed by a few nurturing activities, but a broad sweep of attention and consistent practice will likely support change in unexpected ways. FEELING, LISTENING and bearing WITNESS to our own experiences and sense of meaning are fundamental requirements of recovery and wellbeing, and are cornerstones of bodymind health. Mindfulness practices based in internally directed awareness have been found to remediate pain, release emotional burdens and even lead to changes at the genetic level. These practices, when consistent and supported by behavioral choices, can lead to bodymind integration. Once such burdens have been witnessed and released, it becomes essential to maintain that integration through nurturing practices.
In recovery from trauma and neglect, the shift from other to Self-Leadership is dependent on providing a sufficient structure of basic security. If such a structure was unsupported by childhood environments and relationships, its lack leaves us free-floating on the currents of external influences. Achieving the ability to regulate our emotions necessitates an anchor, one only available in NURTURING environments and relationships. If not well managed in early times, there are a wide array of meaningful options for engaging that anchor in later efforts, whether therapeutically, or Self-guided.
Among the NURTURING practices known to be most effective are many movement based, expressive and nutritional opportunities. Yoga, meditation, and creative expression are but a few of the options for nurturing practices. What is most important is the structure offered by regular engagement, with an emphasis on extending Self-Compassion supporting competence within our own bodymind system. Opportunities to explore a range of options, and to seek new Self-knowledge will further nurturing.
While secular practices are essential for some, spiritual aspects may appeal to many and may further broaden a sense of community as a meaningful aspect of practice. Group classes and services expand awareness of our connection to others in our relational universe, and can add elements of support and GENERATIVITY to our NURTURING activities. Whatever the case, it is important that the practice includes a perspective of valuing and non-judgment, rather than separating and categorizing into “us and them,” or otherwise blaming Self or others for unintended outcomes. OPEN-HEARTedness is a necessary element to promote nurturing, since it will not feel safe to express vulnerability in the face of judgement. This does not preclude taking responsibility for mistakes, only that we do so with the awareness that even best intentions may be thwarted by limitations of the moment, especially when insecurity is high.
Seeking regular opportunities for NURTURING is an expansive practice of curiosity and exploration, with room for celebrations and rituals of deep historic meaning, as well as new and exciting discoveries of meaningful engagement. From such practices arise resources and supports for bodymind INTEGRATION, leading to the confidence needed to further share such gifts through GENERATIVITY. This final element of the ING in FLOWING will be discussed in the next article of "FLOWING to Wellbeing."
Ellen C. Ranney, PhD. Is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice. She specializes in work with trauma survivors and their families. Dr. Ranney is the author of Unkind Gifts: An Insider’s Guide to Recovery from Trauma and Loss, (c)2016, available at www.unkindgifts.com
Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., Koss, M. P., & Marks, J. S, (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4). 245 – 259.