By MARYMICHELLE LOTANO
As children, we are born with the need for everyone to reach out and take care of us. We cannot care for ourselves and we are not expected to return the favour to our caregivers. If we do not receive this type of attention, we do not thrive. By receiving this type of love and affection, we eventually become conditioned to return the same to those around us.
In infancy and throughout childhood, our experiences with receiving attention are as varied as there are stars in the sky. Some of us received care unconditionally and, as such, we learned to give it in the same manner. Others learned that giving is done in an attempt to get attention in return. If we reached out and got nothing in return, we learned to stop giving. A few of us learned that reaching out to others and receiving in return is a delicate balance that can be maintained in a healthy manner.
Over the course of our lives, we have the opportunity to practice the skill of giving and getting, and we develop habits. In adulthood, some of the habits we cultivated as children are successful and allow us to get what we want and need from those around us. Others habits of ours are destructive to our relationships, ourselves and our self-esteem.
If we were fortunate enough to develop the habit of reaching out with generosity and within normal boundaries, and we received equally, then we probably enhanced our sense of self. But, if we developed the habit of reaching out willingly and often, followed by get nothing in return, we are left with a hunger for being noticed and attended to. When this happens, we usually take one of two avenues: we stop giving or we give incessantly in hopes that the volume we give will create a wave of returned attention.
Often, we do this not caring about whether the return is a tsunami or a ripple. In this case, any return will do.
For years, I did not understand the delicate balance between reaching out and receiving support in return. Reaching out and reaching out and reaching out, was my only skill. I used it frequently and with wild abandon. This behaviour was not an overt way to get attention, but rather an unhealthy habit designed to capture the attention of my significant others.
But, instead of reaping success, it merely showcased my willingness to give endlessly. My hope was that if I gave enough, a response would be forthcoming. It was a very quiet manifestation of my neediness, which was never particularly successful. When it failed—which it often did—I would wait patiently until I was responded to.
Recently, I became aware of this unhealthy approach to getting attention from those I love and interact with. After I realized my deficit, I continued to perform the same behaviour with full awareness. I told myself I was fine with this pattern because I now understood my motivation. I was choosing to over-indulge those around me despite the minimal returns. I didn’t need returns. After hunkering down with awareness as my justification for choosing this self-care deficit, I became depleted. It was time to learn to stop. But I didn’t know how.
The process of change became one of trial and error, and an inordinate amount of failure. When I first attempted to reach out in a significant but healthily restricted manner, I sucked at it. I fell back into old patterns religiously. I would still use an inordinate amount of energy to maintain a bond. It looked something like this: reach out, reach out, reach out, nothing. Reach out, reach out, reach out, nothing. Reach out, reach out, reach out, receive a spit in the ocean, be satisfied. Start again.
Obviously, I was not making any progress.
But, I kept practicing. I kept reminding myself that it was like a pair of toddlers rolling a ball back and forth. One child has to roll it out, and one child has to catch it and roll it back. Then, the process has to be repeated or the game must end. As I practiced, my pattern started to change.
My first sustainable alteration looked like this: reach out, nothing, try again and maybe one more time, call it done. Then I improved: reach out, nothing, try again, stop. In time I graduated to a behaviour that truly transcends my earlier self.
Now, I have it down. It looks like this: reach out, nothing, I’ve done my best. The door is always open, a response is always forthcoming, I am here.
So, feel free to reach in.
Author of Circles of the Soul, Marymichelle Lotano has explored the areas of personal growth, meditation and art. Ms. Lotano is currently a full time writer and mother, residing in Carlsbad, California. Visit: circlesofthesoul.net.