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Attachment and Self-nurturing

One of the biggest obstacles that disregulated eaters face in recovery is failing to sustain self-nurturing behavior--you stop noshing, start feelings your feelings, exercise regularly, take your vitamins daily, meditate, connect to friends, and carve out self-time. Then suddenly you don’t. Here’s at least a partial explanation to this puzzling pattern.

First, the self-nurturing part of you is way (way, way) underdeveloped. That’s why you lack self- compassion, are self-critical/unforgiving/hard on yourself. Second, your attachment to that undeveloped nurturing aspect of self is tenuous. Sometimes you tune into it and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes it springs into life to guide you effectively through the world, but more often, you detach from it as if it didn’t even exist.

When you’re attached to it, everything is fine and dandy. You leave work on time, insist that the kids leave you alone when you want to relax, have fun with friends, hit the gym even on a tight schedule, and are so attuned to your appetite that food’s not a problem. Whether suddenly or gradually, however, you start to detach from this highly nurturing self which ensures that you do what’s healthy and necessary for optimum well-being. Soon you feel as if you’re back where you started from and are suffering from a whopping dose of self-disappointment. You just can’t understand what’s wrong with you.

This on-off dynamic is rooted in parental (usually maternal) attachment. The first question is whether your mother/primary caretaker was firmly attached to a nurturing part of herself. The second is whether, no matter what you did, she remained lovingly, non-judgmentally attached to you. Was she predictable and consistent or did she nurture you sometimes and reject or abandon you emotionally at other times? Did she respond lovingly and calmly to your childhood moods and stick by you when times got rough or did she retreat, sulk, retaliate, or leave you to suffer on your own?

My hunch is that your attachment to your nurturing self follows the pattern of your primary care-taker’s attachment to you and, therefore, yours to her. If she was lovingly there for you all the time, you will naturally mimic that behavior by having a steadfast, nurturing self. If not, you will model your self-care in the same pattern that you were cared for. Work on developing your nurturing self and staying connected with that part of you and you’ll be able to sustain healthy, self-loving behaviors for the rest of your life. After all, the self-nurturer exists in you 24/7 just waiting for you to seek her wisdom.