By Alyssa, a Cuddlist Trained Practitioner in Irvine, California.

We as practitioners have a duty to focus on and learn how to take great care of ourselves. Self care is what creates the space for trust, respect, honesty, vulnerability, and intimacy, and (as Madelon has said) it is the foundation on which we each build our own boundaries.

If I’m not maintaining the best possible self-care I’m doing my clients a disservice. Being around someone with strong self-care empowers you in your own self-care. And when you’re interacting with someone else in a way that is not in integrity with your own self-care, the quality of the interaction is decreased and devalued. They aren’t getting what they are paying you for, and you aren’t modeling for them what you want them to get for themself. How else can they learn, how can they know what it feels like and practice being in that space with you if you aren’t really there? Not being in integrity with your self-care keeps you from being fully present. A body that is being listened to by its caregiver (its inhabitant) feels good to be around, to be with, to be connected with.

Us being in that space, being in integrity with our own self-care, provides a salve to ease the client’s own pain and suffering. When we listen to ourselves, we can quieten our own minds and really be present for another. When we first give ourselves space to be, we create a clearing that allows us to then make space for others to be. Have you ever felt what it’s like to be in a space with someone who is carrying a lot of unchecked pain and suffering? Someone who isn’t in alignment with good self-care? It feels full, cramped, and suffocating. There isn’t room for you to be in that space because all the space and energy is being taken up by what they’re carrying and trying to suppress or outright ignore. I believe that when those things are suppressed or ignored they become bigger, psychically speaking.

But when you are in that space of self care, then the client can also drop into that space with ease. They can drop those things they are carrying, and you can accompany them in working through it. They won’t *need* to be carrying them around anymore because that part of them that had been suffering has now been listened to and can just be at rest. There is a sense of wholeness, completeness to be had.

I’m also really interested in what has been said about disease being carried in the areas of the body that energetically resonate with certain emotions when said emotions are ignored or suppressed. I’ve seen that in my own body through an autonomic nervous system disorder, which I personally trace back to the conditioning that resulted from the narcissistic abuse I experienced growing up. That’s why what we do, this therapy modality, is so powerful. We’re facilitating the flow of positive energy, emotional and otherwise, to every area of the body through the interaction of our nervous systems together in the moment. Whether that’s in person, in the same physical space, or simply within the same time (and virtual space). Our brains are really good at forging connections through shared actions (mirroring), through sharing a space and time together with aligned intentions and unconditional positive regard. And those connections are more healing than anything else I have ever experienced.

It’s been a hard journey learning good self care coming from a childhood environment (and just living in a society in general) where suppressing my own needs is what’s needed for survival — or that’s how it feels, anyway. So, even just being with myself and acknowledging my needs can feel like a threat. (“What if something comes up that I don’t have the resources to handle? Will I then be consumed just for having allowed that need the space to exist? What if just having that need and looking for the resources to handle it will be punished in some way? Maybe it’s better to pretend I’m okay and to try and need as little as possible. I need to do my best not to be a burden so that I can maintain the resources and relationships needed for basic survival.”)

It’s been hard just unlearning that conditioning to begin with, in order to create the space for healthy mental conditioning to occur. And I think that’s part of why it’s so much easier to be in that space together with others, especially in my experiences and practice with this professional community. It feels safer. It’s okay because the person/people around me are saying it’s okay with their own way of being and intention in the moment. I think those kinds of experiences are really important to recondition the brain and nervous system in general — that’s been my lived experience — so it feels really great to be able to offer that kind of experience to others, to help others do what I’m working to do for myself. Our beings resonate and amplify that healing that’s going on within each of us individually when we are doing the work together in the moment.

And it’s in the simple things, the really little things: the breath, the heartbeat, just feeling all the parts that make up your mind and body through mindfulness and physical touch — whether from yourself, from another, or both — and sending love to them. Saying to your body and mind and soul, “I welcome and accept the you that is being right now.” That’s really all that we ever need. And the vast majority of us get that most of the time as babies, it’s generally a given. I think that’s because the need for it is more obvious, more visible to us (to adults) when witnessing a baby or small child. (“They need my help because they can’t help themself.”) But that resource goes away when we get older because, I think, that need is harder to see. What’s expected of us changes, the resources available to us change, and that’s a shame in so many ways. Because the need is still there, even if it is not being seen and heard as easily (or even at all).

But that’s not how it has to be. True, the responsibility for filling the need shifts from our caregivers to ourselves (we become our own caregivers), but the need doesn’t go away. And we are so often inadequately prepared by caregivers who were, themselves, so inadequately prepared. It becomes self-perpetuating without mindful intervention. And that is the crux of our work: providing mindful intervention, a practice that empowers and prepares our clients to be good caregivers to themselves.

We were made for authentic connection; that’s the state in which we can truly thrive, and that can’t happen without true vulnerability. And true vulnerability isn’t possible in a space where that welcoming and acceptance of “the you that is being right now” isn’t happening. And that goes back to what has been said about the innate worth and value within each of us. Being able to recognize that it’s okay to acknowledge and embody that, to know that it’s safe to do that, is so huge. I love being able to offer that experience to others, of course, but also to myself first. Because there is a higher purpose in doing so through our work, and who knows if that would happen, if I would give that to myself, without having that higher purpose. That’s what empowers me to make it real. That’s why I am so grateful to have found this community. I love you all with my whole being and bask in the love that is authentically returned with full hearts! Thank you to all of you who make up this larger body that is Cuddlist and the professional cuddle therapy community at large!