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Think of a shy child being asked to perform in a school program in front of a large crowd, including the families of all of his classmates.  Imagine what thoughts may be going through this child's mind:  What if I mess up?  What if everyone laughs at me?  Then, just when they are about to step on stage and recite their lines, they look out and see their parent waving at them.  Suddenly, they feel a sense of relief.  Their anxiety and fear begin to subside.  They experience a sense of safety, knowing that no matter what happens, they are loved and supported.  This is just one example of how we may experience nurture in our lives. True nurture lets us know that no matter what may occur, we can be appreciated, supported, and cared for.

What do you think of when you hear the word nurture?  Perhaps you think of a parental hug or the embrace of a romantic partner.  Maybe you recall a warm meal prepared by the hands of someone who cares deeply for you.  Or, you may even call to mind a memory of receiving a gift, just for you.  There are many ways that we may experience nurture.  

Often, when we think of what nurture may look like, we think of actions.  But, at the heart of it, when we talk about nurture, we are talking about the emotional connection of love.  This does not mean the kind of Valentine’s Day love that brings to mind hearts and cupids.  Rather, we mean a deeper love.  We mean the experience of love that makes you feel safe to go out into the world and face whatever challenges may come your way.  Receiving Nurture means to be loved and appreciated for our authentic selves. It means, being seen and received for who we truly are.

Through Nurture, we experience a healthy attachment to others and a better sense of ourselves. Emotional attachment is essential to feeling safe enough to relate to others.  When we feel safe, we are more inclined to be vulnerable about our needs and are therefore more likely to develop trusting relationships with those who meet our needs.  For example, when a baby cries, a nurturing parent will soothe the child by attending to their expressed need.  By attending to the child’s need, the nurturing parent begins to teach the child that their needs are valid and that they can trust others to love them.  As the child ages, this type of nurturing love models for the child how they also may meet her own needs and the needs of others.

At it's core, Nurture provides four things; a knowledge that we are loved, a sense of safety and protection, nourishment, and healthy touch. These are the first things we offer a child when they are born; skin-to-skin contact, a protective embrace, feeding, and acclamations of love. Although these become more nuanced as we age, for the entirety of our lives, we need will always need these four things.

If our need for nurture goes unmet, we do not develop the belief that we can be vulnerable.  If we cannot be vulnerable then we are unable to relate to others and do not develop a full sense of ourselves. It is the significant, loving relationships, or lack thereof, that shape our worldview and dictate our patterns of relating to others.  If we feel loved and accepted then the world, however harsh and frightening it can be at times, may feel safer.  With nurture we have the foundation to explore and the means to overcome challenges as they are presented to us.  Without nurture, we don’t have a foothold because our NPS stool is out of balance and we struggle to form meaningful, healthy relationships with others.  

Because of it’s tie to safety, nurture can be one of the most frightening needs to name.  If by nature, nurture makes us feel safe, to name the need for nurture would be to admit that we feel unsafe.  It must be noted that our nurture-needs cannot be met 100% of the time.  However, for healthy relationships with others and with ourselves, these needs must be met enough of the time to develop a sense of trust.

Think of that child we discussed earlier, the one who was anxious about performing in front of a large crowd.  They needed reassurance (Nurture) and sought it by looking anxiously into the sea of faces in front of them to find the familiar.  Nurture is the foundation of healthy relationships, and provides us the means to feel secure, even when the world is not.    

Phillip Bass, MDiv, ThM, MA, LPCMHC, NCC,

Licensed Qualified Supervisor

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