One model of development that has impacted me in my journey of emotional health and maturity is The Life Model by Friesen, Wilder, Bierling, Koepcke, and Poole. The model identifies “Maturity Indicators,” as well as personal and family/community tasks for each phase of development.
One of the primary tasks of Childhood (ages 4-12) is to learn to take care of oneself. This task, the authors explain, requires the mastery of several sub-tasks:
(1) Learning to say what you think and feel and appropriately ask for what is needed. IF NOT LEARNED: You may become frustrated often because your needs are not being met and your voice does not get heard
(2) Learning what brings you satisfaction. IF NOT LEARNED: You may allow others to determine what you need or want.
(3) Learning how to do “hard things,” which requires developing patience and persistence, and takes some guidance. IF NOT LEARNED: You may feel entitled to receive without doing hard work.
(4) Developing your personal talents and resources.IF NOT LEARNED: You may be prone to filling your life with unsatisfying and unproductive activity.
(5) Knowing yourself and making yourself understandable to others.
(6) Understanding how you fit into history as well as the “big picture” of life, so that you realize that you have the ability to personally impact the world.
Many of us learned these important lessons in good, supportive families, but many of us still have holes in our developmental maturity. This is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of. The Life Model is beautifully hopeful that these tasks can be revisited and holes filled in at any time in our lives. The “If NOT LEARNED” notes can serve as a way to identify places where we could communicate better or know ourselves better.
Also, some of us may have been given the responsibility of caring for others at an age that was not developmentally appropriate (for example, caring for an emotionally unstable parent). This or other factors may have initiated a habit of caring for others at the expense of our own health and well-being. We may feel compelled to serve “selflessly” to an extreme. Or this pattern may have resulted because of a strong value to “put others first.”
Revisiting the subtasks listed above can helpful to all of us, even if we do see ourselves as fairly healthy in this area. Even if we are generally good at taking care of ourselves and expressing our needs in appropriate ways, this may be a different story when we are under stress. I encourage you to take a moment and consider your own reactions to feeling overwhelmed or drained and what you usually do to replenish your body, mind, and spirit.
This task of learning to care for ourselves is basic to our health and well-being AND to our moving beyond this phase in our maturity to a phase of mutuality and to caring for others (including a spouse, children, or those we serve in work or ministry).
Combining this model of maturity with my own experiences and those of people around me, I have come to believe that learning to care for ourselves well is the first step on a path to natural healing. In learning to care for yourself you must learn to:
(1) Identify your own needs and wants.
(2) Say what you need in a clear and appropriate way.
(3) Find ways to meet your needs that are appropriate and effective.
(4) Know yourself well enough to identify your own physical, emotional, and spiritual reactions.
(5) Know your own triggers and signs of distress and be able to voice them and then act in a way that is good for your whole self (not simply indulgences or self-destructive solutions that are harmful to your physical, mental, or emotional state)
(6) To come to a place of choosing a path for healing based on the previous points without the necessity of being “told what to do” and without blaming others for your predicament.
(7) To reassess the way you are meeting your needs and to try new solutions without getting lost in self-loathing for the choices you have made. And, similarly, not getting stuck in guilt or shame when you make a decision that is not good for your mind/body/spirit – bieng able to accept grace and move forward.
As I consider all that it takes to heal naturally – to improve our health holistically – I keep coming back to this. How can we talk about lifestyle changes, dietary changes, elimination diets, even identification of our own symptoms if we have not learned these skills?
I feel strongly that my purpose at Sweet Water Offering is not to tell you what to do to heal, but to give you solid information, fresh insights, and compassionate support as you learn to trust your intuition and make choices for your own healing.
Reference: Friesen, James G., E. James Wilder, Anne M. Bierling, Rick Koepcke, and Maribeth Poole. The Essentials of Christian Living from The Life Model: Living From the Heart Jesus Gave You. Shepherd’s House, Inc: Pasadena, CA, 2000.