Tending, Mending, Clutter and Trauma


Have you heard of the phrase “tend and befriend” to describe a way to deal with stress and get your nervous system back on track?

The term was coined in 2000 by Shelley Taylor, a psychology professor at the University of California.

The “tend and befriend” theory says that when faced with a perceived threat, humans will tend to their young and rely on others for connection and support. This, she and her group of researchers observed, was especially true of humans, and human females in particular. Laboratory animals, when shocked, would attack each other. Humans, when threatened or stressed, typically affiliate with one another instead of attacking each other.

“Tending and befriending” can be an alternative response to the “fight and flight” activation when you recognize that you’re stressed. I’ve noticed I automatically want to call a friend when I’m feeling stressed or overstimulated, but I’ve found that could be a problem in some ways. Maybe the person isn’t available, and I feel momentarily abandoned. Maybe the person I turn to isn’t receptive to me at that moment. Again, that can trigger abandonment, and make me feel worse.

And for me as a Highly Sensitive introvert, sometimes reaching out is not what I need. The interaction may be more stimulating than I need, even if it’s a good interaction. I’ve noticed that when I’ve talked too long on the phone with a friend at night, I don’t sleep as well–even if the interaction was a positive one.

If you’re someone who chronically puts other people’s needs before your own, reaching out to others when you’re stressed or anxious might actually not be so healthy after all.

As I noticed this tendency to want to call someone, often at the end of the day when stress or overstimulation has piled up, I thought I might try something else.

What if I tended to myself, or my home, instead of to someone else? I too often neglect myself when I’ve had “too much.”

And then these words came to me: “Tending is mending.”

Hmmm . . . tending is mending. One way to deal with stress, one way to heal, is by tending?

Tending to what? I asked.

Tending to whatever you’ve been neglecting,” came the answer.

Ah, that clicked. One of the results of Childhood Emotional Neglect is self-neglect.

I see this popping up in my life in numerous ways. Like doing “one more thing” at night, even when I’m tired. Or cutting short the downtime I need.

One way I hadn’t thought of, until I read a blog post by Anna Runkle, a.k.a. “The Crappy Childhood Fairy” (Youtube channel), is that “Clutter is a Trauma Symptom.”

Wow! What have I been focusing on this whole year? Decluttering and “subtracting”! Anna says that accumulating things and being unable to let them go can be a sign of childhood trauma. Perhaps instinctively, my heart has led me to this decluttering/subtracting phase as a next right step in my healing. The home is an extension of the self. Neglecting my home is neglecting myself; taking care of my home is one way to take care of myself (and the others I live with).

Tending is mending.

So, today, after my shower, instead of telling myself, “I don’t have time to clean the shower stall because I have to write this blog post,” I cleaned the shower anyway. It felt like tending.

Then I came to my desk, cleared some papers, and started writing.

I finished in good time.

Tending is mending.

What might you have been neglecting, that could use some tending?

Is it your body, a relationship, your home, a hobby, your dream?

Tending is mending. . . .

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