It is very difficult to let things go—whether it’s something simple that you have completed or something more difficult, such as a toxic relationship—if you don’t have what we call “The Core of Care.” Quite simply, the Core of Care consists of people who really care about you. These are the people you rely on for emotional, mental, spiritual, and possibly even physical support. They are your microcommunity, and without them, you couldn’t manage at all. If you have a Core of Care, then it gives you the strength and emotional nourishment to be the best you can be in this world. On one end of the spectrum, your Core of Care may include a neighbor who checks on your welfare, or friends on Facebook. On the other end of the spectrum, your Core of Care may include your deep and committed love relationships with family and friends.
Many of the people we work with have been unable to release things that do not serve them because they have no Core of Care. For people without nurturing core relationships, even toxic situations—such as addictions and abusive relationships—feel better than loneliness. Unfortunately, the closest core relationships do not always provide a Core of Care. If all of your closest relationships suffer from unhealthy or toxic patterns, it affects your happiness and your quality of life. But many people who experience unhealthy relationships are unaware of it, because that is all they have ever known. Such patterns, for better or worse, feel comfortable because they feel familiar. And so they continue. And often, people will subconsciously seek out partners and companions who relate in familiar ways, even if those partners or companions are abusive. When this happens, you are left with a spiritual and emotional vacuum instead of a true Core of Care.
So, how do you strengthen your core relationships—or make new ones—so that you can begin to let go of things that no longer serve you? Here are some tips for building your Core of Care:
1. Work up to it
Don’t overwhelm yourself if you’re not used to relationships with people. Social networking or getting a pet is a good start, but don’t stop there. The point is to build relationships with people. So get outside with your pet and take walks every day. Talk to neighbors and notice what people are doing in your neighborhood. If you have a local friend on Facebook who is teaching something that interests you, or who is performing or giving free workshops, then go.
Identify something you love to do and find someone else to do it for. Nonprofit organizations need you and will be appreciative of your efforts. But there may also be a neighbor on your street who has trouble getting her trash to the curb every week or who could use a hand getting a prescription or some groceries. There is no better way to open your heart than by helping someone else, and when you truly open your heart to another, someone will open their heart to you.
3. Accept offers
If someone offers to do something nice for you (like hauling your trash to the curb), then let them. And thank them. And ask them what their name is. The single most isolating thing we learn to do is say, “No, thank you; I’m fine” when you really could use the help. Recognize that this person who is offering to help cares about you. You don’t have to do much to develop a relationship with someone who is already reaching out to you. Just accept and say, “Thank you.”
4. Improve yourself
Sometimes we suffer from loneliness because we lack some of the skills needed to be in the company of other people. Be honest with yourself. Do you have behaviors or fears that are keeping you isolated? Pick one social skill you would like to improve and find a way to improve it. Counseling is an obvious option and one that should always be considered when you have an emotional issue severe enough that it isolates you. But also consider improving your physical health. When you join an exercise class, you automatically share a goal with everyone else there: to improve your health. As you feel better, it will become much easier for you to reach out to the people around you and support them as they begin their journey. There is no better way to make a friend.
As you build a nurturing Core of Care, you may find that the things you couldn’t let go of before fall away as if by magic. You will start to see who cares about you and who doesn’t. You will start to feel which things have meaning and which don’t. We have seen people transform their lives very rapidly after building their Core of Care. And it is possible for you to transform yours in the same way.