Self-Nurturing Kits: A Portkey to Peace

portkeyI consider myself to be a fan of the Harry Potter book series.  I have read each book in the series multiple times, I have a collection of Harry Potter pick-up lines, and I have attended more than one midnight showing of Harry Potter movies on their opening nights.  And, at least twice I attended them in costume.  Yes, I was one of those people.  However, in recent years my my zealous celebration of all-things-Harry-Potter has mellowed out considerably.

However, I was recently thinking about a magical item from Harry Potter’s wizarding world. That item is called a portkey.  A portkey is an object, often a regular, everyday item such as a shoe, football, broom or trophy, that has been enchanted so that it can instantly transport the person who touches it to another predetermined location.

In the Muggle (non-magical) world, there are instances in which the touch (or sight) of an item has the potential power to transport an individual to another place emotionally.  For example, for a person suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, exposure to external cues (which could be sights, textures, sounds, smells or tastes) that remind them of their past trauma can transport that individual into a state of severe physiological distress.

A more desirable example of an external object having the capacity to transport an individual into different emotional state is the self-nurturing kit.

Self-Nurturing Kits

I was introduced to the concept of the self-nurturing kit when I was a Master’s student studying Marriage & Family Therapy.  I was preparing for upcoming interviews for PhD programs I was considering, and expressed to my supervisor that I was feeling anxious about it.  Sometimes, when I feel anxious or intimidated, I have a tendency to withdraw inside myself and become quiet and start to feel similar to how I did when I was an insecure teenager.  I didn’t want to present that side of myself in my interview.  My supervisor suggested that a self-nurturing kit may be a tool that I could use to connect to my more confident, competent self.  I was intrigued.

blankeyThe idea of a self-nurturing kit is to find small, everyday items that can represent and remind its owner of things that they find nurturing and that connect them to feelings of peace or confidence.  Some individuals may choose items from nature, a picture of a person or place they love, a fabric that reminds them of something or someone that makes them feel safe, an object that reminds them of a goal or a memory, a sentimental song, or a figurine of an animal that represents attributes they have developed.  The possibilities are endless.  The concept of a self-nurturing kit is, in some ways, similar in effect to how a security blanket or teddy bear that helps a young distressed child feel safe and calm.

My PhD interview self-nurturing kit was small enough to fit into my pocket.  I included three items: a jump drive, a monkey ornament, and a rock.  The jump drive held lesson plans and PowerPoint presentations I had used in teaching, and reminded me of my ability and desire to teach and make a difference to others.  The monkey ornament reminded me of my fun and playful side.  And the rock reminded me of walks I would go on as a child with my Grandma in which I would pick up rocks along the path.  It reminded me of my loving Grandma and of peaceful times in nature.  When I would get nervous at my all-day interviews, I would put my hand in my pocket and remind myself who I was, why I was there, and think of times and relationships I associated with feeling calm and safe.  Touching those items was my portkey to peace and confidence.

Create Your Own Self-Nurturing Kit

Anyone can create their own self-nurturing kit.  It may be small enough to fit in a pocket; it may keep it in a box, or it could even be a file on an electronic device containing meaningful and nurturing pictures and music.  I find it helpful to have at least some items be tangible.  There is power in touch.  Having items that connect with other senses can also be powerful.  Smells and tastes that connect you to more nurturing times can have an affect on your brain that helps you move away from your anxiety and toward connecting to calmness.

When trying to come up with items to include in your kit, think of what is or has been nurturing to you.  chocolateThink of things that you look forward to.   Think of times in your life you have felt most hopeful, confident, safe or loved.  Find objects or items that represent those memories, hopes or experiences.  It can be meaningful to include pictures of people or places.

A self-nurturing kit is by no means a cure for clinical-level anxiety.  However, it does have the potential to better provide a connection to positive thoughts and feelings in many circumstances.

And if nothing else, if you include a piece of chocolate in your kit, at least you’ll always have something to help you recover from Dementor attacks.

Fixing vs. Healing

fix-it-felixI recently had a conversation with a self-proclaimed fixer.  When he sees something wrong, his inclination is to figure out what the problem is and then fix it.  If the sink leaks, he fixes it.  If the car won’t start, he fixes it.  And if his buddy is being a jerk, he confronts him about it and does his best to fix that too.  The approach is straight-forward and the objective is noble.

But, unfortunately, fixing isn’t always an option.

Consider the analogy of the carpenter vs. the farmer as it relates to fixing and healing.

The carpenter takes raw materials, follows a well-prepared blueprint, and uses various tools to construct those materials into something useful and beautiful.  

A farmer takes a seed or seedling.  They plant that seedling in good ground.  They provide optimal conditions for growth by providing water and access to sunlight.  They provide protection.  There may even be some pruning or fertilizing.  They help the plant to grow and fulfill its potential.  The process is slow and the results can vary.

Both roles are significant and valuable.  But neither process can achieve the results of the other.  A carpenter cannot construct wheat.  And a farmer cannot grow a chair.

So, back to the idea of fixing vs. healing.

Fixing is great for things that are broken.  Healing is great for people who are injured.  Unfortunately, people often confuse the two.  It is not uncommon to hear clients describe themselves, their lives, or their relationships as being broken.  And often times they have tried everything they know to try to fix those things.  But it hasn’t worked.  And so they become discouraged and assume that their lives or relationships are broken beyond repair.

But perhaps the reason their well-placed efforts haven’t been effective is partly because they aren’t dealing with a problem that requires fixing.  Perhaps they are dealing with is a wound, an injury or a hurt that requires healing.

And just as nurturing a plant differs from constructing a building, healing differs from fixing.  Healing requires time.  It requires hurting.  And its course and outcome isn’t exact.

It is hard for a fixer to see someone they care about hurt.  Hurt often appears like a problem to be fixed.  And so they try to fix things.  And hurt does often fill the function of letting us know that something is wrong.

But sometimes, feeling the hurt is also a part of the healing process.  Sometimes, attempts to save someone from their hurt prevents that someone from being able to heal.

If you are a fixer, thank you for your good heart and the good that you do.  But (yes…you had to know that that ‘but’ was coming), if you being a fixer is about you being a helper and a relief-giver, then I invite you to learn about the healing process, and learn how to be with others in their pain rather than immediately making efforts to save them from it.