“We teach “safe” by placing almost no demands on the person except for being with the person with a sense of just “being.” It is a tremendously important for one human being to teach another it is good to be near you. Nothing more, nothing less. This act of recognizing the brokenhearted person’s existence and goodness is a most powerful teaching-learning experience. At the same time, we need to engage in nurturing and finding relevant ways to express unconditional love without pressuring the person at all. This might seem weird, but the person will learn to feel safe if we lower our demands while increasing our goodness, kindness, and expression of love. We need to avoid putting the horse before the cart. Doing things is not the primary purpose of care giving; being with one another is.
A dimension that is often hard to understand and deal with involves the emergence of self-centeredness, becoming spoiled, after a time of intense nurturing. It is natural to become self-centered as a result of constant nurturing. This creates another important care giving role. We need to slowly begin to focus on stretching the person away from self-centeredness and toward other-centeredness. This stretching process involves reminding the person that he/she is safe and loved while asking a slight degree more—waiting a moment, taking turns, sharing, and other virtues involving others and our relationships. This process is very delicate so we need to keep reminding the person of how safe and loved he/she is.
The developmental model outlined below is a good guide for us to use to understand the various dimensions of new memories that have to be taught:
• From brokenhearted and lonely, to safe and loved;
• From self-centeredness, to reaching out to others and loving expressing love to them; and,
• From dependence on us, to engagement with us and others.
Our pedagogical process starts with us encountering a brokenhearted person and bringing two simple gifts that we have repeatedly mentioned—the feeling of being safe and loved. We have nothing else to give. These are not a program, a clinical approach, or focused on outcomes. They can, if necessary, be translated into mundane outcomes, but, for the caregiver, they are gifts and these now established feelings need to begin to include being safe with a growing circle of others and becoming a meaningful part of increasing engagement.
This stretching process is a part of normal development. These include learning other moral milestones such as learning to share, a giving up, momentarily, of what is theirs; learning to wait and to take turns; wanting others to feel proud; and, learning when enough is enough—self-control. We all have to learn these milestones. Each requires a grounded stance that assumes that the brokenhearted person has learned to feel safe and loved and is ready for participation in a broader community. After these have been formed in the person’s moral memory, we can then begin focusing on strengthening self-esteem, learning that “I am good!” and self-control, learning when enough is enough!” The person’s world and responsibilities begin to expand.
After an intense dimension involved almost solely with unconditional love, it is natural to enter a phase of self-centeredness. It is then that our role evolves into carefully and delicately stretching the still fragile brokenhearted person from a state of self-centeredness to one of other-centeredness. It is a process in which the person learns that it is good to be with a small circle of others, then it is good to do things with this group, and eventually it is good to do things with a wider circle of friends, and finally it is good to do things for others. This last encompasses a high form of moral maturity.
We also begin to focus on the person’s self-esteem. This milestone emerges when others keep reminding the person, “You are so good!” This begins to occur from the very start when we are teaching that it is good to be together. What happens in this process is that the person begins to feel safe and loved from within. As this occurs, the person begins to see him/herself in a different light and forms a moral memory that says, “I am somebody because my caregivers tell me I am.” As the circle of friends grows, the person’s sense of self-worth also expands and becomes stronger.”
– John J. McGee, PhD