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Excerpted from Self-Nurture by Alice Domar. Copyright © 2000 by Alice Domar and Henry Dreher. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.   HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"We need to shower as much loving kindness on ourselves as we habitually shower on loved ones."

Alice Domar, Self-Nurture, Part 2

This got me thinking about the course of female development from childhood through adolescence to young adulthood. Why do we lose the sense that we are entitled to joy for its own sake? What happens to our willingness to ask others to help meet our needs? When do we start to feel guilty about pursuing pleasure and play? At what stage of development do we adopt the belief that our larger purpose is to serve everyone else's needs?

The answers can be found by questioning our roles as self-sacrificing caretakers, family stabilizers in a world that still views men as the primary breadwinners. Experts on women's development have explored these issues in depth. Thatís not my purpose with this book. My purpose is to empower women to overcome this cultural legacy. The memory of my own early ability to seek joy as a child intensifies my desire to help women nurture themselves and ask others for nurturance.

In our development as women, obviously we must shed many of our childlike attributes. But we must also hold fast to some of them. The most fully-realized women hold on to their childhood pluck and spontaneity. These are women, I have found, who can nurture themselves--women who might take an hour to read a book without feeling guilty, or call up a group of friends on a whim and convince them to go out and do something. These women retain their childhood spark.

I am reminded again of my memory of Annís brothers and the swing. My goal for myself, my patients, and my readers is that we manage to hang onto that pure joy, that ability to take flight. We may stop swinging but we don't have to stop soaring--in our creative imaginations, careers, sex lives, relationships, or spiritual endeavors. To take flight, though, we must develop what psychotherapist Lawrence LeShan calls a "fierce and tender concern" for every facet of our being. That fierce and tender concern is what I call self-nurture.

What Do Women Need?

Sigmund Freudís famous question, "What do women want?" is something I've wondered about myself. During my thirteen years as a health psychologist specializing in women's well-being, I have settled on a slightly different question: "What do women really need?" What women need is to learn how to nurture themselves. We need to shower as much loving kindness on ourselves as we habitually shower on loved ones, and even not-so-loved ones. We need to be loved for our fully formed selves, not for our dependent, appeasing selves. And the only way we can have fully formed selves is by granting ourselves the same tenderness and fierce protectiveness we'd otherwise reserve for a beloved child.

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