Moving through the day, we fill various roles. Rarely are we just our human selves. There is always another layer to it, may it be partner, employee, service provider, parent, activist, freelancer, boss, colleague or any other role. We encounter the world around us through the filter of these roles. They also shape how we respond and are supposed to be affected by things happening. Nevertheless, the separation between ourselves and the roles we fill is less present than society expects it to be.

Especially in this increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, the human behind the roles needs more care than ever. Rising numbers of burnout and other stress-related disorders prove that our work’s (emotional) effects don’t stop at this imagined separation. That’s where Community of Care come into play. They allow us to witness and be witnessed by a group of peers who understand the work that comes with our role. That enables the group to tap into their shared humanity more easily.

The concept is a response to my own experience as a facilitator who holds space for groups that work through big emotions or heavy systemic challenges. As a facilitator, I cannot have stakes in their conversation, but I am often affected as a human being. Turning to friends, who do not know what facilitating means, I find it hard to muster the energy to explain the practice first. This additional labour fell aside when I spoke to fellow practitioners. I was able to receive and give care with ease. This experience inspired me to develop the concept and flow of Community of Care sessions.

What is care, and why do we need it

Care is not limited to nursing the sick or raising children. It is actually about providing support, attention, and concern for the well-being and happiness of others. Through care, we show empathy, compassion, and kindness. It is a fundamental aspect of human nature. It can be expressed through emotional support, physical assistance, nurturing, and consideration for others’ needs and feelings. Care is a collective effort for the well-being of individuals, society, and the environment.

Care matters in this chaotic world as it enhances human connection. It creates a sense of belonging and fosters healthy relationships. These relationships are crucial for emotional and psychological well-being. Feeling cared for reduces stress, anxiety, and isolation, increasing overall well-being. Nurturing environments provide security and love, facilitating cognitive, emotional, and social growth. Care helps individuals cope and recover during difficult times. It also supports them after challenging experiences like illness, loss, or emotional struggles.

When people feel genuinely cared for, they are likelier to trust and cooperate with others. It fosters successful teamwork and social cohesion. Caring for others allows us to see things from their perspective, promoting empathy and understanding. Such empathy helps bridge gaps and promotes harmony in diverse societies. Care is not limited to human relationships. It extends to the environment and all living beings. By caring for our planet and its ecosystems, we can protect and preserve them for future generations.

Meaningful acts of care can be found in small gestures. Actively listening to someone’s feelings, concerns, or problems without judgment and offering empathy is significant. Acts of kindness, such as giving compliments, helping with chores, sending thoughtful notes, or assisting strangers, also convey care. Providing both physical and emotional support, sharing responsibilities, checking in with people, and offering proactive help are other ways to practice care. Care also includes apologising and forgiving, as these actions demonstrate concern for others.

The term care work is even more strongly tied to nursing professions. Nevertheless, it can actually be defined as affectionate actions done for others without expecting immediate returns. It can be both paid and unpaid. Care work brings people together, holding space for each other through acts of care. Therefore, gathering around a purpose and supporting each other’s well-being is care work.

The power of being understood

In the opening, I mentioned how explaining my context before seeking support can be burdensome. In some cases, it even stopped me from seeking help. When facing challenges, we long for someone who truly understands, making it easy to share our truth. Being seen and understood this way is powerful and liberating, shaping our emotional well-being and overall satisfaction. It goes beyond mere acknowledgement and validation, profoundly impacting our lives.

Emotional validation from understanding brings acceptance and reduces anxiety, stress, and isolation. Being seen and understood boosts self-esteem, confidence in our thoughts, beliefs, and actions. It fosters deeper connections, trust, and intimacy with others. Better communication leads to healthier relationships with fewer misunderstandings. Valuing our unique identity promotes self-acceptance, embracing our authentic selves without fear of judgment. Feeling understood creates a supportive environment for sharing thoughts and feelings. Empowered, we make choices aligned with our true selves, pursuing passions without societal expectations.

Being understood enhances resilience, buffering us during challenging times. It deepens emotional bonds and fosters belonging and community. Ultimately, it contributes to positive mental health outcomes, improving mood, reducing depression symptoms, and increasing life satisfaction. Embracing empathy and understanding in our interactions can create a compassionate and supportive world for everyone.

How does a Community of Care look like

Looking at how much the benefits of care and being fully witnessed and understood align, I knew I had to develop a practice that combines both. I myself was longing for a space in which I could hold and be held by fellow practitioners. So, there needed to be an element everyone joining had in common. Being a facilitator, I began by offering this session exclusively for a facilitator community. Next, I experimented with inviting NGO workers, parents and youth workers into dedicated spaces for them. Having this part of their identity/roles in common created an equalising effect that lent itself to creating a space of knowing and just getting the other.

I open every Community of Care session with a Plume of Rage, a practice proposed by adrienne maree brown and Autumn Brown in their podcast “How to Survive the End of the World”. During the plume, I invite participants to share any peeve or pain that may burden them and impact how they enter the space. What is shared can be as small as a pumped toe or as grave as world-weariness in the face of societal unrest. It aims to create a space for those things we keep pushing back, letting them fester somewhere in the back of our minds and hearts. This burden often lifts by giving them a voice and a different presence becomes possible.

Next, I lead the participants through a guide visualisation. This step is essential to reconnect to an experience of one’s humanity in a setting where they had to fill a role. When put on the spot, people rarely can remember such a moment.

The main part of the session is the sharing of moments of humanity. Most of the time, something came up during the visualisation that we then use as a starting point. Alternatively, I also always have a prompt at hand. From there, we organically move through a conversation, following whatever comes up.

Every Community of Care session finishes with a Witnessing Round. For that, each participant uses the sentence stem “I witness today…” to share something they experienced, saw, heard, etc. This final step reconnects the group once more before returning to their everyday. It also is an act of gratitude and centres the collectiveness of the experience during the session.

Community of Care session aims to harness the benefits described above that we receive from caring for one another and being understood. Another effect that participants have shared with me is feeling grounded in one’s humanity and energised to step back into one role. This re-centring helps to avoid burnout as it re-aligns the work with one’s purpose. They are also a pause in our busy (professional) lives. Being with others, who share the same role as you, makes you feel less lonely. It is especially powerful when working by yourself.
I am looking forward to seeing you soon in one of the sessions.

Love and Appreciation,