Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth
Hollingsworth Consulting

I have an anxious ambivalent attachment style, which simply means that when I’m stressed or not feeling centered, I tend to get insecure and clingy in relationships.

Recently I was feeling insecure in a friendship. I was doubting my worthiness, fearing that maybe I wasn’t as special and cherished to this friend as I thought and wanted to be.

My worry was of course needless. But in my anxious heart, it felt real at the time.

The wise part of me knew what was going on. This wasn’t my first insecurity circus. So, that week, I decided to get curious, compassionate, and attentive to my anxious thoughts and feelings.

I journaled. I read. I asked questions of myself. I talked to myself in kind and empowering ways. I listened to music that brought me truth and comfort. I talked with the friend about it. And I talked with a few trusted others, as well.

Basically, I tended to myself. Thoroughly.

Not long after, my six-year-old son Bennett was having trouble falling asleep. As is our current custom, I was quietly sitting outside the open door to his room as he tried to nod off. He was tossing and turning. He kept looking at me and saying “Mom, are you still there?” I could tell his body wanted to sleep, but his mind was distressed. I was tempted to keep scrolling on my phone, roll my eyes, and insist, “Bennett, just lie still and close your eyes. You got this! Go to sleep!”

But I did something else instead. I decided to intentionally feel my way into his restlessness and unease. What was he going through? I realized right away that he was feeling insecure – just as I had been with my friend. I don’t know how I knew it. I just did. It was coming from every movement he made, every look he gave me.

I knew that inward malady. Also? I knew the cure. Bennett just needed some simple, gentle, and sincere words of reassurance. Just like we all do sometimes.

So I went over to his bedside in the dim room, touched his head, leaned down toward his cheek, and whispered in his ear this:

“Bennett. You’re safe. You’re cherished. You’re not alone. I’m here. You’re my best.”

Then I said all that another time. Then again.

After the third time, Bennett sat up suddenly and threw his arms around me with incredible gusto and relief. It was exactly what he needed to hear to relax and let go.

He was asleep within 90 seconds.

Supercharge Your Empathy Skills by Tending to Yourself

I wouldn’t have noticed and felt my way into Bennett’s insecurity and need for reassurance had I not been actively attuning to those same feelings in myself. I likely would’ve concluded he’d had too much sugar before bed and needed to work harder at lying still. But because I had shown up well for myself in a moment of insecurity, I was able to do the same for him.

When we tend to ourselves with curiosity and compassion, it automatically boosts our ability to tend to others in the same way. This is because the brain uses the same neural systems to tune into itself as to others.

Your ability to show up strong for yourself, and your ability to show up strong for someone else, increase in direct (not inverse) proportion.

Each movement you make to connect with you—to give yourself attention and care—will bolster your ability to do that for others.

If you’re feeling insecure in a relationship, whether personal or professional, take time to tune into yourself. Work to radically accept, deeply understand, and actively soothe those feelings. In so doing, you’re not only helping yourself to ground and grow. You’re automatically strengthening your ability to empathize with others experiencing similar emotions, and to act wisely to help ease their distress.

About Andrea

Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth is Founder and CEO of Hollingsworth Consulting, author of the bestselling book The Compassion Advantage (2024), and one of today’s leading global experts on compassionate leadership. Since 2008, she has been studying, speaking, and writing about the science and spirituality of human emotions and relationships. Her articles have been published more than a dozen times in peer-reviewed journals, and she has taught at prestigious institutions like Princeton, Boston University, and Loyola University Chicago. In addition, Dr. Andrea has delivered talks to audiences at some of the top-ranked universities in the world—including Cambridge University in England and Heidelberg University in Germany.

Dr. Andrea spends most of her time inspiring leaders and teams to use The Compassion Advantage to build supercharged organizations through cultures of care— especially in times of challenge and change. Andrea lives with her family in Minnesota where she cheers hard at her son’s soccer games and relishes every opportunity to visit the north shore of Lake Superior.