Self-Connection for Survival

This week’s blog is by Leora Ward, creator of Healing in Service. Leora has worked for many years in the social justice, women’s empowerment, and humanitarian fields.

How do we really know when we are whole? How do we know when we are healed?

I have been stewing on these questions for a while. And, when I look at them on the page, they seem silly. They seem like the embodiment of my privileged, Western upbringing… only questions that would come from being raised in a society that obsesses about success and encourages women to uphold an unrealistic notion of perfection. And, when I take a gentler and more loving look, I see hope. These are questions borne out of a desire and a longing for true happiness. When read without judgement, they are simply the innocent questions of an aching heart.

My curiosity about my own journey and why I became a humanitarian worker has haunted me for years. I never knew how to respond when asked, “Why did you choose this work?” I sometimes answered out of guilt, sometimes out of ego. Sometimes I would say that my grandparents were Holocaust survivors and it was my duty, or that my sister worked for UNHCR so she inspired me. But, my answer never felt authentic or honest. To be frank, Idon’t think that I really knew the reason myself.

Over time, I started to be more inquisitive about my motivation and my intentions. This led me into years of self-exploration and growth. I learned about myself during this time in two very different ways.

One avenue was studying myself and finding answers through painful and challenging relationships. In my most difficult interactions with co-workers, friends, and family, I saw where I was wounded and needed to focus my attention. In conflict with those that were closest to me, I was triggered in the deepest of ways and awakened to my biggest flaws. In those moments, I realized that my tormentors were only a shadow of myself, showing me what I was unwilling to previously acknowledge. They presented to me, in the most direct way, my deepest trauma and hurt. They pushed me to understand myself and heal my wounds in order to survive.

The other path showed me answers through sweet connection and companionship. I asked those that I trusted and women in the same situation about where they were struggling and hurting inside. In these partnerships, I was given clarity by hearing their stories and recognizing my pain in their words. In those moments, my sisters were my allies offering me insight into my life that I had not yet understood. They invited me to nurture my truest self and love my imperfections. They became co-travelers alongside me where each of us supported the other to walk up steep hills, push our comfort zones, and do that over and over again.

Both paths have taught me a lot about why I went into humanitarian work, what it is that drives me to continue serving and coming back for more, where my passion originates, and how this work is intertwined with my values and my life’s purpose. And, in coaching and interviewing women over the last couple of years, I have learned even more about a unique species of women (of which I am a part) in the humanitarian field. I have learned about the collective pain that we hold and the similar wounds we bear, which we hope to address through our work and adventures.

Specifically, this is what I have learned:

We don’t believe that we are already enough exactly how we are- A deep longing to be loved drives us to do and achieve more. Feelings of not mattering, not being worthy, and not being important inform how we show up in the world.

We don’t believe that people see us or our significance- We don’t take care of ourselves because we don’t truly love ourselves. We don’t speak our needs and desires because we don’t see them as important. Everything else comes first.

We don’t want to let people down or disappoint them- This is why we become the masters of people-pleasing. We are women who want to serve in the world. This leaves us always saying “yes” even when we want to say a big fat “no”.

We don’t trust ourselves, others, or the world- We want to be independent so we do everything ourselves. And then, one day we wake up and realize that we can’t release or let go. We have a difficult time allowing others to nurture and support us.

We have trouble prioritizing ourselves and our pleasure- So many people are dying and struggling in the world, which is why we keep ourselves from abundance. We have a belief deep down that there is not enough for everyone. We stay small and sacrifice for others.

We are used to giving our power away – It’s a habit that never serves us and we know how bad it is, yet we keep on doing it. From a place of disconnection, we make decisions that throw us even more and more off balance.

We overthink and make our own heads spin- The thoughts in our head are so strong and dominant that they make us feel overwhelmed and tired. We have a constant need for rest because our heads are consistently working overtime.

We feel alone and inadequate at work- We know we are good at our jobs, yet we regularly question ourselves and our abilities. We constantly strive for perfection until we are overextended and unable to make requests for support.

I thank these women for sharing with me their pain and their journeys. In the process, I have learned about myself and where my own healing is still required. They have helped me to put words to abstract thoughts and concepts, and to understand my deepest yearning and struggle. They have helped me to pinpoint WHY I have gone into “humanitarian” work, what I am trying to achieve, and why it is so critical to my soul. They have helped me to understand what it feels like to serve from a place of love and openness. I hope that writing and sharing this post will help other women to find their healing path. I hope it will bind us and connect us in deeper ways. I hope it will allow us to see the beauty of our fight and our internal complexity.

Does it resonate? Does it ring true? Does it offer hope for a new future?

If so, contact me and let me know. If not, contact me and let me know. And, if you are a “helper” that is ready to step out of feeling exhausted and overcommitted, I invite you to learn how to re-energize yourself through an exciting new program called Self-Connection for Survival. It is possible to give to others while also feeling good in your mind and body. This program balances personal coaching with peer support, through an approach that emphasizes self-care—in recognition that we are better caretakers, activists, and change makers when we are good to ourselves and our bodies.

I have seen so many women change their reality, step out of old patterns, and live an even bigger life. If that’s you, we celebrate you as a role model for women and girls everywhere. If that is not you, welcome to our tribe of women trying to become whole again and doing it in the most daring and courageous ways possible. Learn more about me and my new program at Healing in Service or


Healing in Service was created by Leora Ward (pictured) and is driven by women who have a unique understanding of the humanitarian and social justice fields.

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