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May 5, 2021

Self-Soothing: How to be there for Ourselves (Especially when we’re Hurting).

 

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“Stop trying to calm the storm. Calm yourself, the storm will pass.” ~ Anonymous

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Human beings are wired for connection.

We all are wired for connection.

We want to be heard, validated, understood, loved, and soothed.

When we find ourselves in the midst of an emotional storm, we naturally, instinctively want to run to someone who can hold us, protect us, calm us down, and make us feel safe.

We need to feel safe and secure no matter where we are.

But how we know we are safe?

We feel safe when someone hears us out or lends their silence to our distressed words.

We feel safe when someone puts their hand on ours, gives us that touch of comfort that says, “I understand.”

We feel secure when someone gives us a hug that says, “I’m here and I feel you.”

All relationships thrive on this nurturance, don’t they?

It all begins right from the time when we come into this world. When our cries are nursed and soothed by the ones who care for us. When they take us into their arms to make us feel secure in their embrace and allow us to go into our childhood slumber.

“The role of a parent is not to train the child to sleep. It is to provide the child with a feeling of safety so that sleep naturally ensues.” ~ Meghan Leahey

The sight of a mother or father putting their infant on their shoulder and patting him/her to calm him/her down has always fascinated me.

It’s such a relaxing, peaceful sight. The crying, bawling infant calms down and goes off into a slumber in some time. The mother or father knows when and how to calm their little one down, and it works wonders.

And isn’t that what we all learn to do as we grow up?

We run to our parents and our loved ones whenever we find ourselves troubled, distressed, lost, or confused. It feels like their hug or that gentle pat on the head or the back will make all our troubles go away. We find ourselves calming down when someone does these things. That’s the power of a warm emotional hug or touch.

We continue to lead our lives expecting all our relationships to fulfill this need or desire to soothe us.

Many times, we find ourselves running toward our loved ones or searching for people who can have this soothing, calming effect on us even if we don’t really want a solution to our issues.

Just a simple act of hugging someone, sitting close to them, holding their hand, hearing their voice is good enough for us.

And all this is great till the time we don’t find ourselves desperate for this kind of love, attention, or soothing.

While the desire to be in fulfilling relationships is great, and it’s even better to be in such associations, the problem arises when we think that the only thing a relationship needs to do is to calm us down, manage us, satisfy every need.

When we start holding the people close to us accountable for our own dysfunctions and dysregulations—it’s a problem.

Healthy relationships require two or more mentally and emotionally healthy individuals who come together in a symbiotic manner, who understand their own and the other person’s boundaries.

We are born with a mind and a body and how we nurture it is up to us.

Therefore, we are all responsible for how we think, feel, or act in a situation.

The fundamental fact is that in all our relationships, we have two or more people standing on two different corners of the earth and looking at it from their own perspective.

What if the perspective doesn’t match?

What if, in that moment of distress, the one we need isn’t around or is unable to understand what we need?

What if our cry for attention, nurturance, love, and compassion comes across to the other person as blaming, accusing, or fighting?

Yes, it’s true they can’t understand.

But, what is also true is that we also need to learn to be there for ourselves because no one is a superhuman. With all of us being in different spaces, it’s okay if someone is unable to give us what we want in that moment.

They are human too.

However, a lot of us struggle to do this because it triggers fears of abandonment or of not being good enough.

Our loved ones, misunderstanding our cries for help, can make our inner demons come alive and hound us and, in those moments, we too end up abandoning ourselves.

Perhaps, what we need to understand is that these demons too need our attention.

They, too, need…

To be seen.

Heard.

Acknowledged.

Understood.

Validated.

And released.

Sometimes, we are the only ones who can truly soothe our own hurt and pain.

The ones that come from the burdens of our own fears and insecurities.

Sometimes, we only need ourselves…irrespective of whether someone is there for us or not.

But how do we do that?

By turning inward.

By tuning into our own muffled cries and the scared voices that constantly call out to us.

By looking at our wounds, feeling the pain, and being there for ourselves in the same way that we would want someone else to be there for us.

By really looking at our wounds tenderly and not looking away.

Our looking away won’t make the pain go away—will it?

It would only make it stronger. The cries will only become louder.

All we need to do is begin. Begin to be there for ourselves—to listen, understand, accept, and soothe ourselves.

Tend to our own hurts, our own pain.

“It is said that we can’t attain enlightenment, let alone feel contentment and joy, without seeing who we are and what we do, without seeing our patterns and our habits. This is called maitri—developing loving-kindness and an unconditional friendship with ourselves.” ~ Pema Chödrön

We can begin by taking some steps—that are only for us. Some ways in which we emotionally hug ourselves and say, “I know I’m hurting but I am here for myself and will always be.”

Here are some things that we can begin doing for ourselves:

1. Self-reflection. We can write a diary, make notes on our phone, meditate, go for a walk, spend 15 minutes with ourselves daily to understand how we think, feel, and react to our environment. If we find ourselves, reacting in the same manner more than thrice to the same or similar situation and it’s not been working well for us, then it may be time for a change.

2. Engage our senses. We could write, listen to music, cook, exercise, take a nap, pray, and so on. Sometimes, we just need to gently remind ourselves that we are here, now, safe and tending to our hurt.

“There is never anything but the present and if one cannot live there, one cannot live anywhere.” ~ Alan Watts

3. Reach out in distress. Reaching out is good. But what if our partner, friend, or family member is unable to support us at that time for some reason? Well, then maybe we need to shift the focus from them to us. Allow ourselves to be there for our “self.”

4. Use positive reinforcement. When we find ourselves in difficult situations, we automatically become self-critical. Statements like, “I can’t do this,” “I can’t handle it,” and “I’m good for nothing” have never helped anyone to cope or handle a situation.

Having some coping statements like “I can handle this,” “I’ll give it my best,” “Let me see what’s the best I can do,” and “I know it’s difficult, but I’ll find a way,” and using them regularly, will gradually increase the mind’s ability to regulate itself during stressful times. After all, we would never want to hear critical statements from the ones we love—why say it to ourselves?

5. Take time out. When in the middle of a heated situation, sometimes buying time helps. Sometimes, all we can do for ourselves is to do nothing. Just give our thoughts and emotions space to breathe and flow.

“You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.” ~ Steve Maraboli

6. Show up for ourselves consistently. When an infant cries, all adults know how to soothe the child and calm them down. Pick him/her up, put him/her over our shoulder, pat, hum a tune, and wait for the child to calm down. Over time, the time that the child takes to calm down continues to decrease. It’s not a one-time affair. Gradually, parents also begin to leave the child on his/her own so that the child can learn to soothe himself/herself. After a few minutes or half an hour, the child moves on to something else.

Similarly, we need to identify what works for us on a regular basis, so that we can get our minds to calm down and relax faster. Once we are calm and stable, we can begin to solve our problems or think differently. We need to show up for ourselves every day. Not just once. Not just when something happens or when we are triggered. What we do in a situation or just once is symptomatic treatment. What we engage in on a regular basis leads to overall mental and emotional health.

“On tough days, it seems easier to give up on the practices that keep me feeling vibrant; but it’s on these days, I know that I need them the most.” ~ Unknown

Some wounds don’t get better “on their own” by simply being “left open.”

Some hurt more than the others.

Some wounds need only us.

Sometimes, it’s only us who can soothe ourselves.

And that’s how we evolve.

“The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” ~ Pema Chodron

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