Self Soothing: Step by Step Directions to Get Grounded and Calm

Nov 01, 2019

What is Soothing?

Imagine a 7 foot tall, cuddly, furry creature. It can be any color you want, but it would probably be a bright candy color. The type who would be your special friend if you were a kid in a Pixar or Disney movie. This creature is gentle and protective, the type who would wrap you up in a comforting hug when the day has been too much and take care of you while you nodded off to sleep. This creature would say nice things to you when you felt dejected, help you rekindle your hope and get back to your feet. They would help you be your best self. 

How awesome would that be?

I teach my clients to imagine this creature on the days they really feel like they need some comfort. And imagining this big, kind, gentle giant speaking to them. What would it say?

First, it would listen to you and be keenly interested in how you felt. It would show concern at your distress, wrinkling its fuzzy brow. It would treat you and your feelings as obviously important. 

It would notice and point out what you had tried hard at and what you did well, even if the end result was disappointing. It would see the good in you. 

It would help you reframe the upsetting day.  Your fuzzy, lovable giant-pal would remind you that things change, and what happened today is trying but won't end the world. He or she might help you see how conditions could improve by tomorrow, and that in the big picture maybe there is a positive potential outcome.

Your special friend would gently encourage you to keep trying, to care for yourself, get some good sleep, nourish yourself, and do something small to feel better. Maybe you'd feel better after a shower? Maybe you want to nap for a bit, and then start game planning for tomorrow? They would encourage you to take action, in a doable, gentle step. 

This furry, lovable, giant creature and his soothing dialog is typically a major upgrade from the nasty, critical judge occupying the DJ booth in your mind. The one that says your feelings don’t matter. That voice that thinks you’re weak and silly for being tired; after all, you don’t have it so hard! That voice that says you might as well quit, because you are a loser and always will be

Self-soothing from within is the more powerful force to have within you - and the cuddly giant creature is the self-soothing role model who will teach you how to rescript your inner dialog. With the ability to make yourself feel better, anytime, anyplace, you’ll always have comfort available. You'll be more persistent in pursuing goals (and as you'd expect, achieve them more of the time), and you'll bounce back faster after setbacks. You'll also spend less time being anxious, depressed, or desperate to find someone or something outside yourself to help you feel better. You won't need to turn to food, drugs, or distraction. You will be your own rock of support.

Except unlike a hard, cold rock, your self soothing skills will create a cozy, comfortable place within you. So maybe it's most apt to say you'll be your own pillow of support.

How to Self-Soothe

Here are the 4 ingredients to a loving, soothing self-dialog, as exemplified by our protective creature. We’re going to take his or her soothing and compassionate, comfort, and wrap it around ourselves like a blanket by using the right language.

Ingredient 1: Legitimizing your own feelings. What do you feel? Be moved by your own suffering. You’ve been through something or are going through something. Let yourself notice your emotions and treat them like they matter. 

Ingredient 2: Giving yourself credit. What did you do well or put in an honest effort at? Sometimes we only remember the mistakes we made, or we dismiss our efforts because the outcome wasn’t what we had wanted. But we can’t control how things end up, and if we did our best, that’s worth recognizing and praise, because it is what we want to do in the future. 

Ingredient 3: Reappraising your situation. Reassure yourself. Maybe things aren’t so terrible, will improve with time, or have a hidden positive aspect? Even pain and suffering can have positive outcomes on our mental skills, relationships, and life course. 

Ingredient 4: Gently encouraging. Once you have listened and legitimized your feelings, given yourself some credit, and done your best to see the situation in a less-upsetting light, the final step is gently encouraging yourself. You don’t want to quit. You might need a rest, but you don’t want to stay on the couch forever. You might need encouragement to try again tomorrow, or to ask for help from an expert, or try a new approach to a stubborn problem. If you made a mistake, you can gently encourage yourself to learn from it, forgive, and keep moving forward.

What self soothing is, and is not

Self-soothing is helping yourself feel better, de-escalating painful feelings and improving your mood when it's in a negative state. It's 100% good for you. It feels good and has positive outcomes. 

Self-soothing is NOT shedding all responsibility, coddling ourselves into inaction, or navel-gazing and wallowing in self-pity. None of those would help you become your best self. The nasty judge in your mind might not want to be replaced, so he might say that this self-soothing technique is a terrible idea. That it will make you lazy and soft and weak and you'll never reach your goals unless you stay mean to yourself and suffer immense pain. That's how you learn, the mean critic will say. Being unhappy and in pain is what will motivate you. 

He's lying. No one flourishes from criticism.

If self-criticism hasn't led you to achieving your goals, I'd highly recommend taking the self-soothing dialog for test drive. If you don't like it, you can always go back. My clients use this formula out loud, in their minds, and they use the four points as a starting place for journal entries. If you have ever thought "I should journal right now, but I don't know what to write..." Jot these 4 prompts in your notebook: 

1. What do you feel? What have you been through today?

2. Despite what may have gone wrong, what did you do well? Did you put forth some effort that you can feel proud of? 

3. How might the upsetting events from today have even a small positive outcome or result? Might things improve in the coming days or weeks? 

4. What small action might feel good to take, and when? 


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