A Self Soothing Exercise: Self-soothing is the ability to care for yourself emotionally in times of distress or discomfort. Self-soothing is the process of acknowledging how you’re feeling and dealing with it head on, and in a way that feels safe and productive. If you feel sadness arise, self-soothing skills allow you to comfort yourself and move through the sadness. Self-soothing is comforting yourself from the inside out, instead of reaching for comfort outside the self (drinking, drugs, endless internet scrolling, swiping, etc.). We self-abandon when we avoid pain and seek distractions for relief. A self-soothing exercise helps to prevent self-abandonment through teaching us how to deal with our emotions and comfort ourselves. Many of us aren’t sure how to handle, interpret or work with our emotional states.
How to Self-Soothe: A 6 Step Method One way to practice self-soothing as an adult is to take radical responsibility for your thoughts and feelings in the present moment. When we take responsibility for our inner-reality, we begin to cultivate curiosity and the desire to learn about our feelings and needs in each moment. The desire to learn is a radical act of self-care and begins to shift the focus from desiring external validation to internal validation and self-support. The act of turning towards your experience, instead of away from it is something meditators have been practicing for thousands of years. Radical responsibility is the start of “staying with yourself” and reducing self-abandonment. It’s the act of asking yourself “what’s going on with me?” and actually staying put to listen. This is how we begin to soothe ourselves and send ourselves the message that we can handle our inner-lives. This is how we give ourselves what we missed out on in childhood.
Steps to Radical Responsibility with Example Dialogue The next time you feel a strong emotion, grab a piece of paper and work through the steps below. You will find an example dialogue with reflection on how to interpret and analyze answers.
When you’re ready, answer the questions listed below with your own words. This process is yours. Write down as much as you can and be honest with yourself about what you’re thinking and feeling. Use the examples below to help guide you through processing your individual answers.
1.Acknowledge the feeling.
I see that _________ is present.
Example: “I see that fear is present.”
Therapist Reflections: Fear is being acknowledged as a feeling/experience in the present moment. The acknowledgment of the feeling is the first step here. Try to quiet judgments about the feeling and simply acknowledge what you’re experiencing.
2.Turn towards it with the intention to learn about it.
Although this feeling is painful, I want to learn more about it.
I will not push this feeling away, or try and escape it.
I am safe in my desire to learn
Example: “Although the fear is painful to feel, I want to learn more about it. I will not push away the fear, or try to escape it. The fear is not meant to harm me, it’s here for me to learn from. The fear will not last forever, I am safe”.
Therapist Reflections: Fear is being acknowledged as a difficult emotion, normalizing your difficult with this feeling is self-compassionate and will allow you to work with the emotion with less avoidance and resistance. Remind yourself that you can learn from the fear, and not stay stuck in it forever.
3.Examine the feeling:
I’m feeling ______ because of ______.
What does it feel like?
Where do I feel it in my body?
What is it trying to show me?
Example: “I’m feeling fear because of the fight I got into with my partner last night. I’m afraid that we will break-up if we keep fighting like this. The fear feels like pressure in my chest, it’s really hard to sit with. I think I need to be more self-compassionate, and talk to my partner about how we can improve communication.
Therapist Reflections: Fear is being acknowledged further and processed. Here, the person is beginning to understand that the fear is not here without reason, but as a reminder that work is needed on their relationship. They are acknowledging where fear is showing up in the body (pressure in the chest), and general unease and difficulty sitting with the fear. Feelings don’t last forever; turning towards the feeling can help speed up the relief process. Distractions drag the feelings out!
4.Take an inventory of the ways in which you try to escape
Did you get the desire to distract yourself from the feeling?
Is this desire for a distraction familiar?
How do I typically try and distract myself?
Be honest here, you can say, “I’d rather not feeling this feeling because it’s really hard!”
Example: “When I felt fear, I wanted to drink alcohol. I wanted to blow off some steam. This is how I usually deal with fear. I’d rather not feel fear or face the fighting in my partnership because it’s really hard.”
Therapist reflections: The desire to distract is being acknowledged. The client is being honest about preferring to drink over dealing with the uncertainty of the partnership. They are acknowledging the drinking is a go-to coping skill.
5. Call in self-compassion.
How could self-compassion help to soothe yourself?
Remind yourself that sitting with feelings is hard, but with practice it gets easier.
Acknowledge (in your own words) that this process is difficult, and you’re working through years of conditioning. Release self-judgment, which is another way you abandon yourself.
Example: “I can be compassionate towards myself because I know how hard it is to fight with my partner. I realize that I’ve been drinking to soothe myself for a long time, and the process of comforting myself isn’t yet second nature. I release judgment towards myself, I am doing the best I can to acknowledge my feelings and understand them. “
Therapist Reflection: It’s okay to be compassionate towards yourself and acknowledge long-held ways of distracting yourself. Acknowledging the urge to distract allows you to make a difference choice. Taking the time to sit with your feelings is hard. Release judgment towards yourself and allow for exploration.
6.Find the need that you can meet.
In this moment, what do you need?
What can you do to take care of yourself in this moment?
(it could be as simple as “I need to be kind to myself when I’m struggling”)
Example: “In this moment, I need to rest. Once I’m rested, I can talk to my partner about the argument and come up with a plan to reduce conflict together. I will write some things down to help guide me when talking to my partner. I need to be kind to myself in this moment. I don’t have to drink to feel better.”
Therapist reflection: There’s an acknowledgment of how to meet needs. If the person ended up reaching for the distraction (alcohol), they may not have figured out that rest/talking to their partner is needed. They might have consumed alcohol and came home angry, only to get into another fight, creating more negative emotion.
Don’t worry if you get stuck somewhere in this process. Play around with it and practice as often as you’re able to. The point here is to get you used to turning towards yourself and building the ability to self-soothe. The act of staying with difficult feelings is often enough to remind yourself that you’re in charge of your life, and you’re a viable caregiver to your inner self. The process of inquiry is often enough to feel better because it diverts the energy of avoidance towards the path of awareness and self-discovery.
Conclusion A self-soothing exercise helps to reduce the desire to escape ourselves when discomfort arises because instead of needing to outsource our soothing, we can develop the ability to relate to our thoughts, feelings and needs in a loving way and provide ourselves the relief that we’ve often looked elsewhere to obtain.