self-soothing

soothe

If you have an iPad, then I have to highly recommend the app Unstuck. If you don’t have an iPad, you can still sign up for their weekly newsletter. It is suited for those interested in self-improvement and achieving their goals. If that isn’t you, then don’t bother.

A couple days ago, I received this gem in my email.

#2 really stood out to me personally and got me thinking about where I’ve been and where I’ve gone in the last few months.

#2 DON’T just rely on others to boost you up
It’s natural for friends and parents to remind us how smart or attractive we are when we get a blow to our confidence. But if we only rely on others to get us through the day, then, says Dr. Jay, we’re borrowing someone else’s ego rather than strengthening our own. “We let someone else’s frontal lobe do the work so we don’t learn how to handle it ourselves,” she says. “We don’t learn how to calm ourselves down, and this in and of itself undermines confidence.”
DO count on yourself
This is a time to get resourceful. How will I get through today? Can I distract myself with a project until this feeling passes? Can I do something, like go to yoga or to a dinner with friends, so I can stop ruminating on this bad thing that happened? Can I remind myself of what went well today? You may feel like you’re faking it, even with yourself, but you’re really exercising coping skills. Because not all bad days can be fixed, and some just have to be tolerated or coped with, you may want to learn more about mindfulness. Dr. Jay recommends the book, Full Catastrophe Living (Bantam, 2013) by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

I cannot count how many times I have selfishly lashed out at friends and lovers over the years, passively demanding expecting them to fix my problems for me while mercilessly shooting down every possible solution they could offer.

It is attention-seeking behavior and supremely destructive.

I feel it stems from an inability to self-soothe, a skill perhaps we didn’t learn adequately as very small children and further impeded by our culture’s failure to put emphasis on the importance of communication (as opposed to simply language, a subject for which we have endless scorecards and standardized testing for our youths). As a child I was sensitive, intuitive, artistic, and very emotional. My parents dealt with my fits by telling me to grow up, get over myself, refusing to talk to me until I “calmed down”, or–and this is my favorite–place huge amounts of guilt on me by comparing my proverbial spilled milk to one of the drowning victims they had to treat at the local children’s hospital, because how dare I have feelings of frustration or anger towards anything when other children are suffering, even dying every day.

As I grew into adulthood, an increasing number of people told me what to do, or at least, that I should know to do things differently. Yet no one told me why it was wrong or–more importantly–how to better express myself or communicate my feelings. I should just know these things as apparently they just knew these things. Instead of lashing out, I shut down, bottled it up, and put on a big smile as often as I could hold it. Then, as all things under pressure do, I would pop. The aftermath was never pretty.

How does my lifelong emotional dysfunction relate at all to this article? I was dependent on others to raise me up, to bolster my ego. However, it had the opposite effect. My depression deepened, my sense of self-worth was non-existent, and I questioned every decision I ever made to the point of stagnation.

My life is a severe example of just how damaging dependence on others for self-soothing can be. I was in my late 20s before I really started getting honest about my needs and wants, but I went about it in such a clumsy and (again) destructive way that I burned a lot of bridges. I probably could have been more tactful, but I was afraid watering down my “truth” would give me enough pause to turn away from the cliff. I hate that I hurt those people, but looking back it seems like we all maybe needed a push into different directions. Thank the gods I’m on speaking terms with those same people nowadays!

I remember the moment when I decided change. It was maybe six months ago, I was recovering from major surgery. It was the December holiday season and I had been spending the majority of my time alone in front of the television, too doped up on pain medication to check Facebook much less have passive contact with my friends. When I reflected on this, my first thought was that my friends were angry at me, they didn’t want to talk to me or come over and visit their infirm friend. For hours I felt sorry for myself, my heart aching and eyes welling up on and off throughout the day.

And then I was done. I didn’t want to feel that way anymore. I phoned a friend to see how he was doing. A five minute check-up call turned into almost two and a half hours. I texted a couple girlfriends to let them know I was thinking of them and we caught up virtually. One even came and had a pajama day with me.

I needed to be reassured, but how would they know if I remained suffering in silence? I needed my friends, so I called them, asked them about their lives, made plans when and where I could (I mean, it was the holidays, not a whole lot could be expected). I felt relieved. My fears were soothed and proven false. True, I didn’t express to them my doubts and dark, suspicious feelings, but it wasn’t necessary. Months later I recounted my process from depressive inaction to forward-moving action and we all had a triumphant laugh over it. They’ve had those days, too.

When I was (literally) getting back on my feet, I found new ways to preoccupy myself. I taught myself how to chop vegetables, started cooking as many meals per day as I could. I did 15 minutes of deep cleaning every day or tackled one small project a day (or setup attack plans if my energy waned). I gave myself permission to indulge in watching television shows repeatedly like a toddler if I wanted to. It was my time to heal, to relax, to take my time. I learned how to self-soothe independently during the day when most of my friends were busy with work or school.

This newfound skill has brought me a sense of overwhelming peace that I have never in my life experienced before. It’s a shame it took me 31 years to find it, but I have no regrets. I’m happy to be free and truly independent.

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One comment

  1. Love 🙂 And I’m loving the white instead of the black on your blog page now. It’s much lighter in being just like you seem to be these days!

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