Why Self Soothing Helps

August 21st, 2011

The first time I learned of the idea of self soothing, I was reading a parenting book and trying to let my first child settle herself to sleep. I was more upset than she was that evening, gripping the door knob, willing myself to not open it and go in to soothe her. Awash in my own inability to self soothe,  I cried as she whimpered herself to sleep. That night provided only a glimmer of the power that comes from being able to hold onto and soothe yourself in your own pain and suffering.

In the years and babies that followed, it got easier to let my children discover and nurture their ability to self soothe, but I hadn’t really grasped how deeply those early baby skills evolve into the essential capacity of cultivating self love in challenging situations. I have vivid memories of the combined panic and urgency that I used to feel when my relationships with friends or family were in conflict.  My capacity for discomfort in my marriage was equally brief. I had no skill in hanging onto myself when the floor came out from under me and it often turned even small incidents to full-blown emotional trauma for the intensity and reactivity for which I had little control.

As I have learned to listen inside of me and have had the courage to cultivate a friendship with myself first, I have watched my ability to self soothe expand. It comes out looking like more time between the triggering moment and the response.  I can find some time in myself to reflect and ponder and realize that usually the thing that upset me is not personal. Other people are not intentionally triggering the emotional hotspots that I still carry around from unexplored injury years before.

Surprisingly these places are easily soothed. Usually it just takes paying attention to them.  Recognition, the power of calling something by its right name is self soothing  in the same way as learning to fall asleep by yourself when you are a baby. Adding a few kind words and looking on one’s self and the world we live in with gentle tenderness is also soothing.

Learning to talk to ourselves  kindly and thinking of our daily experience with compassion makes us soothing to the world. Self kindness and compassion ripples out in the world, making acts of self soothing one of the most important practices we can cultivate for ourselves and everyone we love.

2 Responses to “Why Self Soothing Helps”

  1. Fatima Dennard Says:

    Hello! I’ve been reading your web web site for a whilst now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Kingwood Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the excellent work!

  2. Lucy Says:

    Infancy is not the time for a person to learn self soothing. A baby is completely dependent and, if crying, needs to feel soothed by its caregiver whom should be present rather than listening from the next room. Without the caregiver present, the infant does not feel safe and the repercussions go into adulthood with some of the issues being around abandonment and a lack of ability to self soothe. When such an infant grows up and feels upset, then s/he will react with anxiety and will lack a sense of safety. It is the parents’ job to soothe the baby, not the baby’s. By treating your infant, in such a manner, you are raising your child to have the same emotional difficulties as you.

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