Self-soothing is the single most important skill you can possibly learn. It’s the life-changing antidote to self-sabotage, despair, and a not-so-gradual descent into madness. In a word, it’s life changing to the point of life-saving.
When you learn to self-soothe, your life splits into two chapters: before, and after. Honestly, your life splits into two lives. It’s like being born again.
Without healthy self-soothing, how can anyone possibly cope with all that life contains? Or with even HALF the problems invented by intensely active, often peace-slaying imaginations?
Since like attracts like, we inevitably, INEVITABLY turn to either something positively outright DESTRUCTIVE, or we take a good thing to the worst form of its extreme.
When we are desperate and in pain, the animal brain in us lashes out reactively and grabs the first pleasure-inducer / pain-deflector available--even when we *know* that isn’t our best choice and won’t serve us well long-term.
Without self-soothing, even winning is hollow because we can’t internalize anything without filtering it through sh*t, which leads to desperate, exhausting behavior, which leads to crazy-making, life-ruining, ostracizing behavior far below you Inner Being’s eternal dignity.
Doctor Elinor Greenberg (and many others) suggest having a well-practiced “emotional toolbox” on hand. There are pretty much infinite variations on the tools to fill your box with (I literally mean infinite, from tarot card pulls to compression devices to pheromones to hanging from hooks in the skin of your back).
It's not like you don't already know the MOST BASIC ONES--so obvious that it's insulting--on every.damned.listicle, like these gems: "Listen to music you like! Take a bubble bath! Go out with friends!"
Yeah, what if you don't even have friends and that's part of the problem because your one friend (your ex-) abandoned you at the worst time ever? Feeling worse much?... And GEE, WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF MUSIC AND A BUBBLE BATH? OF COURSE! *facepalm* Yeah, that will just fix everything by getting to the heart of the matter... Oh wait, no... Especially when you never want to get out of bed or open the blinds ever again...).
So here are some beautiful (and effective!) self-soothing tools to start with that are universally beneficial and quite possibly indispensably fundamental*:
Imagery: Don’t underestimate the power of visualization and imagination. There is evidence that imagination can be substituted for actual experiences in therapy, among other uses.
Law of Attraction and manifesting energetically requires getting into the vibration / information / “feeling” of what is desired, and imagery is a facility that heightens that into something more real, more experiential, more sensual.
Make things you that wish you were seeing externally to be vivid in your mind--Why not? It feels good. Be your own tourism agency for your Future. It’s all for the pleasure of your Golden Path. As within, so without.
Nothing has ever soothed me quite like taking refuge in an imagination where I am all powerful, in control, and everything is as I want it to be. For as long as I can hold myself there, all is right with the world. And when I've been inconsolable and the world falling apart, that is exactly what I needed.
ASK-firmations: I’m not against affirmations, they can be just what we need to hear in the moment.
Alot of times however, they feel forced, fake, and like alot of effort. They can just spotlight the *lack*, more than persuade us that the opposite is true. Let’s be honest: when we feel our absolute worst and need affirmations the most, affirmations can be quite a downer (and feel so.ridiculous).
Doctor David Snyder explains how to use a variation on affirmations that’s about as different in powerful effectiveness as a crater is different from a shooting star:
“I talked about how the human nervous system is the world's most powerful question-answering mechanism on the planet. It must pathologically seek to answer any question that you put to it regardless of how bizarre the question is.
[Example: A fantastical question such as, 'Why is the moon green?' The brain's first impulse will be to immediately start to find some rationalizations...]
So when we give affirmations we usually deliver them in the form of statements, right?
We usually say: ‘Every day, in every way I'm getting better and better and better.’ It's a very classic affirmation, goes back hundreds of years: ‘Every day in every way I'm getting better and better and better.’
That's a statement. Maybe instead of making it a statement we’ll make it an exclamation:
‘Every day and every way I'm getting better and better and better!!!!’
Right but it's still a statement, it's a Yang energy. I'm imposing something rather than drawing something out.
So you remember the example I gave the other day when you have people who say, ‘Why is this always happening to me???!!!???!!!’ and this little voice down there goes, ‘Oh he wants a list!’, right?
Well what if we take that mechanism and we use it to build ourselves up instead of tearing ourselves down? Instead of coming up with reasons for why we're a failure or why we deserve how we have all the crappy sh*t in our life, what if we were to use that mechanism to come up with reasons why we deserve [good]? And so you flip the script and instead of making a statement you ask a good question.
The question might be as simple as ‘Why do I really deserve to be rich and happy?’
Ask yourself that question and notice what happens. ‘Why do I deserve to be rich and happy? Why do I deserve to have the ideal me? Why do I really deserve love?’
What happens to your brain when you ask those questions? One of two things is gonna happen:
A. It's gonna tell you actually why you deserve it, it's gonna give you a reason,
or it's gonna say you don't.
Either way you've got a direction. Because [if] something comes up that says you don't [deserve it], point to where you feel it and fix it.
Right? If it gives you a reason, build on it. Go back and do it again: ‘Why do I really deserve love?’ You may get a different answer. You may get the same answer. But in this case, by asking a properly formed question, we create a space for the unconscious mind to fill.
And this is one of the big, big pieces I want you to take away from understanding your mind and that is this:
What the unconscious mind generates the unconscious mind accepts.
You're asking your unconscious mind to give you the reasons it'll accept for getting what you want,
And so when you ask a question like, ‘Why do I really deserve to be wealthy?’ Unconscious Mind always answers first, it always answers honestly because your Unconscious Mind gave you the information.
The Unconscious Mind will work to make it true. If it gives you an answer that you don't deserve to be, well now you found you've uncovered yet another limiting belief that you can go and pack an attack. So it gives you power either way. And the more you ask yourself these questions. The more your brain will generate rationales for why you should get what you want. I call them ‘informations’ as opposed to affirmations because you're asking the question and letting that deeper part of you answer it, if that makes sense.
So here's what I'd like you to do right now, based on the things we talked about throughout the beginning class. The things you want to manifest in your life, write down three ‘informations’ that you can that you can use. Remember they're in the form of a question and your questions should presuppose the results you want.
And we're going to look at how we can use logical levels to mine for positive beliefs and negative beliefs at different levels.
Okay, so you're gonna write down three ‘informations’ based on the things you want to manifest. If it's love, write about love, if it's wealth or success, write about wealth or success. I don't care, they’re your topics but write them in the form of a question: ‘Why do I deserve X?’ When do you know? ‘Why do I really deserve to have X, Y, Z?’ ‘Where did I really get the skills to earn the money I want to earn?’ You know?
Again I'm just putting examples out there. You're gonna find though (and as I explore this process with myself I'm discovering) that a lot of these questions are ‘deservingness’ questions.
You may notice that. Right now...I see a lot of the things is really about deservingness.
I don't overthink it. If you ask the ‘information’ [I am calling it “ask-firmation”] and an answer comes up that is validating, regardless of whether you consciously agree with it or not, doesn't matter; your unconscious mind gave it to you. Work with it. It's true at some level.
No judgment. Because that's what's important. This is what I mean: You see what happens a lot of times we ask questions like this and we get that answer from the unconscious mind, and it clashes with what society says we should want, and that's the problem.
It’s okay to want things for superficial reasons.
Some people might here take note of this answer to say 'Oh you’re just ego-driven, you just want to feel good about yourself...' Who the f*ck cares? Not your life! Right, but society says that's a politically incorrect thought. ‘You should want to build a business so you can help people!’
Well if I’m helping people but I feel sh*tty about myself, what good is my life?!? That's most religions, by the way: ‘What you want doesn't matter, give to the poor! Be altruistic!’
Anyway...Here's where it gets really cool, notice the difference: Take your affirmations right now, notice the difference when you think it in your head versus when you speak it out loud. Take a moment and just speak it out loud and notice what happens. What you guys notice? More intense? Uh-huh.
What your neurology generates, your neurology accepts…
Remember sometimes the answers you get will surprise you.
Sometimes they'll disappoint you.
Either way. And sometimes they'll just light you up like a Christmas tree like, the vast majority of you are getting. And that's okay. Either way, it gives you something to do next:
You understand if what comes up isn't positive you know where to go, you know what to fix. Understand?
So if it's not immediately an amplifying process, it’s diagnostic. And you have tools now to go after it.”
Simple Successes: I know for me, there were times I felt so absolutely low, loserish, and bad-luck-ridden that it eclipsed and condemned everything else I had ever done, was currently flailing through, or ever hoped to do.
If you currently feel like a complete failure, it’s so easy to completely forget how it feels to do something fun and constructive, something absorbing that requires skill gained by riding the learning curve where YOU COME OUT ON TOP because the ride is FUN.
Austin Kleon’s solution is something that we have all experienced at some point but perhaps have forgotten in an ocean of pain and hopelessness. The way he words it is so simple and beautiful, and I’m not going to improve on perfection, so I’m going to directly quote him here:
“Years ago, we bought a big box of new doorknobs to replace the old doorknobs in the old house we were living in.
Once I had my technique down, I could replace a doorknob in a couple minutes, but every door was slightly different, warped with time, so there was enough thinking involved to keep each replacement interesting. I found the process enormously satisfying.
So satisfying, in fact, that I didn’t replace all the doorknobs at once. I saved a handful of doorknobs for times when I was feeling really stressed out.
When so many of life’s problems are unsolvable, solvable problems are a wonderful distraction. When so many things seem unfixable, fixing something feels amazing.
My son got a Rubik’s Cube for Christmas. Something compelled me this weekend to sit down and try to figure it out. I missed the whole craze in the '80s, so I was completely new to it. After watching an online tutorial, I discovered that there are step-by-step systems you can apply to solving it. You can actually attack it like a programmer with code: You basically look at the cube and run if/then statements in your head to find the right algorithm to apply. After the first dozen solves, I felt like I was replacing doorknobs again, except there were as many doorknobs as I wanted!
There’s something about keeping your hands busy when your brain feels broken. I have friends with depression who build elaborate LEGO sets. I’ve read about veterans with PTSD who put together gigantic jigsaw puzzles.
We’re wired to want to turn chaos into order. Randomness into meaning.”
Having a safe haven where you consistently feel like a winner, a momentum-building do-er, a satisfied student, part of something special and *bigger*...can make all the difference in the world.
At one point, for me, this was calling into a nationally syndicated radio program every single day to get better at confidently and concisely sharing my thoughts and ideas to an audience I couldn’t see, and connecting with the hosts (literally the only people who would non-judgmentally talk to me).
Move your hands, move your body, move your energy; your focus, mind, and emotional state will follow.
Whole-Object Relations: Whole object relations and object constancy are so fundamental to emotional and mental health. Without it, you will literally drive yourself crazy.
Whole-Object Relations is the psychological term for the mind’s capacity to really *understand* (not just intellectually "know") that things are rarely all-good / positive or all-bad / negative, but a mix of both.
Until you *understand* this, you’ll go through life almost indistinguishable from the narcissist Irena describes in her post on NatashaAdamo.com:
“Understand that to a narcissist, feelings are facts.
If a narcissist doesn’t feel good, YOU are not good.
This does not mean the narcissist feels an emotion that has some deeper meaning about you or the relationship. It can simply mean the narcissist is tired, hungry, hot, gassy, annoyed, stressed, impatient, sick, too drunk, not drunk enough, etc.
This is especially true in the case of boredom, which for narcissists, is pervasive.
If you are around, you will also be identified as “not good” by association.
Narcissists always fail the 'which of these things is not like the other' kindergarten test. When in a dark mood, all things get circled as the same, and all those things are all indiscriminately devalued.
This will make you feel confused and attacked. It will make you feel like it is your responsibility to turn this mood around. It is not. Know that this is just part of the system and emotionally extricate yourself from this moment, if you can.”
Object constancy (also called object permanence) is the ability to remember things exist even when outside of current perception. Object constancy is the atomic structure of stability. Without object constancy / permanence, nothing exists except the (very temporary, very volatile) experience / mood of the moment. There is no sense of proportion, no loyalty, no balance. Irena goes on to describe the experience of being on the receiving end of a interaction with someone who lacks object constancy (can’t be *objective*):
“Understand to a narcissist, amnesia is life.
Along the same lines, in the moment when you are devalued (which can be at any moment), you may feel like everything this person has ever known or loved about you is suddenly GONE. You are back to square one, and square one feels like HATE or DISGUST...
This can be very traumatizing. It will make you feel like you have to do a tap dance montage of everything you have ever done, felt, and contributed to the relationship on 3X speed. You will feel like every intention you have had has been misunderstood. Again, this is a function of the fact that to a narcissist, the only reality is how the narcissist feels NOW. Do not tap dance. You have nothing to prove. This moment will pass. Your feelings of hurt and betrayal will not pass.”
Don’t be like that Narcissist. Train yourself to *understand*, to internalize Whole-Object Relations and Object Constancy.
Protect, Don’t Project: For the past few days, I’ve been feeling awful, just vicious over anything and nothing; me at my very ugliest and worst. Not the best me. Not the Me I’ve worked so hard to be. I had to go off for a little while and realize what’s really bothering me is something coming up that was a very painful experience in the distant past, and that the circumstances surrounding this event *now* are totally different. Past Me was literally having a broad-spectrum auto-immune flare-up in response to past trauma possibly repeating itself in the future under similar-but-different circumstances.
You will never feel better for more than a split-second if you just react blindly and impulsively like a snapping animal in a trap. Tapping can help you talk through what is *actually* the root of what is bothering you (even if you feel like the answer is actually EVERYTHING right now).
Once you know what is REALLY triggering you, you can address those singular points and stop the cataclysmic cascade of emotional doom that makes you feel like an out-of-control regression-to-a-past-life.
Have A Sense Of Proportion: Ask “Is this response really reasonable? What if I saw two strangers doing / saying this? What would I think then? Is this truly a big deal? Is it worth conflict? Is it worth losing a friend over? Is it worth losing my mental health over? Is it worth my reputation? Is it truly memorable among all the things going on in someone’s life?”
Today is a great day to stop being harsher and more critical of yourself and your status than you would EVER be to anyone else.
Today is a great day to stop bullying and picking apart yourself. This only leads to sad places where you end up begging for someone else to tell you your worth (and then maddeningly still not believe them because you.just.don’t.believe.it). This is the road to Humiliationville. Ending your addiction to the opinions of the cruel, inadequacy-obsessed peanut gallery in your head is the greatest thing you could ever possibly do.
“Do not validate your own invalidation. Do not validate power plays. Stop over-valuing your abusers’ respect.”
And if you *are* constantly critical, judgemental, and petty towards other people (I’ve been there too) today is THE DAY to ask yourself why you’re wasting so much energy and momentum on nonsense that doesn’t even matter and only sabotages *you* in the long run, make peace with what’s being projected on to other people from within, and STOP.
Today is great day to have a great day. And to be a kind person. Especially to YOU.
Realize when you are emotionally exhausted and do what you need to to feel better.
Do something absorbing. Something pleasant that takes you to a happier place, provides some relief in the form of escapism, and continues to benefit you long after it is over. We all do this naturally, but it’s good to have a list ready to go for when you’re so distraught literally nothing sounds good. Have things you’ve been looking forward to, ready to go. It can be a package arriving in the mail; a stack of books or magazines or movies; it can be a hobby kit of some kind; it can be writing or an artform or solving a problem; it can be a place to go be physically active or meditative or enthralled; it can be entertainment; it can be a website full of interesting links; it can be communicating with others (human, animal, or plant) through words or music or dance or some other way. It can even be shopping and putting together the perfect outfit / decorations / ensemble / vacation / body modification / whatever (which is a definite skill...as long as you don’t go into the debt. Not much is worse than being in debt I mean really). It can be something that has always made you happy in the past, like blowing bubbles or metal detecting or soapmaking or butterfly raising.
Make a list, bookmark your links, ready your materials, collect your supplies. Have them on stand-by in an obvious, convenient, eye-catching, comfortable spot.
Bonus points if you stay consistent with it, cultivating some promise you regularly keep--to yourself.
Having something to look forward to is so elementary and essential. Otherwise, what is the point of anything indeed? I mean, really. Sometime you have to make your own, and it can feel HARD, but it’s going to be okay. Better than okay. You’ll see.
Cry it out. Sometimes it's the very thing to give you the release you need. What is it about salt water that somehow just makes things better? Tears, the ocean, and yes, even that Epsom salt bubble bath. Healing must-haves? Quite. And that's okay. Use the gifts Nature gave you.
All My Love (always!),
*I am not a license professional anything. Always consult your licensed medical and mental health and financial professionals before following any of this information offered for thought-provoking purposes only and not legal, medical, or financial advice, diagnosis, or treatment, which I am not legally certified to do.