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.