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Self-Soothing and Not Giving a F*ck : Managing Your Own Anxiety Within a Relationship

calm woman

I had an epiphany the other day. If I don’t need the kids or my partner to validate me or help with my worries, then we can all relax. If I can manage my own emotions and self-soothe, then we are all free. If I can stabilize myself, center myself, then it won’t bother me if others don’t agree with me or even if they criticize me. If I know my values and what I find important then I won’t lose myself in someone else’s feelings, opinions or reflection of me.

My teenage son has been trying to teach me this in his critical, unseasoned, uncomfortable way, for a long time. He cannot stand it if I get upset and it’s not because he empathizes with me or wants me to be happy. It’s because he wants me to stop showing emotions. Stop making him uneasy. Stop needing him to validate, save and understand me, because he does not know how and it’s too much to ask. In fact, his unease with my unease usually manifests as him hurting my feelings and me getting angry with him.

As a sensitive introvert, feelings, emotions and a desire for harmony are a huge part of who I am.

I don’t want you to get the impression that I walk around all day bawling or falling apart. I don’t. But there have been days when the responsibilities and disharmony in this house were overwhelming. Days when I desperately needed my nature validated but instead got more energy depleting conflict and work. On such days, my emotions seeped out and I wanted comforting but my children were not equipped to handle that and they shouldn’t have to. I know that, but at the time I was not ready to manage those worries  myself.

How to self-soothe?

Learning how to calm yourself is not something that can be taught. It is something you learn as you do it, which means you usually have to go through some hairy situations and survive in order to develop the self-soothing skill.

Self-soothing involves meeting two core challenges of selfhood: (a) not losing yourself to the pressures and demands of others, and (b) developing your capacity for self-centering (stabilizing your own emotions and fears). — Dr. David Schnarch, Passionate Marriage

Everyone says, You need to establish boundaries but for a long time I did not know what I wanted to protect. I did not know what my deepest most cherished values were. I did not know who I was out of context of a relationship. I did not know that I could be OK on my own. I am still figuring out how to bring myself back to equilibrium.

Even as an introvert and lover of independence and solitude, I still slip into default mode where I depend on relationship partners to value me and reflect my worth. I expect them to try to arrive at the same answers and feelings I do — be one with me.

Not giving a fuck

I ran across an article the other day that truly spoke to me, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuckby Mark Manson. One of my favorite points in the post was that ‘not giving a fuck’ does not mean you are indifferent. It means you are comfortable with being different. You know yourself and are able to handle going against the grain. Other people’s expectations do not drive you. You are internally driven. You get to this point of self-direction by carefully determining where you want to ‘give your fucks’ or place your energy. We realize not everything is worth our time. Most superficial details do not have a long-term impact on us so we should place our energy on the values and people we cherish most. This is personal development, evolution if you will. We can love what and who we love and not give a fuck what anyone else thinks.

My friend and fitness instructor, Connie, openly declared her appreciation of Taylor Swift the other day. It was halfway through haters gonna hateher class and a Taylor song came on. Connie said, I know there are a lot of Taylor Swift haters out there but I like her and I think she gets more beautiful every day. I know it’s cool to bash Taylor Swift (and Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber…), my sons do it all the time. I admired Connie’s forthright, unwavering, declaration of her appreciation for Swifty. Connie doesn’t give a fuck.;)

Owning your values and beliefs makes it easier to maintain your integrity when others contradict you.

Separate together

couple in separate beach chairsImagine holding someone without physically supporting them or holding them up. Within any relationship it is possible to maintain your identity while loving someone else. Many people fear appearing self-centered if they choose to not go along with their partner’s ideas/feelings/decisions/activity. The truth is you are self-centering not self-centered. The trick is to check in with yourself before you react to your partner. Are you reacting from a place of stability or a place of insecurity? Do you need them to like you? Are you dependent on their need of you? I talked about differentiated people in my post, How to Handle the Fluctuations in Emotional Security and Closeness Within a Relationship. Differentiated people choose how to react. They are emotionally immune to their partner’s anxiety and make choices based on how they feel on the inside, not how they need to appear on the outside. They still may be loving and deferential but the difference is it is a conscious choice. Interdependence vs. dependence.

Keep calm and everyone else will too

PassionateMarriage_LRDr. Schnarch, author of Passionate Marriage, gives the example of picking up a crying baby when you are calm and content. The baby most likely quiets down in your arms. Now imagine picking up the same baby when your hyper-critical parent is in the room observing your tactics. Your elevated anxiety due to your parent’s edgy presence will undoubtedly transfer to the baby and she will have a harder time calming down.

Anxiety is contagious. Someone who knows how to self-soothe is more immune to other’s anxiety. They don’t get ruffled as easily and if they do, they figure out how to return to a calm state. Perhaps they talk to themselves as a friend would. Perhaps they step outside the conflict and observe the situation from a distance. The method is fairly irrelevant but is found through self-awareness. The ability is achieved by going through some shit.

Figuring it out

As I get older, I get better at handling my emotions. I am still far from perfect and continue to learn every day.

I personally use gratitude, humor and a new understanding that most people are coming from their own anxieties, to aid in my return to zen mode. I’ve also been through some strife, giving me perspective and strategies for maintaining my sanity. For example, I’ve spent four years writing for space2live and figured out what is important to me regarding my work — content, not mass marketing. I am willing to give up social media presence for laser focus on content and selective collaborations. I have also learned through ups and downs in my romantic life how to be honest up front with a partner about my nature and values — I need solitude, sleep, a relaxed pace and a deep appreciation of my relationship with my children.

The loveliest gift of being able to self-soothe is that my relaxed demeanor flows through my household. I unburden anyone else from the notion that they have to resolve my anxiety. If I relax, my children and partner are more likely to relax as well.

Do you know how to self-soothe? If so, how do you do it? Do you depend on your relationships to give you value and support you? 

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  1. […] supportive and admiring of my forthrightness. They would have seen a woman who knows herself and doesn’t give a fuck, but when my battery is low, my defenses are down and my emotions are high. The trick is to […]

  2. […] always need taken care of and whose emotions bleed all over the place. I can take care of myself, self-soothe, and handle […]

  3. lilly March 17, 2015 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    thank you for this article, I am somewhat of an introvert with strong extrovert traits as well as being an “empathy”! Practicing yoga and meditation and mindfulness helped but I also learned that negative people often take advantage of my empathetic and positive personality and now I know how to shut down these negative nellies and to not give a “you know what”! Thanks for your website!

    • Brenda Knowles March 20, 2015 at 10:30 am - Reply

      Negative people and negativity in general can be a real energy drain. Good for you for recognizing the pull others have on you. Keep on with your mindfulness and cherish your empathic traits. They are what makes you unique and valuable. Knowing yourself makes it easier to decide what or who is important to have in your life. Thanks for your comment.:)

  4. Nora March 16, 2015 at 4:19 pm - Reply

    Hi Brenda, thank you for this article. I can add another book recommendation your words reminded me of: “F**k it” by John C. Parkin. He goes into the same direction and is very encouraging to follow it. Keep on going!

  5. amydresser March 15, 2015 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time. This is something I certainly struggle with when feeling anxiety, but I like how you pointed out that having that center and awareness makes you more strong and comfortable in your opinions and values. I find myself getting better at such things but then other’s opinions sway me far too easily to the wayside. Thanks !!

    • Brenda Knowles March 17, 2015 at 8:25 am - Reply

      The better you know your values the easier it is to set other’s opinions aside. Know what you give a fuck about.;) It is OK to struggle sometimes, just allow yourself to step back from it and get perspective. Re-center. I’m happy this post was helpful to you.:) Thanks for commenting.

  6. Hyrum Feriante March 14, 2015 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    I found my meditation practice helps me self-center while I am doing it and also gives me a felt sense of when I have drifted out of equilibrium, as well as a how to come back to it. Its like an internal ritual I do anytime I realize I have become to emotionally activated, find/feel my feet and head (up/down), left side/right side, front/back sides, inside/outside; or, in short, I sink into the sensations of my body and listen to what it has to say (never doing anything) until it feels heard and it stops blaring the emotional alarms and replaces them with a warm fuzzy sensation. More on this can be found in books on Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, Polarity Therapy, or Focusing, (Sills, Chitty, Milne, Gendlin) as practitioner skills, but you don’t need to practice on others to benefit.

    • Brenda Knowles March 15, 2015 at 12:59 pm - Reply

      Thank you for the book recommendations!! I will check them out. I have an on/off relationship with meditation. I started this year meditating every morning for a few minutes but then travel and abnormal schedules put me out of the habit again. I need to return. I love the centering I feel when I settle into meditation. Thank you for the reminder to listen to my body. It’s a great way to return to myself.

  7. J. Brett de Villiers March 14, 2015 at 11:55 am - Reply

    I go in circles on this one.

    It’s hard to remember that there’s always harmony somewhere within myself, when I so deeply value (and strive for) harmony in my outside world -especially when I’m not experiencing any.

    I need to just not give a fuck.

    Kudos to you. I picture you with your eyes closed in the face of the naysayers’ storms, listening to the rhythms of your own soul, and “moonwalking” across the finish line in your own self-actualized way right into the “Zen Zone,” and then doing some sort of happy dance, or something.

    • Brenda Knowles March 15, 2015 at 12:52 pm - Reply

      Wow, you make it seem like I have it all figured out.;) I work on my self-soothing every day. It’s a practice like yoga or meditation (which I haven’t mastered either). I am more aware of my nature and my values which helps me sort out what to give a fuck about.;) I think Idealist NFs wear emotions and dreams on the surface of our beings. If we can learn how to channel them for positive use, we are golden. I keep practicing ‘owning’ my way of being. The more I do it and it ‘works’ the easier it is to stand on my own two feet. So it is doable. Just have to be a little brave and take a leap with your own ideas. You’ve got that in you I bet.:)

      • Brett de Villiers March 26, 2015 at 12:46 am - Reply

        I go through phases where I reel in all that “NF-ish-ness” and just spend it all on myself in meditation/solidtude, if that makes any sense. When I do that, I feel like I’m owning my values/traits, etc… And I feel stronger at those times, partly because I realize that my “backbone” is actually pretty friggin’ sturdy, after all.

        Thanks for your comment. You do have it all figured out, btw. I can see all that potential, you know.

  8. Catherine North March 14, 2015 at 5:46 am - Reply

    Thanks for this post, it’s interesting to hear how you’ve learned and continue to learn to manage your anxiety. It’s very generous of you to share your experiences and insight to help those of us going through similar struggles. And I loved the article on not giving a fuck! It made me laugh out loud and taught me something new as well.

    • Brenda Knowles March 14, 2015 at 8:29 am - Reply

      I’m still learning how to manage the anxiety but I’ll gladly share what gems I find along the way.:) Humor is one way to ease the worries. ‘Not Giving a Fuck’ provided that and insight. Perfect!

  9. Stephanie March 13, 2015 at 4:11 pm - Reply

    Thank you, I really enjoy your posts, they really resonate for me and I learn so much at just the right time. So appreciate the fact that you share them, and the timing is always spot on.

    • grammarpendant March 13, 2015 at 5:03 pm - Reply

      I completely agree. These posts always seem to come at the exact time that I need them.

      My introvert boyfriend and I (an ambivert with GAD) had an argument this evening. He’s really good at self-soothing and knows how to handle his emotions. Mine often seem to escalate and it just makes everything worse. If I take a bit of time out, think about what I’m asking of him (which in the moment seems like the most logical thing in the world), I I can calm down and see that maybe I am asking too much.

      It’s not fair that he has to be the one calming and nurturing me. He needs it as well, or even just the space to do it for himself.

      Thank you.

    • Brenda Knowles March 14, 2015 at 8:27 am - Reply

      We must be in sync. I write them as I learn myself.:)

  10. ilona fried March 13, 2015 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    Brava for such a brave post. Self-soothing is an art form, for sure. Thanks for explaining that “self-centering” is not self-centered. Good to have that in the lexicon!

    • Brenda Knowles March 14, 2015 at 8:25 am - Reply

      I’m still mastering this craft but I see it as a majorly important ingredient to a satisfying life.;)

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