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 Fuck, by 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 her 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.
Imagine 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
Dr. 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?