Self-soothe: To comfort oneself when distressed.
The ability to self-soothe is a foundational skill for wellbeing.
We learn to self-soothe in childhood when our caregivers attend to our needs for soothing when we’re upset. However many of us didn’t learn how to self-soothe and do the simple things that bring calm and comfort.
If our caregivers were not emotionally available to model this behaviour with us while we were growing up, we are able-and it is our responsibility-to develop our self-soothing skills as adults.
Self-soothing is especially important for people who identify as emotionally sensitive or as empaths (that’s most of the wild souls I work with-including myself) because they have a highly responsive amygdala which is involved in memory, decision-making and emotional regulation.
This aspect of self-care is also vital for healing to those who have experienced trauma- whether that be in their early years or as adults.
While there are self-soothing techniques that incorporate the different senses, in this article I want focus on physical touch.
When you receive loving touch it triggers oxytocin to be released which facilitates a sense of security and calm, and lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
You can receive loving touch from others like your friends or loved ones, your massage therapist, or your beloved animal companion. But others are not always available or they may withhold comforting from you, so creating self-soothing experiences for yourself is an empowering life skill to develop.
Loving touch works well when the stress stimulus arouses feelings of hurt, sad, overwhelm, or insecurity .
Eating a bag of sweet biscuits, having an extra glass of wine, or scrolling Facebook for distraction or validation might temporarily change your state but they are not behaviours that genuinely soothe the core of your distress.
Self-soothing techniques are healthy behaviours and they add to your total wellbeing.
Instead of using a behaviour or response that harms or hinders you, try using a response that brings comfort or pleasure.
The Healing Messages of Loving Touch
I’m a highly tactile human so it was very natural for me to start training in body-focused healing and therapies when I was 17. My grandfather fostered my interest in the body as a powerful tool for growing awareness of our emotional and behavioural states and facilitating positive personal growth.
A few years ago when I was winding up my bodywork business I wanted to journal some of the non-verbal messages my hands, heart and deep listening had communicated during their years of service. I opened up my Evernote app and I wrote the following list of messages that loving touch can convey:
- I am here with you
- You are not alone
- You have a place in the world
- You have the right to exist
- You have the right to receive pleasure
- You exist
- You belong
- I am here
- You are loved
- It is safe to be here
- It is safe to relax
- I am with you
- I care for you
- I love you
- I have time for you
- I care about your experience in this world
- I support you
- I cherish you
- I adore you
- I am grateful for you
- You are important to me
- Being present to your experience of pain is important to me
- Being present to your experience of pleasure is important to me
- I want to know what you need
- I am present to understanding how I can support you
- You are worthy of my time
- You are worthy of your place here
- You belong
- You are welcome here
These are the messages that the most precious and vulnerable parts of our personality often need to hear during when distressed. This heart-felt dialogue is the nurturing inner-parenting that our inner-child thrives on and requires to heal emotional pain and re-wire dysfunctional patterns.
Self-soothing communication is curious, compassionate and nurturing in intention.
You can convey these messages to the part of you that is feeling vulnerable through loving touch, with or without any validating verbal inner dialogue.
Step One: Explore
Explore where on your body loving touch is most soothing for you.
Where are you most responsive?
What kind of touch feels healing and wholesome?
What do you notice when you gently stroke or hold:
- your cheeks
- your arms as you wrap them around you in a hug
- your neck
- your stomach
- your forehead and eyes
- massaging your heart and chest in a circular motion
- one hand on your heart and one hand on your stomach
For me, I find it very grounding and soothing to place one hand on my heart and the other on my womb and feel the connection between the two points. It helps me to come back to centre and tune into what feels powerful and true for me.
I also notice if I feel anxious and my chest has become tense and contracted resulting in shallow breathing, I feel particularly soothed by rubbing my chest with my hand in a circular fashion. This loving touch helps to melt away the physical and emotional tension I’m experiencing in the moment. It’s a nurturing gesture and physical cue that helps me to breathe more deeply.
Explore what works for you.
Step Two: Identify & Decide
Identify specifically what kind of soothing touch feels good for you and decide in advance to use it next time you are feeling distressed.
Step Three: Action
As with any healing or transformational technique, theory or just knowing how isn’t enough to achieve different results in life.
It takes consistent diligent action and IN-BODY-MENT to create a sustainable shift in how to turn up for yourself and who you ARE & who you are BECOMING in the world.
When you change how you relate with yourself, you change how your relate with others and how you relate with the world and its many opportunities.
What changes in how you relate with yourself do you decide to ACTION this week?
When something ‘comes up’ for you this week, I encourage you to experiment with this self-soothing technique and let me know what you notice in terms of your emotional resiliency and your ability to move through the stress.
May you value and remember to use, the power at your fingertips to calm your triggered amygdala and soothe the vulnerable child within.