What do Janis Joplin and myself have in common?
I’m a colossal crybaby. It’s true I don’t try to run from it anymore. I embrace it because crying and emotions arent going anywhere. As I’ve gotten older, I realized that I was so emotional because I never learned to self-soothe. Which in a nutshell is how to self-regulate your emotions. Learning how to self-soothe was a long and winding path. I’ve gotten a lot of really bad advice and tried the things I saw other people doing to unwind with very temporary results.
What is self-soothing?
If you look up self-soothing a bunch of mommy blogs pop up and they all describe a stage in infancy when a baby can fall asleep on their own without the mother. Growing up you may have heard relatives say “ Let them cry it out they’ll go to sleep”. But as we get older this idea is completely lost once you turn six or seven. Then the language transforms into “how to get rid of anxiety and depression in ( insert age group). ” After this of course the heavy stigma that follows words like depression and anxiety, delay people from getting the help they need. That results in exacerbating their own pain, and or causing them to ignorantly hurt others because they’re blind to their own pain.
Why can’t you self-soothe?
The simple answer is that you never learned to self-soothe because no one showed a safe and constructive outlet for your ugly emotions. But the more complicated truth is the ways you learned to soothe yourself were utterly shitty and flawed. These habits led you into maladaptive approaches to “getting rid of stress”. The three most common maladaptive approaches to self-soothing tend to skew towards three norms:
- You could be the kind of person who represses their emotions and appears to handle stressful events extremely well but that emotion will rear back at some point worse than how you met it.
- Maybe you found something that relieves you temporarily and you flood your senses with that stimulus over and over until before you know it you have an addiction.
- The last person is the angry one who never confronts the fear beneath all that rage. They lash out because they want people to feel what they feel which is afraid.
1. Remove these behaviors
Your emotions can be messy, unattractive, unethical, and not found in truth or reality at times. But, those facts do not diminish the value of said ugly emotions. You have to feel them. Your emotions are not a stomach ache, taking something will not make them go away, and more to your own disappointment it probably won’t even pacify you very long.
You learned to add a sexual encounter, stimulants, alcohol, we dye our hair, eat comfort food, smoke a little weed, watch the entirety of Seinfeld again, try some sketchy pills from Pasadena, and maybe you’ll start to feel better and forget that pain.
I can’t tell you the answer to 3x+1, but I KNOWW that adding by definition does not reduce anything.
Think about it like organizing the junk drawer in your house. You go to the dollar store get some little containers and set out to organize this drawer.
But the solution could simply be cleaning out the drawer. Do you really need four old phone chargers? Every soy sauce packet you’ve crossed paths with? Suddenly you dont need to go spend five bucks on some containers that only add more junk to the junk drawer.
Emotions can be the same way instead of looking for a cheap fix, go through some of the junk first. Take my caffeine addiction for example.
If I confronted my social anxiety head-on with simple exposure, instead of adding caffeine to pacify myself. I might not be caught in this cycle that I’m STILL working through to this day.
2. Consult with a linguistic third party
Your next step is to take all the shit out of the drawer, take your thoughts out of your head. Letting your worst thoughts run free in your head is a recipe for cyclical disaster. It doesn’t really matter how this is approached but the information in your head has to exit. If not it’s rummaging through your body causing random back pain when you get home from work. Transcribing the words in your head to something external gives you perspective. Instead of this constantly flowing chatter of doubt, self-loathing, and despair. You get the opportunity to recognize patterns and stop being debilitated by your anxious mind.
There are 3 approaches to this that work especially well for me they could work for you.
Tarot– This allows me to follow my thoughts in the presence of completely abstract and random images, if I keep coming up on the theme then that’s something worth investigating. Tarot is the same as flipping a coin sort of, if you flip the coin to make a decision and don’t like the answer you got you at least come to understand your position. Tarot once you understand the meanings of each card offers serendipitous insights to yourself. Tarot actually helped me put my emotions into dialogue. A skill that anyone who has dated a straight male knows is not easy to come by.
Therapy– There was a lot of baggage and stuff I was hanging on to that left me emotionally stunted. The most important things I learned in therapy has been self compassion and shifted my internal dialogue.
Self-compassion is learning to forgive yourself. In therapy, I discovered that I was having such a hard time with my emotions because I was ashamed to have them in the first place. My environment taught me that emotions were an inconvenience to the group. In an effort to be less inconvenient I just stopped showing up, because I am an emotional person the message I was getting was that I was inconvenient. I didn’t want to burden anyone so I learned to remove myself when I thought I was being too emotional. Self-compassion taught me that I can’t be ashamed of being human. It opened my eyes to the fact that the most inconvenienced person was also being abandoned, myself. When you isolate yourself for being emotional every time you feel something you turn yourself into the first person to invalidate your emotions.
The second thing I learned was language is the expression of reality. How you talk says a lot about your worldview, and your internal speech is even more powerful. There was a lot of unhealthy language I learned to change in therapy.
For instance instead of saying; I have to do this, I’d say, I’m ready to do this.
The first version is isolating, makes me reluctant to ask for help, and is a weight I have to carry until I don’t need to do that thing anymore.
The second version, affirms that I can complete this task I set out to do, it’s more solution-driven instead of something I have to overcome.
To-do list- I’ve mentioned the magic of the to-do list in an earlier post. this last one is supermundane but we were getting a little ethereal with tarot and therapy. But a to-do list is good enough for Nasa and Santa Clause to get things done. Instead of that crap taking up precious space in your head you can just write it down. Then break those things down into smaller actionable steps. Amazing, my compliments to the chef.
Some other examples of a linguistic third party would journaling, vision board, calling a good friend, emailing yourself, art, singing, poetry, a spam account on Instagram, or a blog.
3. Self Actualization
Another important piece for self-soothing is more the long-term solution to feel a little bit better every day in the long term. You will constantly be in a less than satisfying state if you are not making a life you are happy to be in. Who do you want to be? When you’re dead and gone what do you want people to say about you? What do you want to leave behind? Set out and do it. If you are creating the self you want to be, a secure and stable self then there will be fewer instances where you need to self-soothe because you are in an authentically happier state.
Make those investments in yourself because you are worthy of that kind of love and protection.
Take a jog because you love yourself.
Eat something that came from the earth other than corn or soy for the love of god because you respect yourself.
Read a challenging book because you want to understand something.
Learn how to paint, sew, build an awesome island on animal crossing, produce mash-up tracks.
Do the fun things and the hard things because you love yourself because you deserve that much.
Self Actualization is one of the most crucial pieces to adult self-soothing because you cannot be happy if you are living a lie in the first place. Setting achievable goals solely for the enrichment of the self is at times all that we can do. Especially while the world is crumbling in on itself knowing how to deal with the angst that comes with it can’t hurt anyone.
4. Babysitting Yourself.
The grand irony about self-soothing is that self-soothing isn’t like healing, it is more like maintenance. When you are emotionally mature you learn that you will inevitably be very uncomfortable, you’ll be sad, feel pushed aside, you’ll feel like hitting someone. Self-soothing is the observation of oneself in the face of adversity. To be an adult literally means that you are babysitting yourself. The same way that a parent might let a kid cry it out. You have every right to pout and be furious at times. But self-soothing is simply about being aware enough to do it responsibly, and safely so that you aren’t simultaneously in pain and inflicting pain onto others.
This is why you may need to sit down with a therapist. You are your own child. How would you guide a child through an environment you thought was emotionally safe?
Would it be littered with shallow relationships, consumables that take the edge off, or broken promises?
Probably not. Face yourself, and not to fight anything, but to balance things. Be the adult while your inner child suffers through yet another heartbreaking scenario, watch over your inner child with love and compassion. Use the wisdom you’ve learned through the years and guide little you to safety through a scary night.
There are still instances when you can be dumbfounded by all the things you do not understand even at your mature age. When you fall short of the milestones that society says you should have hit by whatever age. Falling into fits of blind rage just like a three-year-old would have a temper tantrum. Knowing how to live safely in a confusing hostile place is so valuable. The person more invested in your ability to self-soothe is your parent. The one who read all the books, and called their parents on their long nights with their new baby. Self-soothing is about being kind to the child version of ourselves that is still inside of us. Becoming a parent to yourself as an adult. Congratulations you’re all grown up now and you don’t need your mom anymore to help you self-soothe. Remember that you will inevitably be okay.