A Healthy Stepmother . . . takes inventory. Self-Soothing, Week 2

(Note: Week 2 of a 10-week series on self-soothing. This series is a self-paced guide that you come back to over and over and over and over for the rest of your wondering. See also A Healthy Stepmother . . . introduces the self-soothing series.)

By now, you’ve figured out how to clear space for yourself to ponder and listen and examine and study your self in relationship to yourself. Remember, that’s what this Self-Soothing Series is about. It’s all about how to soothe yourself so you can have a solid, resilient experience within you that helps you recognize and rejuvenate yourself and enlivens your sense of being involved in your own life.

Regardless of the issues you grapple with, the path to soothing remains the same. Even if your stepchildren’s mother has upset you. Even if you’ve been slighted and rejected by your stepfamily.  Even if you are in the middle of a major disagreement with your spouse, the process of returning to yourself is best if cultivated and honed and practiced and mastered. Then, you gain access to the beneficial responses that lie within you.

We can replace our startled, hurt, frustrated, angry, worried, righteous, indignant, or alarmed response with a more soothing response when we know how to access our sensing, thinking, feeling, and responding. It takes months, maybe years, to practice accessing thinking, sensing, feeling, and responding. No doubt, that’s why we most often reach for the phone to call someone or go shopping. But, it’s also possible to cultivate another way of working with the self, a way that lasts longer and feels more soul-filling.

The next time you are in the space you cleared for yourself, even if it’s in the middle of a room full of other people, turn your attention to your body. Investigate the sensations you feel in your body. Are you warm or cold? Are there parts of you that are warm and other parts that are cold? Are you tense? Where? Is this a place you remember noticing tension in the past? Is this a new tension? Are there other places in your body that you find yourself holding tension but hadn’t noticed before? If there is a sound inside you, what is it? Do you sense taste or texture? In what way? Is there a thickness in one part of your sensation and not in others?

Then, pause and wait……….and let your attention wander so you can have a rest. Keep the wandering soft so you don’t get engaged in anything new whether it’s something in the room or something in your thinking.

Now, bring your attention to your thoughts? How easy was it to keep focused on investigating your sensations? Did you find your inquiry interrupted by thoughts that popped into your attention? Did you feel uncomfortable paying attention to sensations instead of thinking of ways to solve your stepson’s problem with his friend? Did you think the sensation scanning was so easy that it didn’t fully capture your interest and then your attention wandered? How comfortable was it to let your mind become quiet? Take note of the strength of the thoughts and notice how often a new one pops into your attention.

Rest again please, with  a casual and loose attention to your comfort.

Maybe this process has taken you 10 minutes so far. If you have the time to luxuriate with this process, maybe you’ve spent 20 minutes. Any amount of time, no matter how brief, you’ll be storing for your self-soothing future.

Now leave your thoughts and sensations alone and turn your attention to your feelings. What is your feeling or emotion right this moment? What was it a moment ago? Did you begin the practice with some feeling of agitation or frustration? Is that changing? Do you have a greater sense of calm or curiosity? Where do the feelings live? How do you know that is what you are feeling? When you feel angry, do you have a certain posture? When you are indignant, what is the shape of your face?

If we’re not used to identifying the feelings that come with discomfort or we’re used to a particular emotion regardless of what the discomfort is, we get over-focused with one particular response. Indignation was one such response for me and I found myself in it no matter what. I finally learned after years of watching my family members that when indignation came, there was always anxiety underneath it. The indignation (feeling) was the marker to the anxiety (sensations . . . i.e. heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, thoughts race, breathing shallow). As I’ve worked with myself, it’s easier and easier to tune in to the sensations of my anxiety and deal with them directly instead of getting sidetracked by the righteousness of my feelings.

Finally, it’s easy to do-do-do. We women over do. We help and help and help and find ourselves exhausted. We’re workaholics and hold our job, kids, clubs, boards, and churches as the place we pour ourselves as if we’re in a race for the Best Woman award. Doing is another aspect of human functioning. Sit quietly and investigate with your memory your sense of your balance in this area? Do you find yourself with time to sit on the porch and think of nothing for 5 minutes? Do you have time to drop everything and go outside to look a the sky when you are pondering a deep question? Do you have space to take a walk in a wooded area and replenish your sense of being connected to something bigger than you? Can you breathe as you go about your life and give to others? You know if you are doing too much. Simply make note if this is your pattern. Resist your urge to blame yourself if it is.

The recommended practice for you this week is to go to your space and settle in. Take a few minutes to let your thoughts run their course. Then, let your thoughts ease themselves out of your way and slow everything down inside. As you quiet, begin the scan of sensing, thinking, feeling and doing. Practice with each at least a few moments. Listen, notice, open to new things about yourself you have never noticed. If you get bored, turn your attention to a different aspect of your experience. Spend an equal amount of time paying attention to your thoughts, then leave them. Pay attention to your feelings, then leave them. Pay attention to your sensations, then leave them. Finally, pay attention to your doing, then leave that.

If you find yourself obviously stuck in one function or another, see if you can just let it be that way without judging what is going on. Use your attention to track what is happening. If you are overcome with feelings, stay with the feelings and then watch as they soften and then shift your attention to your sensations and see if you can identify which sensations accompany those feelings. Then, it’s not that far to notice what thoughts accompany your sensations and feelings. And, finally, you can identify what you are doing while the feelings, sensations and thoughts are going on. Can you identify when you try to shut those functions down? Can you identify if doing squelches your feelings and sensations.

This week, practice, practice, practice.

Each time you do, notice what is strongest in that moment. Is it sensing, thinking, feeling, or doing? As you get more agile at shifting your attention from one to another, you will find that the holding on, the getting stuck in the feelings or sensations will lessen. You might notice you have more ability to problem-solve in tricky situations and that you get less overcome by family interactions. In those moments, your sense of you will be more alive.

Another Note: This scanning of our sensing, thinking, feeling, and doing is difficult to do because it is unfamiliar, not because it is impossible. Be patient with yourself and come back to the practice again and again and again until it no longer feels strange.

4 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . takes inventory. Self-Soothing, Week 2

  1. My stepchildren are grown but this applies just as well to the caregiver of an elderly parent who also works FT out of the home. . Every minute is used at work or needed by others at home!! I so miss my own space and time! I really needed to read this right now Kim!

    • It is true, Deb…..the self-soothing can be accessed and utilized at so many stages of life. I hope you find some moments here and there for you. My favorite is the stop light. It insists that you stop. Period. Stop. Hee hee, perfect. That and doing dishes and folding clothes. I know, they are “doing” but they are less mental-focused and can be very meditative. And, now you’ve got your beautiful dog, he can be of help in this. Best of everything. Kim

  2. Paying attention to sensations in the body when we’re upset — it’s so counterintuitive, and yet so helpful! Thanks for this great post.

    • I really have found that paying attention to the body and to the whole experience is the key. Once I have been able to identify the sensations that accompany an oncoming meltdown (my word for my own “overwhelm”), then I’m more able to begin the self-soothing. It takes less effort and less of everything to bring myself back to homeostasis.

Leave a Reply to kimcottrell Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s