by Peggy Shafer, MA, LMHC

You and I and everyone else need comforting at times. Many of us are open to being comforted by others when we are bereft, but often our “others” are busy or far away. Sometimes, we struggle to verbalize what’s hurting us so, in turn, can’t ask those who are around to provide the comfort we need. Maybe we don’t readily confide in people at all. But whether solitary or well-supplied with friends, we all need comforting from ourselves. Without practicing kindness toward ourselves, none of the goodness others might offer will stick.

Everyone has experience turning to food, alcohol or drugs, TV or a digital device, or even compulsive work to ease the inevitable pain and distress of life. If we were fortunate enough to grow up with parents who had sufficient wisdom and availability to respond to our distress with kindness and patience, we will have learned to value our feelings and to soothe ourselves with goodwill and reassurance gently given, which leaves us with less need to escape from our emotions. But those of us who grew up with parents or guardians unable to respond kindly to our troubling emotions must learn as adults how to comfort ourselves.

How can we learn to comfort ourselves? We have to start small. Notice when strangers are gentle with their toddlers who are upset. Say to yourself, “I need that gentleness, too, gentleness toward myself.” Think of a time when you felt empathetic toward a friend or family member. Give yourself time to remember exactly how your empathy felt; then, imagine how it would feel to empathize with yourself. Find a photo of your younger self. Look at that photo every day and say, “I want to learn to love you.”

One particularly potent practice is as follows. Lying in bed at night, put your hand over your heart and say repeatedly, “I am here.”  Does that sound ridiculous? Of course you are there! So when you first practice “I am here,” you might imagine your “I” as a friend, a deity, or a grandparent who loves you. When it becomes less strange to you to say, I am here, let yourself feel “I am here” in a deeper sense. When you get to the bottom of who that “I” is who is comforting you, it is you caring for yourself, caring for yourself no matter what.

The above article expresses the opinions of the author and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of other members of the Women’s Therapy Referral Service.