Listening to ourselves can be harder than it sounds. When we’re having a rough time, we want support from someone who will hear us out, validate our feelings, and offer empathy, perspective, or assistance. We want someone who’s available for us. Yet finding that availability within ourselves, for ourselves, can be elusive.
Often, what we need has to do with what’s right inside of us. Unfortunately for us, that can mean going deeper into the feelings themselves. Sometimes we’re not clear how this looks, or whether it’s even possible. Or, maybe it sounds like wallowing, acting out, or worse—drowning in painful feelings.
We all have painful feelings, but many of us haven’t gotten much emotional support for them—especially if our relationships with loved ones have been deeply fraught or traumatic.
If you’ve had to get yourself through an emotional wasteland, emotional self-care can be a confusing idea. So, how do you start to listen and be there for yourself?
First, it helps to even recognize when you’re experiencing something difficult. In this culture of distraction, we can easily skip over our feelings. Distraction can look like almost anything—including problem-solving.
That’s one of my favorites: when I’m having a hard time, I can get pretty compulsive with making to-do lists, or making household fixes. My business has a ways to go, but my apartment has never looked better.
Often, the answer to our problems doesn’t come from thinking it through; we can’t be available to ourselves if our minds are engaged elsewhere. So take a pause to connect with yourself, your body, your breath. What are you noticing about your experience in the moment?
Next, give yourself permission to feel however it is you feel. We can get into our heads with this one, worrying that “permission” means we have to do what the feeling says. You don’t. Rather, acknowledge the reality of your feelings, just like you’d want someone to do for you.
Part of this care also involves how you talk to yourself. When you’re anxious, afraid, or angry, what tone do you take with yourself? Do you criticize yourself? Do you half-heartedly pep-talk yourself out of a sad place, or start to encourage yourself but stop midway because it feels like BS? Do you ignore the feeling, only to feel it fester and nag you through the rest of the day?
We won’t be able to befriend ourselves by lecturing or debating ourselves. Try to support yourself through a hard feeling, as opposed to covering it up or trying to make it go away.
There’s a difference between complaining to yourself and listening to yourself with care and presence. How can you tell? For me, the complaining has a physical component; I start to feel mentally exhausted and notice my mind falling into cynical thoughts.
In presence, my heart feels more open and my mind feels more restful—even if my emotions are intense. For you, this may look and feel completely different. The point is to discover what works for you.
Turning away from feelings is easy and totally understandable, because it seems like we’re taking control. But this is exactly when giving care to ourselves—by staying inside our experiences—is needed the most. We can do that by allowing our feelings to be here, making space for our emotional reality, and understanding that though they may feel overwhelming, feelings are just a small part of us.