Hello, dear souls. I hope you’re doing well and finding some joy in the “brisk” weather. I’ve been quiet for a while spending the cold season surviving rather than thriving. It’s okay to not bloom and grow all the time- we can pause and weather the storm and still be worthy and beautiful.
As usual, this week I wanted to talk about something that’s come up a lot recently in sessions: wanting to be rescued by others. It’s so natural as a human being to want to be seen, to be held, to be cared for, and to be loved. We also want our emotions to be as pleasant as possible. As a species, we tend to strongly dislike anything uncomfortable and we thrash about trying to avoid it. All too often this means that we seek to numb out our negative emotions with other people and make it their responsibility to make us happy.
Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with calling or texting a friend when you’re down to try to distract yourself. However, when we depend on them to change our mood and get resentful if they can’t, that’s codependency. I get the desperation of wanting to feel better. When we’re anxious and not feeling enough, we get stuck in the clawing, terrible desire to get out of it.
But the truth is that you’re the only one responsible for handling your emotions. Others can help you soothe yourself but that’s a choice they have and they have a right to say no. They can also still love you (whole big bunches, as we say in my family) and not have the tools to help you soothe yourself. Not being able to calm your nerves does not mean that they don’t love you. Sometimes, they can’t calm you because the questions you’re grappling with can only be answered by you. In this same vein, they also cannot give you worth- that’s your own to claim. If you’re struggling with the big questions “Am I good enough” or “Am I loveable”, nothing anyone else says will give you an answer that feels solid enough to soothe those fears.
No one can tell you your worth because it’s innate and until you see it for yourself, you’ll have a bottomless hole of fear that no one else can fill. Trust me, I’ve seen that hole. It’s as deep as the ocean and it feels like nothing can ever fix it. That’s a lie your anxiety tells you. It’s telling you that if you’re loved enough by another, that’ll prove your worth and the hole will be filled. But the problem with that gnawing endless ocean of fear is that there’s no bottom; the second you feel loved “enough” to be worthy, your anxiety and fear convince you that that’s no longer enough. The bar of “worthiness” gets raised again and you’re seeking evermore. There is a way out.
It’s important to know that negative emotions are a part of the human experience. They’re normal and they pass. You don’t need to change them, remind yourself that it’ll pass, it’s just a feeling and the thoughts you’re hearing are not fact. This is a piece of self-soothing: talking yourself through the negative emotions and practicing holding yourself. What could your partner or loved one possibly say that would make you feel whole and loved and held and cared for? These are the things you need to be whispering to yourself. I am not exaggerating when I say that sometimes you need to practice hugging yourself and saying aloud the things you’re desperate to hear.
Here are some phrases you can whisper in those really hard times:
- “this feeling is temporary. It’ll pass and I’ll be okay”.
- “I am made of the same stuff as stars. I’m incredible and my worth is undeniable.”
- “I’ve got this. I’ve handled feelings this intense before and I’m stronger for digging in and doing the work”.
- “I can hold myself or try moving to ease these feelings”.
With this one, literally wrap your arms around yourself. If you’re feeling shut down and disconnected, try moving, even if it’s a tiny bit. Wiggle your toes or fingers and pay attention to that sensation as best you can. Push against a wall or palm-to-palm with your own hands. Movement gives us a sense of control and can be empowering.
“My body is sending me a message. What am I so worried about?” Practicing the “what then” can lead you to some deep discoveries. Let’s say you’re in a tailspin about shame around food. Thoughts like “I’ll gain weight!” are sometimes paired with feelings of intense fear and unworthiness. Ask yourself then what? That surface fear is usually just a window you can look through. What are you really afraid of? In this particular case, it’s often that we’re afraid gaining weight (or being at or above a certain weight) will say something bad about us or give us negative experiences (we’ll get made fun of, we’ll be depressed, etc). Okay, then are you really worried about a number, or are you worried that a certain number would leave you unworthy? If so, what’s that about? Are you using weight to earn your worthiness? A key piece of this post is that I want you walk away feeling like “even if” this worst-case scenario happened (being broken up with, gaining weight, getting fired, whatever it is), you’d find the tools you need and be okay.
Turn the “what if” on its head. If anxiety is saying “What if they leave?” “What if I’m unlovable and awful and chase away anyone who ever loved me?”, flip it. This might sound like “what if these fears are pointing me towards loving myself even more deeply?” “what if I’m brave and trying and growing and growing is ugly but that’s ok?” “what if I’m just another human being in the messy process of learning how to be more vulnerable and more self-aware and there’s nothing wrong with that?”
This is really heavy work, friends. Learning to self-soothe is incredibly difficult and just embarking on this journey means that you have the kind of strength and determination that you might want to give thanks for or occasionally praise yourself for. If you’re here, you’re not someone who gives up easily; you’re someone who’s putting in the incredibly hard work of caring for themselves rather than letting others take over that task and being disappointed when they can’t. Take a deep breath, place your hand over your heart, on your knee, or around your opposite arm and give a squeeze. You’re in the muck, learning and for that, you deserve a LOT of admiration. Keep being brave and I’ll see you next time.
Connect with Perspectives Therapy Services if you want to work through these emotions.
Kayla Valley is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) who works at the Highland location of Perspectives Therapy Services. She became a therapist to help people struggle with the depression and anxiety that she understands intimately. She loves being a Michigander and is an avid sewist who loves spending time with her cats and sugar gliders.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.