A self-soothing strategy is anything that resonates positively through the nervous system and conveys a sense of safety and support. Also called a “resource” in self-regulation therapy, a self-soothing strategy is basically anything that feels good to you.
As you view the following, I invite you to note the difference in how your body responds. You might also want to imagine a place that gives you that sense of safety and pleasure.
Erica Jong’s Story…when loving makes you afraid.
What can be more terrifying than love? We all claim to want it above all other earthly things, but, when love comes, it leaves disorder and chaos in its wake. It turns our lives upside down. It makes us tear down old relationships and build new houses. It undermines the foundations of our lives.
It’s so easy to be cynical about love and so hard to be honest. Didn’t Gypsy Rose Lee say, “God is love, but get it in writing”? And didn’t Fanny Brice say, “love is like a card trick — once you know how it works, it’s no fun anymore”? Those old broads knew a thing or two, but they never gave up either. They knew love was an exploding cigar, but they could never kick the habit.
The trouble with love is that it takes two — two who not only want love, but believe they deserve it; two who can give up the fear of getting hurt that inevitably comes with love; two who can surrender their egos to something bigger than themselves. In our age — which glorifies narcissism and doubts the existence of altruism — that’s a tall order. The big question always is: Who surrenders first?
When I met my husband 12 years ago, I had been single for a long time and had never planned to remarry. I was used to arranging my life so I could never be hurt — which meant, of course, that I could never really be moved, either. There were weekday boyfriends and weekend boyfriends, boyfriends at home and boyfriends abroad. I tried to run my love life like a hotel in which the rooms were always filled. I was terrified of empty rooms Relating this now, I see how ridiculous my attitude was, how motivated I was by fear, how much I was reacting to earlier painful divorces. At the time, I thought I was a thoroughly modern woman. No one could leave me. I always left first.
An old friend of my mother’s once asked, “Is there anyone in your life at the moment?”
“Oh yes, several people,” I replied.
“That means there’s nobody,” she said.
I decided she was a romantic old fool. Now I know that she was right.
When I met my husband, he didn’t wait for me to get over my fear. He probably knew he would have to wait forever. The first weekend he spent at my house in the country, he copied down my private phone number. The first weekend we spent in Paris, he brought me a first edition of my favorite Colette novel. The first time he met my mother, he asked me to marry him. When I expressed my terror that marrying him would keep me from writing what I needed to write, he grabbed a pen and scrawled a general release on a paper napkin. “I release you from everything, now and forever,” he wrote. Did I forget to mention that my husband is a divorce lawyer?
By countering all my hesitation with certainty, he undermined my resistance. I had to be honest with myself about how I felt about him. I couldn’t duck the question. He gave me no excuse. I now realize that this is very rare.
I was lucky to find a man who was willing to surrender first. I could never have done the surrendering. I was used to meeting men who had read — or heard of — my books and expected me to be a ten-foot-tall amazon carrying a spear. They were so guarded that they couldn’t even get to know me. Somehow, Ken knew me from the first. He was not blinded by the false public persona. He unmasked me instantly, and we all need to be unmasked in order to love.
Does love have other rules in the age of narcissism? I think it does. We spend a great deal of time perfecting our masks in hopes they will protect us. What we wind up doing is protecting ourselves from being known. And without being known, we cannot be loved. We yearn to be known as we polish our masks. Our deepest yearning to have the mask pulled off.
“How did you know to be so open with me?” I ask Ken now.
“I don’t know how I knew,” he replied. “I didn’t calculate it. I went on pure gut feeling. If I had stopped to ask myself, I might have seen myself all alone, howling at the moon.”
What makes a person feel safe enough to remove the mask? People who are great risk-takers in business or art are not always great risk-takers in love. We also approach risk differently at different moments in our lives. What is easy at age 18 before we have loved and lost is not so easy at 40 when the wreckage of past loves has piled up.
“Twenty years of love makes a woman look like a ruin; twenty years of marriage makes her look like a public monument,” said Oscar Wilde with the tortured cynicism of the injured romantic. The more we long for love, the more we like to pretend not to need it. I played that game once. Now I play a more dangerous game. I have stopped pretending not to need the love of one particular mortal person. When you break down the boundaries between yourself and another, you gain the dimensions of that other person’s soul. You see things through his eyes, and your world is that much larger. You hear things through his ears, and the harmonies are richer. You also have a lot more to lose. Usually with the recognition of love comes a new awareness of the proximity of death. Mothers of new babies feel this. Lovers always feel it, and the greatest love stories embody it in myth. Romeo and Juliet, as well as Tristan and Isolde, continue to move us because the closer we feel to another, the more the final separation looms. We all know partners who die within months of each other. We all sense the twinship of love and death.
This morning, I was lying in bed thinking of a conversation my husband and I had with a friend last night. I mentioned it to my husband.
“I was just thinking of that at the very same moment,” he said. And then he answered a question I had not asked aloud.
“How did you know I was wondering about that?”
“I just knew,” he said.”
No wonder it takes human love to teach us about the divine. How can we believe in things unseen until we have truly loved? How can we believe in spirit until we have awakened our own by loving?
“If equal affection cannot be,” W.H. Auden wrote, “let the more loving one be me.”
Compiled by: Dr. Suzanne LaCombe
Erica Jong story: Annoymous
You might find these self-soothing techniques useful.
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