Monday, February 4, 2008

Soothing and Confronting Yourself

If I had to boil down a bucket's worth of psychological guidance into a concentrated drop of potent advice, it would be to focus on developing your ability to effectively soothe and confront yourself.

Soothing and confronting are the two most essential basic skills of emotional self-management, and yet many people struggle with one or both of these skills. All too often I see people who have made some mistake heap react by heaping shame and scorn upon themselves, which is not a very effective way to comfort an emotional hurt. It's also very common for people to respond to their own ruffled emotions through some form of unhealthy numbing such as addictive eating, chemical use or some other way to escape feelings.

Similarly, it's an all-too-common human trait to ignore the great effort that is often required to work on the parts of ourselves that represent our defects of character. It's often easier to neglect rather than confront a problem and so we focus on feeling good rather than on holding ourselves accountable to truly doing good. When you don't hold yourself accountable to a principle or another person then you are likely to let things slide until some crisis point eventually comes along.

People who are insufficiently equipped to self-soothe and self-confront often develop significant relationship problems after the newness of initial love and attraction wears off. There's a simple explanation for why this occurs: if a person can't self-soothe then he or she looks consistently to their partner to take on this task. And when a person doesn't have the skill at self-confrontation then this becomes a set-up for his or her partner to take on this role. I'm not saying there isn't a proper role for others in soothing and confronting you, but the majority of that ability (51% or more) needs to come from within yourself.

How can you assess your own ability to manage these two crucial tasks? One answer is to think of a time when someone close to you did or said something that hurt your feelings, and ask yourself how well you managed your emotions without veering toward either extreme of over-reacting or excessively avoiding the issue. Now think of a time you did or said something that hurt someone you care about (don't fool yourself that you never do this!) and ask yourself how easily and quickly you got past your ego and make clear and meaningful amends for your behavior?

For extra bonus points I encourage you to ask someone who knows you well to give you their opinion on your ability to manage these two areas. This can be tricky because you have to trust this person will give you honest feedback and not just what you want to hear, just as they have to trust your ability to maturely receive the feedback they have for you. because of this it can be helpful to take sufficient time to deeply and sincerely communicate your desire and readiness to have this important discussion.

I'm thankful to David Schnarch for developing my appreciation for how many problems in intimate relationships are influenced by the ability to soothe and confront the self. Click here to read another related concept I've previously posted that comes from Schnarch's important work that addresses the emotional and sexual challenges often faced by adult couples

If you like this post (and I hope you do) please visit my primary professional website for related articles on emotional growth and development, individual and couples counseling, successful living tips, counseling and therapy trends and observations, sex addiction treatment and many other interesting and useful topics.

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