Imagine having a soft place to land, no matter what life brings: An oasis where you can rest and restore, receiving comfort and reassurance. A place where all of your beautiful needs are held with great care, and where you can safely celebrate needs met and mourn needs unmet.
In this warm, nurturing place, you’ll never hear, “I told you so,” or “Why didn’t you see that coming?” after something disappointing happens. Likewise, you’ll be free of self-judgments like, “What’s wrong with me?” or “I’ll never have that,” or “Clearly I just don’t matter!” Instead, the question is always a warm, tender, curious, “Sweetheart, how are you feeling, what do you need?”
We all need people outside ourselves to love and care for us. And yet the voice we hear most often is our own. If we’ve learned, as most of us have—from our culture or our family or our experience—to speak to ourselves harshly, dishing out so-called “tough love,” then the voice we hear all day and night drains us and leaves us feeling contracted and defended. As this voice wears us down, we take fewer risks, give up on our dreams, let go of the hope for healing or deepening our relationships. Luckily, we can respond to and translate that internal harshness, over and over, until we gradually learn to automatically speak to ourselves in a language of warmth and love.
Here are three steps to creating a nurturing internal landscape:
- Use your warmest tone of voice. Develop and regularly use a warm voice of care and concern when speaking (or thinking) inside yourself. This is the voice you’d use with your best friend, or your favorite child, or your beloved pet when it’s scared. You deserve to receive the most loving tone of voice you have to offer. Using this voice with yourself may feel awkward or embarrassing at first, but just remember that a loving internal tone is healing, strengthening, and inspiring. And the warmer you are with yourself, the warmer you’ll be with loved ones and strangers alike.
- Listen responsively. After you ask yourself, “Sweetheart, how are you feeling, what do you need?” listen carefully to the responses that come from within. Look at the feelings and needs lists, and help yourself identify the needs underlying your feelings. Respond first with care (“Of course you’re needing help and support! That makes so much sense. This is scary and challenging!”) and then with action (“I’m dedicated to helping you get those needs met. Let me start by asking/calling/emailing five people today and asking if someone would enjoy driving you to that doctor’s appointment”). And if the need is more complex or harder to meet, try saying something like, “I’m so dedicated to helping you get this need met. I’m not quite sure which strategies to take right now, but I’m not giving up on you. Give me a week to think on it.”).
- Let your body have a voice. The physical sensations you have every moment carry invaluable information about your emotional landscape. To begin tapping into your body’s wisdom, close your eyes, take four deep breaths, and notice any areas of tension, pain, tingling, heat, cold, contraction, noise, silence, numbness, pleasure, comfort, etc. Choose one sensation, place your hand on that area with love, and breathe into that area. The intention is not to force change, but rather to simply acknowledge your body’s experience. And then ask that area of your body, “If you could say anything right now, what would it be?”
While you can definitely make some immediate improvements to your internal landscape by employing these steps, remember that it takes time and practice to transform your habitual, unconscious responses to yourself and your experiences. Be patient and gentle, even (and especially) with your own harsh impulses. Just keep asking, “Sweetheart, how are you feeling, what do you need?”
Warmth toward yourself is learnable, as is responsiveness to your own needs. For many of us, though, it’s a much easier, faster, healing experience to develop a self-nurturing landscape with guidance, companionship, and support. In my Restorative Empathy sessions, I repeatedly model that warm response to your feelings and needs, with deep care and loving patience. With each session, my warmth for you will become a more lasting imprint of how much love and care you deserve. Slowly, sometimes without even realizing it, you will internalize that warmth until it becomes your go-to response to yourself.
With love and empathy,