In my practice as a therapist, “self-soothing” strategies were a basic intervention that I offered. This refers to behaviors and patterns of thought which would help the client cope more adaptively with “the thousand natural shocks which flesh is heir to.” (Shakespeare, “Hamlet”) These could be something as simple as saying a brief mantra from time to time, planting a flower, taking a walk, watching a favorite tv show, or preparing a special meal.
I was made aware last week how this same notion of “self-soothing” can apply to spirituality/religion. I was at a thrift shop and encountered a person who frustrated and angered me, inducing…shall we say…unsavory thoughts. I immediately trotted out a little contrivance that I’ve borrowed from the Buddhists—“mindfulness”—and was able to then step back from moment and recognize this evocation of feelings in my heart. I recognized that this immediately made me feel better about myself and spared me from the orgy of shame and guilt which once would have beset me.
Now some would respond to an experience like this with a trip to the confessional or would silently (or openly) castigate himself/herself for being such a sinner. But each of these three maneuvers is merely a “self-soothing” activity and each has its place….though I much prefer mine! It is important to have strategies to make us feel better about ourselves, to assuage our guilt/shame over the misdeeds or errant thoughts that come daily.