22 thoughts on “Self-Soothing: Calming the Amygdala and Reducing the Effects of Trauma

  • April 4, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    This was so interesting to read, and it helped me realize that I wasnt validated as a child.Although I had a roof over my head, nice clothes to wear, and food in my stomach, I was ignored. It certainly has affected me today, as a forty-six year old woman. I run when I feel threatened, and am afraid that I will be like this til the end of my life.

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    • April 4, 2012 at 6:48 pm

      Being ignored is certainly invalidating. I encourage you to learn how to validate yourself–that can help. Maybe you could find a validation class as well. Just recognizing when you are being invalidated should help too.

      Reply
  • April 4, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    Hi Karyn,

    Great article! I thought you might also be interested in Dr. Kristin Neff’s work on self-compassion. She also encourages self-soothing as a means of being kind to yourself. One of her techniques that works well for me is to place both hands over my heart, close my eyes, and silently talk to myself as though I was trying to soothe a close friend. It’s very calming and opens up space to move forward.

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    • April 4, 2012 at 6:53 pm

      Thanks Bobbi! That is a wonderful strategy. Dr. Neff’s work is great isn’t it? I’ve blogged about her work with self-compassion. Her website offers many resources too. Sounds like we’re both fans.

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      • April 4, 2012 at 7:28 pm

        Yes, I love her work! I was lucky enough to hear her in person a few weeks ago and found it life-changing.

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    • April 4, 2012 at 7:20 pm

      Hi Bobbi,
      That sounds like it would be soothing! I could almost feel the little girl inside of me starting to tear up as I read it..

      Reply
  • April 5, 2012 at 11:47 am

    These are very good suggestions. I didn’t get much soothing from my parents as a child, since they thought my emotions were often “irrational” and too tiring, so this is something I’ve been working on with a therapist for the past couple of years.

    Thanks again for this blog. It’s such a relief to me to see someone talking about emotional sensitivity as though it’s all right and maybe even something to embrace. It bothers me that many people who would never pick on a disabled person or a mentally challenged or autistic person seem to think that being sensitive is some kind of a choice, and therefore, open to mocking and disdain. You make it sound like Lady Gaga should have devoted a verse to sensitivity in “Born This Way.” 🙂

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    • April 5, 2012 at 1:05 pm

      I love the Lady Gaga comment! I am glad you are working on comforting yourself. Given that there is always pain in life, it is a very important skill especially if you are emotionally sensitive.

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  • April 8, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    I was asked by my psychology teacher to find out what parts of the brain help the amygdala soothe anxiety in the body. I was glad to stumble on the article you made though! It was interesting to read about how and why it can be hard for people to soothe themselves, especially when they don’t need to stress themselves out. It makes me want to be more sensitive to those who are emotionally sensitive.

    …I do wonder though, what parts of the brain do soothe the amygdala under stress?

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  • January 14, 2015 at 11:08 am

    Great article. I was raised by the rules that Children should be seen and not heard. Not the best way, but it does make some sense to me now.

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  • September 13, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    I have found self soothing activities to be ineffective ifor my worst pain. Sometimes only benzos or alcohol work to pull me out. A perennial frustration for me and my therapist. I spent three long years withdrawing from sedating and brain- numbing drugs and have tried everything I can find to manage my dark and fearful moods. DBT skills, psychotherapy, meditation, intensive exercise, etc., etc. And still, I feel my amygdala rarely calms and the constant dread and anxiety without drugs is intolerable.

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    • September 20, 2016 at 7:25 am

      It’s a year later, and I hope you feel better now, but I’m writing with a possible idea you could use, just in case, Sad Eyes. Since it’s been a many-year process for me, I suspect it may be similar to you. Without going into my specific struggles, I’ll just say I’m another person who wasn’t validated and wasn’t taught self compassion, in addition to other psychological injuries. Without a doubt, the only modality of therapy that has shown me promise in actually feeling self-compassion is the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model. I’m new to doing it too, but have been researching IFS for a while now.

      In case you haven’t heard of it before (though it has been around for some time) there are a number of videos on Youtube that may help you get a grasp (creator is Dr. Richard Schwartz but people like Jay Earley, Tom Holmes, Derek Scott, and others also offer very good explanations. I have been exploring Jay Earley’s website extensively, have read his free writings, and am buying his book “Self Therapy” to work with as it seems it may be the most clear and comprehensive for what I need right now. (It is also very well-received by patients and professionals alike.)

      Please consider watching these professionals’ interviews (even Tom Holmes’ lectures if you’re so inclined) and trying what they suggest. When I did, I felt such strong flashes of self-compassion and self-validation (which I was *never* able to achieve in the past) that parts of me wanted to cry with relief. This has happened more than once now. I wanted mindfulness and CBT to work so badly but they never did. This really seems like it DOES.

      (Note: I will reply here again if I have anything new to say about the book– and if anyone has questions about the specific resources I’ve tried, then feel free to ask here.)

      I read this article to help jog my memory of what self-soothing activities since difficult emotions/memories/fears will pop-up while doing this work. With (regular) mindfulness or CBT, those feelings used to be quite enough to make me procrastinate so long I forgot to continue. I won’t say I haven’t procrastinated while getting started, but I have never once forgotten to come back to it within a day or two (over many weeks of research and experimentation). Now that I’m about to go in-depth, I intend to start by unburdening the parts that urge me to procrastinate. ;D

      Reply
  • January 26, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    The main issue I have found with learning self-soothing is that it is very difficult to do it when the ‘aggressor’ is still present – i.e. if the issue is your own mind. Trying to calm down with a hot chocolate and your favourite TV show might work if you’re just feeling sorry for yourself because you have a cold, for example, but in my experience trying to do something sense-related does nothing for distress if there is shouting in your head. If you go back to childhood, this is like giving the kid a hot chocolate then screaming at it while he/she drinks it, and expecting all to be fine afterwards. Not going to work.

    My tip is to focus the mind into the body in a mindfulness-style way and keep focusing it away from your head until the shouting abates. Don’t engage with the shouting, trying to speak back or looking at it at all (CBT-style methods) just encourages it. Let it do its thing but just pay no attention to it and repeat to yourself that the shouting will stop soon.

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  • March 6, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    Loved the article– on point, insightful and, at the same time, concrete enough to personalize and implement strategies. I stumbled over the idea of repetitive motion, (rocking), as a means to self-soothe though. I’m careful and self-conscious about a self-soothing activity mimicking pathological behavior. i keep it private, implying shame. It just took one therapist, (problematic on its own), in a group setting to identify my hair twirling and massaging my hands (not quite wringing) as an issue, not a strategy. So, for instance, i can drink a cup a tea because i want tea. If it’s a means to self-soothe, it seems different. I know it’s not rational, but it feels true. I think this article will help me with that. Thank you.

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  • May 6, 2017 at 10:27 am

    I have a daughter that just turned five. She has a habit of petting, her own hair and mine if I am close to her, when she is upset or tired. I do not have a problem with the fact that she does this but I am concerned that when she goes to kindergarten this fall that other students will notice and pick on her for it. I have seen the fidget toys that many are using for adhd and i am wondering if anyone knows if there may be something along those lines or if anyone has a suggestion for what she may be able to do while at school.Thank you for any thouggts and ideas you may have.

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    • October 27, 2017 at 2:00 pm

      Hello,

      My boy used to do the same. He has outgrown it. What I would suggest is just be there for support. Help your daughter not be bothered with what others think or say as long as she is not doing anything wrong. When your daughter has learnt to be emotionally stronger, she will deal with it. Comfort and support her, and encourage her to be independent, think for herself, without making her too conscious of her this behaviorr

      Reply
  • November 1, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    I will bookmark this page. First of all I appreciate the validation for those of us, who are more emotional that we are not abnormal. I feel that it is good to recognize that you may be over sensitive and find what works for you when in an emotional state. I am learning what my triggers are as I suffer PTSD. Now I can create a go to comfort folder when needed.

    Secondly, I am so glad to see that subject of self comforting is not looked at as a, “mental.” It may be a result of the past or may just be that this is who you are and how you observe and feel your world. I appreciate the forum on this subject as it verifies we are not alone.

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  • April 24, 2018 at 8:54 am

    Hello
    Thank you for your article
    I am a 50 yr old daughter.
    Something I noticed decades ago was my mother often used to massage or rub her thighs while her leg was crossed. An action resembling glamourously and gently smoothing out fabric wrinkles up and back on pants.
    She came from an abusive alcoholic home. My father also came from an abusive home. Two negatives coming together did not make a positive but an entirely dysfunctional new negative.
    Neither of them drinks thank God.
    My mother can be categorized as a hoarder and cannot leave a flat space without piling something on it…to fill in all the void spaces.
    My mother…as a wife.. is severely neglected emotionally and physically. Self soothing can also be done subconsciously.
    thank you for the opportunity to comment

    Reply
  • May 17, 2018 at 2:54 am

    I have no imagination obviously because I had to look it up. I have no idea what if anything might work for me but I can see I am on thin ice all the time. I hear the word HATE and even start to repeat it. I hate reactive attachment. I don’t understand why I pick friends who treat me the same way my parents did. This is the last thing I need. A person is better off alone.

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  • October 28, 2018 at 10:43 pm

    If I need to self soothe as I am processing a distressing truth is it good or bad to choose methods that distract me from that truth and redirect my mind. I tend to sit with my pain in an attempt to find answers that will let me move forward. I tend to get stuck there and am less effective at attending to or even remembering my other goals. However I worry that distraction is just delaying what I need to process and adding fuel to the eventual fire. What do you recommend?

    Reply
 

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