Calming Presence

Draw on Inspiration from
Many Sources for Internal Comfort

- BY LEIF PETERSON, LPC, NCC

Introduction

Drawing on inspiration from many sources for internal comfort involves finding support and motivation. The goal is to build up tools for coping with distressing thoughts and emotions using inspiration from things we encounter in the world. Emotional health is essential when navigating life’s obstacles. Therapists and counselors are vital in offering professional guidance and support to assist individuals in discovering their strengths, coping skills, and strategies for personal development. Their understanding and methods help people, partners, and families achieve peace, strength, and an optimistic mindset, leading to positive transformations and improved overall quality of life.

Almost everyone can connect with the experience of hearing a critical internal voice. The severity and frequency of this critical voice varies and is often louder and more persistent when people struggle with depression, anxiety or traumatic stress symptoms. This voice may sound like it’s coming from someone else, maybe a critical parent or childhood bullies: ‘You are so stupid!’, ‘You’re ugly!’, ‘Everyone else can figure out how to live life as a normal person, but you keep screwing up!’. Or it may sound like it’s coming from you and take the ‘I’ form: ‘I am always going to be alone,’ ‘I am an imposter,’ ‘If people really knew me, they would not want to be near me and definitely wouldn’t love me’. Now these critical thoughts, or voices, may be trying to do something good for us, like push us to keep being better or improving, but often they get so extreme that they just end up leading to constant anxiety, tension, withdrawal from the world and eventual collapse. So, how can we tame these vicious internal voices?

Example of How Do Develop an Internal Resource

Here is an example that highlights how I, as a professional counselor, may help someone develop an internal, comforting resource:

Watch the clip below, and then I will explain how you can use this to develop a comforting internal voice:

Little Miss Sunshine Clip:

Olive, the little girl in the clip, is afraid that if she tries, if she puts herself out there, she will be humiliated and rejected. The way her grandpa responds is a splendid example of someone being accepting, nurturing, and encouraging. The grandpa gives Olive support in the way she needs it. Olive refers to her dad as “hating losers.” We receive messages from friends, family, society, etc., about how we should be in the world, and what is valued. The father’s own insecurities cause him to have a skewed view, classifying everything through the lens of winning or losing. He has a strongly critical internal voice, which he externalizes onto his family. Olive notices this message from her dad and internalizes it, which manifests as self-consciousness and probably some anxiety. Where do the negative messages that tend to repeat in your mind come from? Sometimes identifying the original sources for your critical inner voice can help to realize that it is not just coming from inside; it’s not just you who is hearing these messages.

When I collaborate with clients who have an intensely critical inner voice (which is pretty much everyone who is coming to counseling for help), I often prompt them to identify people from their own lives who have been accepting and nurturing. Unfortunately, not everyone has someone like this in their life. In those cases, using a fictional character, like Olive’s grandpa from the movie clip, is the next best thing. Using this character, I would prompt a client to imagine how he would respond to their critical inner voice. What would he say? How would he look at you when he is expressing compassion? Would it feel comforting for him to give you a hug? Who in your life would you want him to say, ‘We’ll tell ‘em all to go to hell!’. Take a moment right now to imagine this comforting grandfatherly figure saying these supportive, nurturing things to you. How does it feel in your body when you imagine this? If you feel even a hint of comfort from imagining this, I invite you to sit with this feeling. Breathe into it, like you are stoking the embers of a warm fire, allowing the warmth to fill you from within. How does this feel? What is happening with the tension in your body, with the critical inner voice? Hopefully, tension is releasing, and the critical voice is quieting. If you feel a resistance to letting this comfort in, either through increased tension, or a fogginess or numbness, it’s okay, it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. It may mean you’ve been through trauma or grew up in an environment where safety and vulnerability was not possible, was not safe. If this is the case, try to give yourself some grace, and I encourage you to seek professional counseling or therapy, either from the great therapists at Calming Presence Counseling, or another trauma-informed practice.

The supportive, nurturing, and most importantly, accepting nature, of Olive’s relationship with her grandpa allows her to express her worries, and feel reassured, and then she is emotionally regulated enough to go to sleep. When we feel anxious, worried, or scared, it is difficult to let go of those thoughts. In counseling, we can work on developing robust internal resources that you can call upon to comfort yourself in these moments. We can also discuss how to communicate your needs in relationships, so you are more likely to receive the kind of support you need the most. Sometimes we need to comfort ourselves when our interpersonal relationships are not working well, or we are alone. During those times you can use your internal resources. Other times, we will want to ask for our needs to be met through important relationships with others, and that is when we can use our honed communication skills to ask for our needs to be met. Ideally, there is a good balance between soothing ourselves and soothing through relationships. A good balance will ensure we have strong connections through relationships, so we do not feel isolated and lonely, while still having the skills to soothe ourselves so we do not overwhelm our relationships by overly relying on other people to feel better.

Sources of Inspiration for Internal Comfort

It can be helpful to draw from many sources of inspiration for internal comfort; some of ways therapy can help are as follows:

a)   Individual Counseling and Therapy

Personal development and emotional health greatly benefit from one-on-one therapy and counseling sessions. They offer a private environment for people to delve into their thoughts and emotions, nurturing self-awareness and understanding. Therapists assist in this process by aiding individuals in recognizing and questioning negative patterns and building coping mechanisms and resilience. People are taught how to control their feelings and discover inner peace through treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness. CBT works through identifying cognitions, or thoughts and beliefs, which are contributing to mental health disorders. Using CBT techniques can help identify the ineffective, critical thoughts referred to earlier. The definition of mindfulness that I use is the process of paying attention to something in the present, nonjudgmentally, which is a paraphrasing from the developer of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), Jon Kabat-Zinn. Mindfulness allows us to observe thoughts, such as critical thoughts, without attaching to them as absolute truth.  The ability to observe our thoughts without attaching judgment is challenging, and a therapist can provide you with techniques, and the time and space to practice them. Therapy promotes self-examination, establishing objectives, and improving capabilities, enabling individuals to bring about beneficial transformations in their lives and relationships. In general, one-on-one therapy provides people with skills to handle various obstacles in life and interpret their emotions wisely and mindfully, improving their overall well-being. Therapists are crucial in this process, offering support and guidance tailored to each person’s unique needs and fostering a sense of empowerment and well-being.

b)   Family Therapy and Counseling

Family therapy plays an imperative role in resolving conflicts and improving communication within families by offering a structured and supportive environment for dialogue and comprehension. Therapists lead sessions focused on uncovering root problems, unhealthy behaviors, and feelings that are causing conflicts. They instruct on effective ways to communicate, encourage active listening, and foster empathy within the family. Therapy helps families understand their dynamics, roles, and boundaries, leading to stronger connections and cooperation. Therapists facilitate conversations to deal with conflicts in an adaptive way, resulting in higher levels of peace and ease among family members. Family Counseling establishes a base for addressing conflicts, improving relationships, and improving overall well-being through encouraging empathy and mutual understanding. It enables families to work together to overcome obstacles, fostering resilience and a sense of unity.  Through this work, family members can make it more likely that they will be sources of comfort for each other. 

c)    Parenting Counseling

Parenting comes with a myriad of challenges, from handling behavior problems to navigating intricate family relationships. Parenting counseling is essential for assisting and directing parents encountering these obstacles. Therapists provide parents with a secure and accepting environment to talk about their worries, receive validation, and learn about successful parenting strategies. Parenting counselors play an important role in helping parents find comfort and confidence in their parenting journey. They accomplish this by providing instruction on child growth, methods of communication, and positive discipline strategies customized to the specific dynamics of each family. Counselors and parents team up to find strengths, tackle weaknesses, and create effective strategies for handling specific issues. Moreover, parental counseling encourages introspection and enables parents to create a caring and encouraging atmosphere for their children. An example of a question I use to promote introspection is ‘Are your methods of discipline teaching the lessons and values you are trying to instill in your children?’  If they aren’t, counselors can help parents find the disconnect between their methods and their values.  In the end, parenting counseling provides parents with the necessary tools and self-assurance to successfully bring up joyful, healthy, and well-adjusted children.

d)      Relationship and Couples Therapy

Relationship counseling plays a key role in improving connections and addressing issues between partners by creating a secure environment for honest conversations and empathy. Therapists help with conversations, provide advice, and instruct on resolving conflicts, resulting in stronger emotional bonds. By addressing underlying issues and exploring emotions and behaviors, couples understand their interactions better, creating a stronger relationship. Relationship therapists improve this process by offering tools and strategies to develop strong relationships. Their focus is on improving communication, increasing intimacy, and fostering mutual respect. Therapists aid couples in establishing objectives, handling expectations, and overcoming obstacles, enabling them to build harmonious and fulfilling relationships. Are you and your partner usually sources of comfort for each other?  If not, relationship counseling may help you figure out factors that are getting in the way. 

Techniques and Approaches

 

1.    Conflict Resolution Therapy

Conflict resolution therapy focuses on dealing with and resolving interpersonal conflicts positively and respectfully. The main focus is on recognizing the root causes, improving communication, and discovering solutions that are agreeable to all parties involved. Therapists employ different methods to help with this process, including active listening, building empathy, and improving negotiation skills. A crucial part of conflict resolution therapy involves aiding individuals and families in cultivating a more profound comprehension of their own emotions and viewpoints, as well as those of other parties in the conflict. This heightened awareness fosters empathy and decreases defensiveness, facilitating the discovery of common ground and collaboration toward resolving issues. Therapists assist individuals and families by leading them in organized sessions focused on teaching communication methods, problem-solving tactics, and conflict-resolution abilities. Therapists promote peaceful resolutions and emotional comfort by fostering a supportive and non-judgmental space for open dialogue and collaboration. Overall, conflict resolution therapy is very successful in addressing interpersonal disagreements through promoting comprehension, communication, and collaboration. It provides people and their families with the necessary resources to manage conflicts positively, resulting in improved relationships and overall well-being.

2.    Mindfulness and Self-Care Practices

Practicing mindfulness and taking care of oneself is important for achieving greater inner peace and improving overall health. Being mindful means being completely focused on the present moment and accepting thoughts and emotions without criticism. Mindfulness lowers stress levels and improves emotional control, leading to greater internal comfort.  Self-care involves anything you do for yourself that doesn’t have disproportionate negative consequences, e.g., if I play a couple hours of pickleball a few times a week, I feel energized and calmer, if I play for 4 hours every day of the week I will not be able to get out of bed because it will overwhelm my body. 

Therapists often recommend mindfulness techniques such as:

 

1. Mindful breathing exercises

Focusing on the breath to calm the mind and body, promoting relaxation and clarity.  Noticing where you feel the breath as it moves in and out of your body, e.g., cool air coming into your nostrils, warm air as you exhale. 

2. Body scan meditation

Bringing attention to different parts of the body, releasing tension, and promoting physical relaxation.  I like to picture a ray of sun warming each part of the body as I scan from head to toe. 

3. Mindful eating

Paying attention to sensations while eating, fostering a healthy relationship with food, and promoting mindful consumption.  Perceiving the texture of the food, the different flavors, the sun and water that contributed to grow the nutrients you are consuming and allowing each bite to rest in your mouth long enough to distinguish the various flavors. 

4. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques

Incorporating mindfulness into daily activities to manage stress and improve well-being.  Examples of daily activities to which you can bring mindfulness include brushing your teeth or hair, shaving, showering, putting on comfy clothes after work or before bed, making dinner, driving to work, etc. 

Self-care practices are also essential for internal comfort. These include:

1. Setting boundaries

Establishing limits to protect mental and emotional well-being, saying no when necessary, and prioritizing self-care.  Boundaries create the space within which you can have healthy relationships with others and with oneself. 

2. Engaging in hobbies and activities

Doing things that bring joy and fulfillment, whether it’s reading, exercising, or spending time in nature.

3. Practicing self-compassion

Being kind and understanding towards oneself, acknowledging imperfections, and practicing self-acceptance.

4. Seeking support

Reaching out to friends, family, or mental health professionals for guidance and support when needed.

By incorporating mindfulness and self-care routines into everyday life, people can discover inner peace, decrease stress, and improve their overall health and happiness. Therapists often incorporate these methods during counseling sessions to help individuals strengthen their path toward emotional stability and resilience.

Conclusion

In conclusion, one can draw on inspiration from multiple sources for internal comforts like movies, books, TV shows, animals, nature, therapy, counseling, mindfulness, and self-care techniques. Individual counseling can help people identify unhealthy, critical thoughts, learn to observe them mindfully, then develop more accepting, nurturing, internal resources. Parenting counseling provides parents with customized techniques to increase their comfort and confidence in their parenting responsibilities. Relationship counseling improves connections among partners and equips individuals with strategies for fostering healthy relationships and promoting intimacy. Conflict resolution therapy helps individuals find peaceful solutions and emotional support when dealing with interpersonal conflicts. All of these therapy sessions help a lot in bringing peace to our lives. Practicing mindfulness and self-care boosts self-awareness, decreases stress, and improves overall well-being, enabling people to tackle life’s difficulties with strength and optimism.

FAQ’s

Q: What does developing an internal resource mean?

A: Developing an internal resource means using examples of desirable characteristics we see in the world and imagining how these comforting things could apply to our difficult thoughts and emotions.  Do you want to feel strong and immovable like a mountain, or wise like an esteemed elder or grandparent, or unconditionally loved like a friendly pet?  Hone the details of these examples, pause and notice how it feels to embody them, and savor the comforting feelings that emerge. 

Q: Can I be an inspiration to myself?

A: We all have the potential to inspire ourselves! Inspiration does not always need to come from within, but is empowering when we can think of times we exemplified a desirable characteristic. To depend solely on external sources to soothe yourself, is to rely on things that are largely outside of your control. 

Q: How is your inspiration in life?

A: Inspiration can come from various things like traveling, learning new things, and from people, be it historical figures, family members, mentors, etc.  Do you need help finding inspiration in life?  Try counseling and see how it can support you in this quest. 

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