Let’s talk about self-soothing, and how vital it is to the development and maintenance of any type of relationship you may find yourself in, romantic or otherwise.

Whether you are queer or straight, monogamous or consensually non-monogamous, no relationship goes without its fair share of arguments or disagreements. Conflicts are an inevitable part of a healthy relationship, especially when there are fundamental personality-differences coming in to play.

We’ll kick off this topic with a shared understanding of what self-soothing is exactly before exploring some of the benefits of self-soothing when it comes to managing relationship conflicts.

Then we’ll identify some common scenarios that may require the use of self-soothing to help manage emotional reactions.

We’ll conclude with a few self-soothing techniques you can try out for yourself the next time you feel upset, hurt, or invalidated by a significant person in your life.

Let’s dive in!

Self-Soothing as a Coping skill

Self-soothing refers to the practice of engaging in any behavior that promotes emotional regulation by oneself. Such behaviors may be considered adaptive while others may be considered maladaptive.

Adaptive behaviors allow people to cope with stress in a helpful way that is most conducive to the situation so they can adjust to their environment with greater ease.

An example of an adaptive behavior would be listening to audiobooks because you love to read, and your eyesight isn’t as good as it used to be or you can’t sit still long enough to read a physical book.

In the context of a relationship, an adaptive behavior might look like going for a walk after a heated argument to create some distance from the situation so you can collect yourself and revisit the discussion from a calmer state.

Maladaptive behaviors have the same intentions as adaptive behaviors. The key difference is that maladaptive behaviors are misguided attempts to cope with stress in a way that may perpetuate difficulty in adjusting to a new environment or situation.

An example of a maladaptive behavior would be smoking a little some thing every time you feel overwhelmed because you want to clear your head and feel instant relief, even though you know it may not be good for your long-term health or it may compromise the integrity of your academic or work performance.

In the context of a relationship, a maladaptive behavior might look like feigning solidarity, or people pleasing, to diffuse tension or avoid conflicts because you’d rather compromise your well-being then risk potentially losing the relationship.

Anything you do to regulate your emotions and increase your tolerance to stress can be considered a coping skill for self soothing when emotions run high.

Why Self-Soothing is Important

Now that we have an understanding of what self soothing is, let’s talk about its role in managing conflicts.

Knowing how to calm or soothe yourself during an argument can help you dial down your physical response and automatic reaction to stress.

Self-soothing skills can help you keep your cool and stay calm enough to handle difficult conversations with greater mindfulness so you don’t end up saying or doing something you’ll regret.

When you are feeling calm and grounded, it’s easier to empathize with where another is coming from. You will be less defensive and more open to brainstorming solutions and exploring pros and cons with consideration for each others perspective.

Self-soothing as a coping skill also opens the door to deeper intimacy by allowing effective communication to occur without heightened emotions getting in the way of how a message is being delivered or received.

By practicing self soothing techniques regularly, you can increase your emotional resilience by learning how to expand your tolerance to stress.

When to Self-Soothe in a Relationship

At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what self-soothing is and why it is such an essential skill to have in your relationship/well-being toolbox.

Now let’s discuss common scenarios you may have encountered when knowing how to physiological self-sooth would be super clutch.

When you and your partner have a disagreement relating to fundamental differences in values. Where to live, how to manage finances or raise children, whether or not to open up your relationship — these are just a few examples of how differences in values can create perpetual conflicts. Self-soothing can help you accept those differences as you learn to work through them over a series of conversations before arriving at some kind of a resolution.

When you feel criticized, invalidated or disrespected by someone you love or care about. Criticism is a silent killer of relationships. It is often followed by its close companion defensiveness. Knowing how to self soothe can make all the difference in whether or not you take something personally. Is the criticism really a reflection of you, or a projection of how your partner may be feeling toward themself?

When you or your partner’s emotional reactivity gets in the way of a productive conflict discussion. Sometimes an argument can get so heated that one or both partners may lose control of their emotions. That would be a really good time to practice regulating your emotions to stop yourself for saying or doing something that you may ultimately regret.

When your partner decides to stonewall you and refuses to speak to you for an uncertain period of time. Stonewalling behavior may increase your anxiety thereby strengthening your resolve to push the issue even further.The best thing to do for yourself (and your partner) is to find an alternative way to cope independently of your partner. Self-soothing is especially recommended in this kind of situation.

When you feel completely misunderstood by someone who misinterpreted your words or actions. You can have the best of intentions, but sometimes your message doesn’t land the way you may have hoped. Misunderstandings happen all the time. Self-soothing can help you maintain the objectivity necessary to ensure effective communication between sender and receiver

Techniques for Soothing Yourself When Experiencing Emotional Distress

There are literally hundreds of ways to calm and relax yourself when feeling emotionally charged by a stressful situation. When this flooding of emotions happens, the brain sends a signal to the rest of the body that it may be in danger. Here are some common relaxation techniques you can use to let the brain know that you are okay.

1. Deep Breathing

One of the simplest ways to calm your central nervous system when it is hyper-aroused is by slowing down the breath.

It can be as simple as breathing in so deeply you can not take in anymore oxygen before breathing out all the air you took until there’s nothing left and then repeating the process about five times for a solid minute.

Another popular breathing technique is referred to as boxed breathing which involves inhaling for a count of four and holding the breath for a count of four before exhaling for a count of four, then holding the breath for another count of four before repeating the process as many times as it takes for your to feel calmer.

2. Engaging the Five Senses

Another simple way to practice self-soothing is by engaging the five senses. Start by naming five things you can see, four things you can feel and three things you can hear. Proceed by naming two things you can smell and one thing you can test. Then choose at least one of the five senses to further engage with.

Examples of engaging with the senses include lighting a candle and watching it burn (vision), singing your favorite song (hearing), aromatherapy (smell), indulging in your favorite food (taste), or taking a bubble bath (touch). This techniques helps ground you in the present moment.

3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This technique involves physically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups throughout the body, one group at a time. For each area of the body, hold the tension in the body as you inhale for about few seconds before relaxing the body as you exhale.

Practice saying to yourself the word “relax” as you relax the muscles. Notice the feeling of physical relaxation as you work through each muscle group. The goal of this technique is to reduce muscle tension often associated with anxious feelings.

4. Mental Imagery

This technique involves the practice of using your imagination to create a safe place within your mind or recall a pleasant memory that helps you bring feelings of comfort into the present moment. By leveraging the five senses, you can use mental images, sounds, feelings and sensations to help you feel better in the moment.

All you have to do is close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and think of a calming place that relaxes you. You can imagine being at the beach or somewhere outdoors in nature. You can even imagine being at your favorite vacation spot or in a whole new world where there’s not a care in the world.

5. Physical Exercise

One tried and true way to really take care of yourself when you’re feeling emotionally reactive is through physical exercise. Not only does it work as a welcomed distraction, but it also helps allow the energy of your emotions to flow through you and out of your body through physical exertion of lingering emotions that may get trapped in the body.

Simple stretching, practicing yoga, going for a walk, running or strength training are all great ways to regain a sense of self-control when coping with circumstances beyond your control.

6. Spirituality

We wouldn’t be Soul 2 Soul without this particular way of self-soothing! For us, this means turning the situation over to something greater than yourself, whether that be a God of your own understanding, or the universe, life force energy, Mother Earth or Spirit, depending on your particular belief system. Many people find it incredibly helpful to lean into their spirituality to ask for support, guidance, or direction to experience a new perspective or more aligned thoughts and actions. Connecting to a higher power, whatever that may mean to you, often leads to greater peace and serenity.

Start Cultivating Stronger Relationships Today

Self-soothing is an essential skill for the maintenance of a long-lasting relationship. Learning how to self-soothe supports conflict resolution by promoting emotional regulation. While there are many ways to do it, the best will be whatever works for you.

Couples therapy can be helpful way to work through relationship conflicts. Through relationship counseling, you and your partner can learn to communicate more effectively and better understand each other in a meaningful way. A deeper understanding of each other’s worldview and attachment style paves the way for deeper intimacy and connection. A qualified couples therapist can help you and your partner identify effective ways to self-soothe while staying connected. As you learn to self-soothe during conflicts, you eventually learn how to help your partner self-soothe too, creating more space in the relationship for empathy and compassion. 

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Many teens and young adults who come to therapy report low levels of self-esteem. Plagued by insecurities about their physical appearance or social status, they tend to withdraw in the spirit of self-preservation. They want nothing more than to be their own person and think for themselves, but the risk of being ostracized by family or peers are far too great. Such inner conflicts yield a propensity for people-pleasing and perfectionism as compensatory strategies for absolving that unsettling feeling of not being able to measure up to certain ideals imposed by social norms that seem to be reinforced by pop culture. The final byproduct is a distorted self-image that perpetuates feelings of anxiety and depression.

6 Pillars of Self-Esteem

Nathanial Branden (1994), a pioneer in the self-esteem movement, defines self-esteem as “the experience that we are appropriate to life and to the requirements of life” (pp. 4). In other words, Branden (1994) describes self-esteem as your confidence in your ability to cope with the basic challenges of life and being able to trust your mind and judgement with such conviction that you are driven by inspired action.

Lisa LaGuardia Fischer, founder of Soul 2 Soul Healing, defines self-esteem as a measurement of our self-worth that answers the fundamental question: “Do I matter?” Self-esteem is very much tied to the way we think about ourselves in terms of external factors such as our looks, associations, or achievements, whereas self-worth is very much tied to how we feel about ourselves and whether or not we are good enough or worthy to have what we want. When we believe that we matter, we value ourselves and the efforts we make to achieve our goals. But when we start believing that we don’t matter, we tend to devalue ourselves and feel like our efforts are somehow not good enough.

However way you choose to define self-esteem for yourself, here are six ways you can lay the groundwork for improving and strengthening your self-esteem.

1. Develop the skill of mindfulness to practice living consciously.

There’s a reason why mindfulness has become a common intervention in many therapeutic practices. Mindfulness sets the foundation for creating awareness and using that awareness to live with conscious intention. In order to facilitate our own personal growth, we have to be able to accurately assess our environment, both internally and externally, so we can make effective decisions about how we want to show up in our lives. This is the essence of living consciously, the first pillar of self esteem. 

You can practice the skill of mindfulness by recognizing when you get lost in either your thoughts or emotions, and learning to center yourself by leveraging both to find the wisdom that lies between, what practitioners of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) refer to as the “wise mind” from which living consciously becomes far more accessible. The pathway to building a positive sense of self begins with the practice of living consciously.

“Our mind is our basic tool of survival. Betray it and self-esteem suffers.”

2. Show yourself plenty of compassion to master self-acceptance.

As you begin a practice of living consciously, you may become acutely aware of the judgements you hold toward yourself. Such judgements feed on insecurities like a wildfire and can diminish one’s sense of value in a world governed by celebrities, influencers, and social capital (aka the value of your network and connections). When you become aware of such judgements, recognize it as an opportunity to treat yourself with kindness and respect. 

Branden (1994) identified the second pillar of self-esteem as the practice of self-acceptance and described it as a precondition to change and growth. To accept oneself is to make a conscious choice to value yourself, to be your own friend and ally, and to fully experience reality as it appears to you. The practice of self-acceptance allows you to live in love and truth rather than in fear and denial so that you can learn and grow from each and every experience life has to offer you.

3. Take ownership of your well-being to practice self-responsibility.

Through a practice of self-acceptance, you may come to realize that while some things are well within your control, there are many others that are well beyond your control. Building off the first two pillars of self-esteem, the third pillar works to protect self-esteem. The practice of self-responsibility challenges you to discern between what is up to you and what is simply not. 

When living unconsciously or in denial of uncomfortable truths, the path of least resistance may light your way — but is it even in a direction you want to be going? To engage with the world in such a way can be detrimental to your self-esteem. Trying to control things you can’t or denying responsibility for things you can can be erosive to the self-esteem. 

The practice of self-responsibility puts you back in the driver seat of your life. When you start taking ownership of your dreams, goals, and outcomes — and even your failures, mistakes, and shortcomings — things don’t just happen TO you for you to suffer in pain but rather FOR you to evolve and adapt.

“Healthy self-esteem asks that we leap into the arena- that we be willing to get our hands dirty.”

4. Learn how to advocate for yourself to build your muscles of self-assertiveness.

Once you start practicing self-responsibility, you begin to recognize all the ways you have inadvertently given your personal power away by living your life according to everyone else’s standards and expectations but your own. This strategy for survival can dramatically compromise your self-esteem without the previously discussed practices supporting the weight of your ego — that part of you that thrives on other people’s approval and needs to be validated or accepted at all costs. 

The practice of self-assertiveness refers to honoring your needs, wants and values and expressing them in an ecological way that works for not just you, but also for others, society, and the world. When you’re practicing self-assertiveness, there is a willingness to stand up for yourself, to be who you are openly, and to treat yourself with respect in all interactions (Branden, 1994). 

You can practice self-assertiveness simply by living by your own set of standards and learning to say no to other people’s expectations of you if they are not yours or aligned with your values. The foundation needed for self-esteem to develop becomes much more stable when you become your own ally and advocate.

5. Set daily intentions and weekly goals to practice living purposefully.

To live without purpose means to live at the mercy of chance because there’s no standard by which to judge whether something is worth doing or not (Branden, 1994). To live with purpose, on the other hand, means using of all of the personal power you have to achieve meaningful goals that propel you forward and energize your existence (Branden, 1994). 

When you set intentions and goals for yourself, you are in essence living on purpose rather than by accident. Think of intentions as how you want to show up (or how you want others to show up for you) when completing a task, and think of goals as a specific outcome your are working toward accomplishing by doing that task. Intentions and goals are the building blocks of productivity, an element of self-esteem worth noting.

Healthy self-esteem requires you to support your own existence by setting goals and actively working towards achieving them. However, it’s not the achievement itself that proves our worth or right to exist; it is in the process of achieving by which we develop our competency to function in the world and the skills necessary to cope with the basic challenges of everyday living —taking care of yourself, managing your schedule, balancing priorities, paying bills, and completing chores, among other things. 

The practice of living purposefully, the fifth pillar of self-esteem, allows you to cultivate self-esteem by integrating all pillars to help you remain on path and on purpose through the actions you take daily. When you are productive in working toward your goals or changing your situation, you are building self-esteem one action at a time.

“The root of our self-esteem is not our achievements but those internally generated practices that, among other things, make it possible for us to achieve.”

6. Cultivate alignment between what you do and say by committing to personal integrity.

The easiest way to erode self-esteem is by saying your going to do something and then not doing it. When your actions and behaviors are incongruent with your values and convictions, a breach of integrity occurs that wounds the self-esteem. 

While most issues of integrity may be small (like snoozing your wake up alarm), their accumulated weight can compromise your self-esteem as you start losing face with yourself. With each lapse of integrity, you stop respecting yourself until you reach a point when you can’t even trust yourself anymore. Integrity is the only way to heal such wounds to the esteem.

The practice of personal integrity is the final pillar of self-esteem that serves as your own personal moral code. Without it, you have no basis from which to make the best possible decisions for yourself. You can practice personal integrity by clarifying what matters most to you and questioning the standards that govern your world.

Nurture Self-Esteem By Practicing These Skills

Self-esteem is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Think of the six pillars as different muscle groups that collectively work together to form a healthy and strong self-esteem.

Each time you practice living consciously, embracing self-acceptance, exercising self-responsibility, embodying self-assertiveness, living purposefully, and behaving with personal integrity, you are building a healthy and positive self-esteem.

Self-Esteem Counseling at Soul 2 Soul Healing

Soul 2 Soul Healing offers self-esteem counseling for teens and young adults who want to feel more confident in themselves. If you’re looking for a self-esteem therapist in El Segundo, please reach out to us today.


Branden, N. (1994). The six pillars of self-esteem. Bantom Books.

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