The Skill of Self-Soothing

My cat Buster misses Aretha. Before she died, they didn’t always get along, but they loved chasing each other or having a “surprise” stand-off, each of them backing around each other, lifting a paw as if to strike. Both would growl threateningly. And then, just as quickly as it started, they each pretended to find something more interesting and walk away. After the stand-off, Buster would find a patch of sun or an air conditioning draft and take a nap.

Now that Aretha is gone, Buster can no longer soothe himself. He is awake mostBustertub of the day, following me and meowing. When I ask him what he needs, he either runs to the tub for water, or to the door to be let out. But it’s not what he wants. He’s lost the ability to soothe himself.  I pick him up and talk to him, stroke him, but it’s not enough.

“Self soothing” is a term used for babies who manage to go to sleep using their own methods. They don’t fight sleep, they don’t cry themselves to sleep, they talk to themselves and just calm themselves down until they fall asleep.

My son was not one of those babies, and neither was I. My mother always said I was afraid I’d miss something by sleeping. My son needed a bath, a story, a song, another story and then maybe, just maybe he would stay in bed. He fought sleep with the best of them. No self soothers in our family.

The cat loves a warm patio in the winter.

The cat loves a warm patio in the winter.

It took me years to learn self-soothing. To keep calm. To not choose “frantic.” To deliberately turn away from drama. It takes a lot of practice. I start by going silent and disconnecting from all electronic gear. While I’m still up, I go to the studio and write down all my worries. That way, they are captured and I don’t need to rewind and re-run them. The next morning, I tear them up, after reviewing them to make sure I still have them all.

After I write down the worries, it’s time to find either the prayer mala or my seed pod necklace and rub the surface. This simply motion, moving my fingers over a smooth surface, helps me focus on texture. I then think of calming scenes, of things that went well in the day, or, if I am fighting sleep, of a book, turning the pages. On each page, I “find” a word that is calming. Then I mentally turn the page. This exercise, which is a form of meditation or prayer, usually works. Sleep comes and finds me.

Buster’s anguish makes me sad for him. He hasn’t learned the skill, so I’m being a bit more patient with him. Because, God knows, self soothing is a life-long learning procedure.

Quinn McDonald finds traveling a barricade to self-soothing.



10 thoughts on “The Skill of Self-Soothing

      • I am so very sorry I missed your perfect post. I have tears in my eyes for your family’s huge loss. Perhaps this will bring you a bit of comfort, as it has me.

        Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

        When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
        All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

        They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

        You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

        Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….

        Author unknown…

  1. Maybe Buster is looking for you to take the part of his late partner in stand-offs! My Ganderpup mourned after Simon died and just wasn’t interested in play, so we thought another dog would help, but Lucy Lou was a bully and terrorized him instead of playing with him. Now LL’s been given back to the rescue, I’ve taken Simon’s role of occasionally mimicking a playbow and chasing Gander around the yard. Works for him (he self soothes afterwards by chewing on elm leaves off the suckers on the trees); wears me out, so guess it’s good for both of us. You wouldn’t think trying to catch a dog’s tail would be so hard!

  2. Poor Buster…grief is hard for animals, too. I’ve never really thought of “self soothing” in regard to myself. I know that I have rituals that make me feel better, but now I will pay more attention to what I actually do. Thanks!

  3. I don’t understand the “reviewing” part. By the way, Hazel the comatose Very Calm Cat apparently knows how to do this; it seems to involve complaining.

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