So what IS comfort?
According to the dictionary, it’s simply the easing of a difficult or painful emotion. It can also apply to physical pain. Comfort isn’t a band-aid, nor is it a cure. It doesn’t cover over pain, nor does it completely take it away. Comfort acknowledges the reality of pain and provides some relief. . . lightness. . . soothing. . . amidst that pain.
The problem is many of us never learned the art of soothing our own heartaches. We have no internal reservoir. . . no “emotional bank account” to draw upon to bring relief to our own sorrows.
The idea of an emotional bank account was first popularized by Stephen Covey and more recently by The Gottman Institute. Typically, the metaphor is used in reference to interpersonal relationships. It’s about learning how to fill up the emotional bank account of your partner or child or loved one and vice versa.
But here’s the thing: You can also replenish your own emotional bank account.
It’s great to have friends and loved ones who provide relief, encouragement, or a shoulder to cry on when you’re hurting. But what do you do when you’re run down and alone? When that go-to person has her own overwhelming burden to bear, or your spouse is struggling with the same heavy boulder you are?
Here’s how to replenish your own emotional bank account when you’re hurting:
1.) Connect to your emotions with compassion.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s truly what your soul needs. As you connect with your emotions with compassion, you find relief. Cultivate a compassionate voice within: “I see you there fear. . . anger . . .shame. . .. I get it. I’m with you.” As you connect to your emotions, you build trust. You’re not letting them take you over, nor are your acting on them. But you’re honoring important parts of your soul. Denying emotions just sends them to an untended place within. Connecting to what you’re experiencing is an important step toward healing and greater health.
2.) Look outside of yourself.
Why is nature so soothing? Because it reminds us that we are not ultimately in control—that we are created beings. It extends to us the comfort of leaning into our limitations. The river water rushing over the glistening stones does its work without you lifting a finger. The wind blowing through your hair reminds you that big forces are at work. Good forces. Godly forces. The trees stand tall. The ocean waves crash. You are just one part of the whole. An important part. . . but not ultimately in control. When you’re hurting, soak in the rhythms of God’s creation moving all around you. Let them remind you that you are held.
2.) Develop life-giving connections with a few safe people.
Tapping into your relationships is one of the most concrete ways to gain comfort and support. If you were blessed with nurturing parents, you learned to receive comfort physically and emotionally from the moment you left the womb. Your emotional bank account is programmed to receive nourishment from others, and you know how to find it. If you didn’t get the nourishment your soul needed at a very young age, then it might be harder for you to trust the comforting words of a friend. Take heart. You can train your soul to learn what comfort feels like. If you struggle to receive comfort from others, find a safe person, a counselor, or a trusted adviser and work through your protectors. You can learn to receive the incredible relief that comes from being understood, witnessed, and supported in your vulnerability.
3.) Connect with God.
Many of you experience the comfort of God’s loving presence through prayer and simply spending time with Him. If the comfort of His Spirit comes to you naturally, Seek it. Soak it in. For some of you, the experience of His nourishing presence is less accessible. Take heart. It doesn’t have anything to do with how much you love God or how long you’ve served Him. Some of the greatest spiritual leaders in history struggled to find the comfort of God’s presence. You can still discover your own way of standing firm in the reality of who God’s is. An excellent resource is Gary Thomas’s book, Sacred Pathways.
4.) Get into a different part of your brain.
There is a reason why books, movies, and music can get your brain out of a painful loop—they disrupt anxious and sad neural pathways and create new ones. Stories and music transport you into another world, because they literally take you into another part of your brain. If music stirs your heart and brings you comfort, use it. If watching a romantic comedy or reality TV show about baking cupcakes makes you smile and feel inspired, go for it. Make time to shake up your mental space in the same way you might stretch your body. When you do this with intention, you’re putting your Firefighters—your internal comfort seekers—to work in a healthy way. Let stories and music transport you to a wholly—some might even say holy—other place for a time. For more on the science of this technique, check out Melanie Greenberg’s book, The Stress-Proof Brain.
Remember—you can’t comfort yourself if you don’t first acknowledge an ache.
I’m hurting…overwhelmed… angry… sad. All of these emotions are valid, and like a wound to your physical body, they need salve and healing ointment from God, loved ones, nature, art. . .and believe it or not – from YOU. Learn to lead yourself to those sources of comfort that replenish your emotional bank account. It’s part of your job as an adult to comfort yourself. . . just as it was in your DNA as a child to receive it.