Most of us can access a supportive voice when we speak to small children or animals. What voice would you use if you were assisting a child lost in a department store? How would you speak to a stray dog or cat? You would want the distressed child or animal to feel comfortable while you tried to help. You would probably use a very soft, comforting voice. That’s your Inner Nurturer voice! It may feel difficult to access if you haven’t practiced it very often, but it’s there.
If you have trouble accessing your own Inner Nurturer voice, you can model the voice of a caring relative, mentor, teacher, therapist, neighbor, peer, or colleague. During my own journey as an emotional eater, I had difficulty routinely accessing a wise, mature, kind, nurturing internal voice. I knew this voice existed: I used it when I spoke to small children and animals and when I comforted friends and family members. But when I was upset or stressed, this voice was nowhere to be found. The adult voices in my head tended to be neutral or harsh. I regularly criticized, judged, and shamed myself. My Inner Critic was very overdeveloped.
THE INNER NURTURER’S JOB IS TO
+ help identify feelings, needs, and thoughts
+ validate feelings, needs, and thoughts
+ offer love and support
+ offer comfort and soothing
+ offer encouragement
+ help catch and reframe self-defeating thoughts
+ highlight resources
+ provide hope
+ provide guidance for meeting needs
+ set effective limits
THE INNER NURTURER MUST NOT BE
+ overly indulgent
+ overly permissive
Turning To Food For Comfort
The part of me that regularly turned to food for comfort, my feeling self, was very immature. When I attempted to set limits with myself, especially with food, that young part of me would rebel and demand that her needs be met. When I attempted to access a nurturing, limit-setting voice, saying things like “It’s best if we stop eating now — we want to lose weight,” my feeling self would respond with an adamant “I don’t care. I want something now!”
At these times, my fledgling Inner Nurturer was more of an Inner Indulger, colluding with my feeling self and getting me into trouble with food. I’d hear my Inner Indulger voice say something like “Yeah, we had a really hard day. Let’s stop for some cookies — we’ll do better tomorrow.” Sometimes my Inner Critic could act as a limit setter (more like a drill sergeant) and rein them both in, but more often than not, that young part of me had the last word.
Reinforcing the Alliance with Your Inner Nurturer
Many of us haven’t had enough exposure to kind, compassionate people, and we aren’t familiar with the words that represent loving support. You can learn to access and strengthen the voice of your Inner Nurturer through a simple, three-step process I call Reinforcing the Alliance.
Using your Inner Nurturer voice:
STEP 1. Remind and reassure: Inform your feeling self that your Inner Nurturer is on the scene and ready to help.
STEP 2. Offer love and support: Flood your feeling self with loving and supportive phrases.
STEP 3. Offer comfort: Calm your feeling self with soothing words and gestures.
“I Am Here with You Always”
Step 1. Remind and reassure: Inform your feeling self that your Inner Nurturer is on the scene and ready to help.
Once you’ve popped the hood and validated your feelings, jot down a few sentences in your journal that convey to your feeling self that your Inner Nurturer is on the scene and available. Pick phrases that really resonate with you — ones you find particularly nurturing.
Remind and Reassure
“I am here with you now — everything will be all right.”
“I am on the scene and ready to help.”
“I am closer to you than your breath.”
“You are never alone — I am always with you.”
“I’ve got your back.”
“I am here to help.”
“You can count on me.”
“I am by your side.”
“You are always safe with me.”
“We will get through this together.”
“Your feelings are very important to me.”
“I can and will take care of you and help you meet your needs.”
“Your needs are very important to me.”
“We’ll take baby steps together — come on, hold my hand.”
“Did I Tell You How Important You Are to Me?”
Step 2. Offer love and support: Flood your feeling self with loving and supportive phrases.
Take the time to write a couple of phrases of love and support to your feeling self. Select phrases that really call to you. Don’t rush through this step. You deserve the same loving-kindness that you offer others. Try to feel the love and support you’re giving yourself.
Offer Love and Support
“I love and care about you.”
“You are very dear and special to me.”
“Did I tell you today how much I love you?”
“Did I tell you how important you are to me?”
“I will always be here to love and support you.”
“My love and care for you are unconditional.”
“I love you just as you are.”
“You can totally be yourself with me.”
“You don’t have to be perfect for me to love you.”
“I love you even when you make mistakes.”
“You can always count on me.”
“I will never abandon you.”
“I will never leave you.”
“I will be here for you forever.”
“You are safe here with me.”
“I believe in you.”
“I will always believe in you.”
“You are incredible!”
Don’t worry if it still feels awkward using this voice and talking to yourself in this way. It will take time for this voice to feel natural, and you may have to “fake it until you make it.” You can think of this step as a mini self-lovefest.
“Everything Is Going to Be Okay”
Step 3. Offer comfort: Calm your feeling self with soothing words and gestures.
You know how to distract and pleasure yourself with your favorite foods and engaging pastimes. But do you know how to truly comfort yourself? In this step, you’ll explore and practice new ways of comforting yourself and get clear on what feels most soothing. With this skill firmly under your belt, you’ll be able to comfort and soothe yourself anytime, anywhere.
It’s often easier to think of behaviors that are comforting, such as taking a bath or listening to music, than words and gestures. Many of us find it difficult to find the right words to comfort ourselves. And when our Inner Nurturer voice is still wobbly, its soothing words may not feel all that comforting.
Think about a time recently when you were upset. Perhaps it was an argument with someone. Maybe someone said something unkind to you. Perhaps you had negative thoughts about yourself; maybe you were feeling bad after comparing yourself to someone. Maybe you were worrying about your health, or perhaps you had a large, unexpected expense.
Whatever the situation, think about what someone else could say to you to comfort and soothe you. Take a moment and write down a few phrases of comfort. Using your Inner Nurturer voice, say these phrases out loud, as compassionately as you can.
How does it feel to say comforting, soothing phrases to yourself? Does it feel awkward and unnatural, like when you were first learning to ride a bicycle or speak a foreign language? Does your own voice feel the slightest bit soothing? If not, why is it that you don’t consider your own voice soothing? What qualities do you attribute to others that you don’t attribute to yourself? How is it that you can soothe a friend, a small child, or a suffering animal but not yourself? It takes time to build and strengthen the voice of your Inner Nurturer. Your own voice can feel just as loving, supportive, and comforting as anyone else’s. It’s just a matter of practice.
Offer Comfort with Soothing Words
“I can understand being upset about this.”
“Sometimes upsetting things like this happen.”
“I’m sorry you’re going through this.”
“I know you’re worried about this.”
“I know how frustrated you are.”
“I get how tired you are of struggling with this.”
“This is a difficult time for you.”
“I know how hard everything has been for you lately.”
“Everyone makes mistakes; no one is perfect.”
“Sometimes life throws a lot of curveballs.”
“You don’t deserve any more hardship.”
“I know things are going to get better.”
“Everything is going to be okay.”
“This too shall pass.”
“The tide will turn, and better days will come.”
“Soon this will be behind us.”
“We’re going to make lemonade out of these lemons.”
“You’re going to see this differently over time.”
“This isn’t easy for you; over time you’ll make sense of it.”
“I know you are upset. I am here with you.”
“The future doesn’t have to be the same as the past.”
“We’ll get through this together. I’m right by your side.”
The Power of Touch
One way to comfort and soothe yourself when you’re alone and upset is to gently touch yourself. Physical touch releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin into your brain and body. As silly as this may sound, your body doesn’t know the difference between your touch and someone else’s. Start with a soothing gesture that conveys softness, care, and tenderness, like gently stroking your face or giving yourself a warm hug.
Try placing your hands on your heart. The warmth of your hands is soothing, especially when placed on uncomfortable bodily sensations. We all know how wonderfully soothing massage feels — why not try self-massage?
Notice how you feel after you offer yourself soothing words and gestures. Are you feeling more calm and relaxed? Even a tiny bit? Jot down any noticeable changes in how you’re feeling.
Offer Comfort with Soothing Gestures
Gently stroke your face.
Stroke yourself from your shoulders to your elbows.
Hold or hug yourself.
Rock your body.
Place your hands on your heart.
Place your hands on the sites of uncomfortable bodily sensations.
Hug a pillow while lying in a fetal position.
Softly rub your hands together.
Massage your head and neck.
Gently massage different body parts.
Stretch your head from side to side.
If practicing the first three skills of inner nurturing addresses your needs in any given situation, your work is complete. You popped the hood, connected with yourself in an intimate way, and allowed yourself to feel. You’ve met your developmentally critical needs for validation, reassurance, love, support, and comfort and headed your emotional eating off at the pass.
Copyright ©2018 by Julie M. Simon.
Reprinted with permission from New World Library
When Food Is Comfort: Nurture Yourself Mindfully, Rewire Your Brain, and End Emotional Eating
by Julie M. Simon
If you regularly eat when you’re not truly hungry, choose unhealthy comfort foods, or eat beyond fullness, something is out of balance. When Food Is Comfort presents a breakthrough mindfulness practice called Inner Nurturing, a comprehensive, step-by-step program developed by an author who was herself an emotional eater. You’ll learn how to nurture yourself with the loving-kindness you crave and handle stressors more easily so that you can stop turning to food for comfort. Improved health and self-esteem, more energy, and weight loss will naturally follow.
About the Author
Julie M. Simon, MA, MBA, LMFT, is a licensed psychotherapist and life coach with more than twenty-seven years of experience helping overeaters stop dieting, heal their relationships with themselves and their bodies, lose excess weight, and keep it off. She is the author of The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual and the founder of the popular Twelve-Week Emotional Eating Recovery Program. For more information and inspiration, visit Julie's website at www.overeatingrecovery.com.