The Self-Soothing Series – Using Your Imagination

The Self-Soothing Series - Using Your Imagination

I’m back with another instalment of the self-soothing series in which I share tools and strategies to support you when you become emotionally dysregulated. Today, we’re focussing on the power of imagination. As well as self-soothing, this exercise can help you connect with your inner wisdom, kindness and compassion.

Some of us already have these internal resources because they were modelled to us in our early childhood and throughout our lives. This modelling allows us to internalise these resources so we can draw upon them more easily in later life. Unfortunately, some of us didn’t receive kindness, patience and compassion from our caregivers when we were younger, making it harder for us to develop and use these things towards ourselves as we go about our lives. As such, this exercise might be particularly helpful for those of you who didn’t experience being protected and nurtured as children.

How Can Your Imagination Help?

Your imagination is so powerful it can affect your body positively or negatively depending on what’s showing up. For example, if you imagine going on an upcoming holiday, sitting on the beach with a cocktail in your hand, you might notice you feel excitement in your tummy. In contrast, if you imagine a stressful experience, you may tense up. You may also notice your heart rate starts to increase. This just goes to show the power of the mind. What we focus on affects our body and how we feel emotionally.

How to Use Your Imagination to Self-Soothe

For this exercise, I want you to identify and connect with three different types of figures. It doesn’t matter whether they’re real people or imagined. They can even be characters from a film or book. What matters is what they represent – nurturing, protective or wise qualities.

  1. The Nurturing Figure

One example of a nurturing figure could be a really loving teacher or teaching assistant you had at school who made you feel cared for. Another one is the Fairy Godmother because she was kind and compassionate towards Cinderella when she helped her get ready for the ball.

  1. The Protective Figure

This might not be a person, especially if you do not feel you were protected in your early life. Instead, it might be things like a big shield covering you, a safety bubble or an army of soldiers surrounding you and protecting you from harm or criticism.

When I went through EMDR Therapy myself, one of my protective figures was an army of giant lions surrounding me. They were so high up nothing could get through them.

  1. The Wise Figure

Common wisdom figures are people like Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings or Dumbledore from Harry Potter. If you are religious, you might have God as your wise figure.

Connecting With Your Figures

Write down your own list of figures. I recommend identifying two nurturing figures, two protective figures and one wise figure. The next step is to get yourself comfortable and close your eyes. If you don’t feel comfortable closing your eyes, you can just stare at a fixed spot. When you’re ready, think about one figure at a time, starting with the nurturing figure.

Bring them into your imagination. You might want to picture what they look like and imagine the tone of their voice. You don’t necessarily have to imagine them nurturing you directly, but if it feels nice to do so, go with it.

Once you’ve connected with their nurturing quality, start to notice what your body feels like. If you feel soothed and comforted, you can add in some gentle bilateral stimulation in the form of slow alternate body taps from one thigh to the other. As you continue to imagine the nurturing figure, notice how your body responds. Doing this helps to link the resource into your fuller nervous system.

Repeat these steps for your second nurturing figure before moving on to the protective figures. Again, notice how your body feels. When I connect with my protective figure and imagine giant lions surrounding me, my body starts to feel lighter. I feel less worried about bad things happening to me because I feel an internal sense of safety. If you do not feel soothed or calm, you might need to change your protective figure.

Finally, bring to mind an image of the wise figure you’ve identified. Try to get a sense of their wisdom. When you feel connected to this in your body, sit with the feeling until it starts to plateau.

When to Use Your Imagination

You can use these figures and bring them to mind whenever you feel like you need them. For example, if you are about to go into a situation that normally triggers anxiety, you could spend a moment or two beforehand connecting with your protective figure. This should help you feel safe, reducing anxiety and making the situation easier to navigate.

If you need wisdom in your life, if you’ve got a decision you need to make, you can think about your wise figure. Imagine asking them for advice and what their response might be.

Personally, I draw upon my nurturing figure quite regularly, especially if I am being self-critical. The opposite of self-criticism is compassion and kindness. If I’m beating myself up about something, I imagine my nurturing figure and consider what they’d say about the situation. How would they want me to feel? Connecting with this helps me disconnect from my own self-criticism.

Essentially, you can think of these figures and your imagination as an ever-present support team. They want to help you and see you do well. They will always be with you, so call upon them whenever you feel like you need them.

Useful Links

Understanding ‘Mum Rage’

What is Reparenting and Where Do I Start?

The Inner Child Explained

The Self-Soothing Series – Diaphragmatic Breathing

The Self-Soothing Series – Visualisation


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