Providing comfort to someone who is experiencing emotional pain is primarily a somatic (related to the body) process. Since emotion arises in the body, regulation is also linked to the body. What makes this difficult for many people is that emotion is also contagious. So, when we attempt to provide comfort to another person, it is certain that we will experience the pain of the other in our own bodies. Depending on how much limbic flexibility (tolerance for emotional distress without reacting) we have, this can be easier or more difficult.
Advice giving can be (not always) a sign that your body moved away from staying with the emotion in the room. It’s ok if it’s somewhat uncomfortable to sit with another in their pain, that’s the contagion of emotion working in your body. You can actually use this sensation to provide comfort. This might sound something like, “Wow, I can really feel your pain hit me, it feels like a lot. I’m with you, you’re safe here with me”. This takes practice, especially if your body naturally wants to move into solution mode but it’s an invaluable process for entering into communion with others.
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* The information provided is for self-enrichment and not intended to replace any necessary mental health treatment.
Jonathan Dixon, LMFT
Alpha Omega Team