In her book Your Resonant Self, Sarah Peyton makes the extraordinary assertion that some people’s default inner voice gives them ongoing emotional warmth. For those of us who did not have emotionally warm parents in the past, nor an emotionally warm partner in the present, it would be wonderful to be able to access emotional warmth while alone.
Emotional warmth is defined as being met or meeting others with affection and welcome, with a feeling of being cared for, nourished, and nurtured.
Resonance is defined as sensing that another being fully understands us and sees us with emotional warmth and generosity. Resonance between two people is participatory, present, embodied, and active. It is easier to achieve resonance when we allow our emotions out to the edges of our bodies, where they can be sensed through our facial expressions and voice and body language.
The other person allows our emotions and experiences to move them (but not overwhelm them) like a sounding board physically vibrating with an incoming sound. They welcome us warmly, and we feel that in return.
Words can help reinforce the essential nonverbal signals of taking in, understanding, and accepting. “Yes, that makes sense. I hear you. You seem really angry right now.” Those words could be warmly resonant, or coldly distancing. Our bodies feel the difference.
I experienced resonance when I shared a recent encounter. “I stopped to move a yard waste bin out of the bike lane, and the homeowner came out to yell at me for leaning my bike against his tree. He said there was plenty of room left for bikes in the lane.” The listener said, “That’s ridiculous!” My body relaxed as I received her resonant anger. I felt her warm understanding and affirmation that I deserve to take up space in the bike lane, and I deserve to take up space telling the story.
Babies need carers to resonate with their experiences, reflect them back affectionately, and help them find words for the experiences over time. When we miss out on early resonance, we are left with an uncertain void where there could be a solid core of self-support.
We internalize not only how our early carers treat us, but also how they treat themselves. Our nervous system senses theirs and absorbs, “This is how to be in the world.” Perhaps they never learned warmth themselves. Perhaps they were immigrants, and passed along a sense of not fitting in. Fortunately our brain and nervous system remain malleable and we can continue to learn new patterns as adults.
Grow your Inner Nurturer
Sarah Peyton invites us to connect with a Resonant Self Witness (RSW), a part of our brain that listens and responds warmly to our experience. In Inner Relationship Focusing, Ann Weiser Cornell calls this Self In Presence. I have written before about our Inner Nurturer.
You can grow your Inner Nurturer by gathering together memories of anyone who has been warm to you, or delighted in your presence, or resonated with your experience. Let your body remember how that felt. Also gather memories of feeling warm kindness toward someone, perhaps a friend or a small child or a pet. Let your body remember that feeling too.
Let those feelings of warmth and kindness coalesce into a presence inside. Perhaps you want to visualize meeting this presence in a safe place, a secret room in your house or a bench in a beautiful garden or an island only you know about. Maybe the presence is a grandmother whose kind eyes see all the way into you and smile. Maybe the presence has square shoulders and strong arms that protect you. Maybe the presence is a soft cat or a tall tree or a gentle flame.
Whenever you connect with that presence, you reinforce the parts of your brain and nervous system that generate warm kindness, and make that kindness more available to the parts of you that feel small and alone and broken.
Practice bringing warm understanding to all your experiences, including accomplishments, mistakes, frustration and self-criticism. Your Inner Nurturer might feel like spaciousness, room in your chest for all your emotions to bounce around and eventually find rest. It might feel like a teacher who treats her students with affection and respect even when she is angry with them. It might feel like a friend who says, “It’s not you!“
Turn toward loneliness
If you cannot find resonance, turn toward that jarring experience itself. How does it feel inside? It might be a familiar feeling of loneliness and not being met. Notice how that is for you with as much gentleness as you can. What do you feel in your body? What thoughts and emotions come along with it?
There is a lot of loneliness around trauma. Growing up with abusive or neglectful parents is fundamentally lonely. Our nervous system spends more time in fight-or-flight and less time in social engagement. We struggle to learn how to connect with others when our system is busy managing high levels of distress. We cannot talk openly about what is happening at home, partly because we lack the words.
When trauma happens later, we struggle with taboos around talking about distress, and difficulties with settling our nervous system enough to be social.
Not a punishment
We have taboos around talking about loneliness, too. There are pervasive myths that loneliness goes away if only we think about it the right way, or if only we learn the right skills, or if only we reach out enough to others. Yes, it helps to work toward enjoying our own company and to reach out to others when we can. At the same time, we are social mammals, and we will long for resonance whenever it is missing.
Loneliness is not a punishment, nor a judgment about being too broken for community. Loneliness simply is. We can bring kind resonance to our experience of loneliness. This is how the heartache feels right now. Here is the bitterness that goes with it. It makes sense that we feel that way. It makes sense that loneliness hurts.
When we feel lonely for a specific person, we can warmly ask our attention to stay with our own experience of missing them, rather than focusing on them. When we notice our attention wandering away, we can kindly ask it to return. Every time we turn toward our own experience with warmth, we strengthen our Inner Nurturer.
Turn toward fear
While it sounds wonderful to be met with resonance, it might bring up fear or anger. We might remember being unwillingly drawn toward warmth like a hungry stray dog toward food, only to experience entrapment and more abuse when we get close. We might feel shame for wanting closeness and for having needs at all. We might believe that wanting warmth makes us responsible for being abused, even though wanting warmth is part of being a mammal, and the abuser is always responsible for abusing. We can quietly, gently sense how that fear or anger feels inside and say hello to it.
Our Inner Nurturer can bring accompaniment, the sense that we are not alone with our experience. Warm acceptance from inside us can counteract shame and the feeling of being unacceptable. With practice, it will no longer seem like a radical idea that we have a right to exist and take up space and sometimes make mistakes like everyone else. When we can offer resonance to ourselves and others, we are making the world a better place one moment of connection at a time.
- Your Resonant Self by Sarah Peyton has a lot of suggestions on how to connect with your Resonant Self Witness.
- You can download the guided meditations from Sarah Peyton’s book at yourresonantself.com. You get added to a marketing-heavy mailing list, but it is easy to unsubscribe.
- In the article The Power of Listening, Ann Weiser Cornell describes Self In Presence and how to respond in a way that helps us listen to ourselves.