Nobody likes to admit it, but we all have soft spots near our hearts that lie like long-buried Peeps inside us. No matter how tough the exterior, how cool the demeanor, or how mean the front, deep down we all have pockets of ooey-gooey, pink and sticky, sweet and marshmellowy softness. We try not to let anyone know about it, let alone touch it, but if somebody stumbles upon it, we react with a violence or passion that belies just how tender these pillowy pockets are.
Maybe what touched our soft spot is that we heard a particularly hurtful criticism in someone’s words or tone of voice. Perhaps we come across an undesired outcome that confirms some failing we feel we’ve always had. Maybe we begin to contemplate the possibility that something we’ve always feared is likely to come to pass.
The triggers are different for each of us, but what unifies our response is its intensity, its uncontrollability, and the sense that we are suddenly helpless children who find our very existence threatened. And when we respond to protect ourselves, we often act like wild children exploding with uncontrollable anger, fear, or hurt feelings. It’s like a very young part of ourselves with a life-or-death outlook on life has taken over the steering wheel.
More often than not, we’re ashamed of our response, no matter what it was. We may regret yelling at someone who didn’t even know what they had done. We may be embarrassed by having an anxiety attack in public. Maybe we didn’t even share our experience with others but we still berate ourselves by asking, “Why on earth did I let myself get so worked up over such a small thing?”
The key to working with our soft spots is not to damn ourselves for having them or try to make them go away. We can’t. Though they don’t define us, they are indelibly a part of us, and accepting them, and having compassion for them, gives us the power to not be blindly controlled by them.
The first step is to become aware of when something has poked or prodded our inner Peep. When we can recognize what is happening, we can pause and choose how we want to respond instead of acting out of some desperate sense that our very existence is on the line. We can choose not to identify with the soft spot and instead try to be curious about it. One way to start is by noticing what we’re feeling: Is it anger? Hurt? Rejection? Fear? Sadness? Unworthiness? Something else?
It’s helpful to recognize that some inner part of us is hurting and probably needs attention. Likely we’ve had this need in the past but weren’t able to fulfill it. Maybe we need acceptance, love, or support; or maybe we need to be seen, understood, or comforted. Maybe it’s something else entirely. Whatever it is, we don’t need to judge or condemn this need; our wants and needs are what make us human and are unique expressions of our character and beauty.
When we know what we need, we can ask for it. And if we can’t get it from others (because they’re not around, or maybe because their own inner peeps have been prodded), there are a lot of things we can do for ourselves. Getting what we need starts by giving ourselves the love, acceptance, and compassion we long for. Having compassion for ourselves can come in the form of a willingness to sit with an unpleasant emotion, a loving effort to understand our response, or an appreciation for the soft spot that has just gotten triggered.
It could be something as simple as saying to that young, scared, and traumatized part of ourselves: “I see that you’re really hurt or angry about that. I’m so sorry. That must be really hard for you.”
It’s amazing how something as simple as that can calm the wild child within me and dispel its tantrum. Despite its antics, that part of me is not a monster; it just needs to be taken seriously and taken care of. Then it’s willing to step aside and let adult Meredith take the reins again.
I find that what I need in each situation is different, but if I approach it with an intention of being compassionate and loving, I eventually find the support I need. Then I don’t have to respond with violence or passion and can instead savor the ooey-gooey goodness of pillowy, pink marshmellow that is mine to claim and enjoy.