Self-Resonance: How

“When people change the way they speak to themselves,
they change the way their brain works.” – Sarah Peyton


In the last episode, I introduced the concept of resonance—that experience of relaxation we feel when we’re accompanied and truly understood by another—and I shared how self-resonance lays the soil in which all the other practices of radical discernment can take root. When we accompany ourselves with warm, precise attunement, it becomes so much easier to soothe our fear and pain, decipher our bodies’ messages, and chart a path that honors our needs and our values.

In this podcast, I’ll introduce you to three fundamental aspects of self-resonance—self-warmth, self-accompaniment, and self-attunement, and six practices to help you cultivate self-resonance.

As you read, I invite you to get curious about how you are or are not already practicing these, because The more awareness we bring to how we treat ourselves, the more choice we have to treat ourselves well.

Aspect One: Self-Warmth 

I invite you to bring to mind someone, real or imaginary, who is exquisitely capable of offering you warmth and care. They see you through kind eyes, speak to you in a caring tone of voice, and if you would like them to, put an arm around your shoulders or hold your hand. You feel your body relax as they offer you love and hold you in unconditional positive regard. This is the feeling of warmth. 

Aspect Two: Self-Accompaniment

In his book, Narrative Medicine, Lakota-Cherokee shaman and psychiatrist Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona writes that the dominant culture’s focus on individual healing is a historically new phenomenon. In shamanic traditions, healing almost always takes place within community.

Mehl-Madrona writes, Beyond any technique, relationships are what heal.[1] Trauma usually occurs in relationship, so healing ideally happens in relationship too.

Accompaniment means to come beside or to go along with. Resonance requires a sense of accompaniment, the sense someone we trust is with us.

We humans are relational creatures who need accompaniment from others to feel whole, and so, ideally, we receive resonance from other people we trust—friend, partner, family member, skilled therapist, coach, or practice buddy. If it feels hard to let ourselves be loved by other humans, we can also receive a sense of accompaniment from companion animals, trees, rivers, landscapes, other aspects of nature, songs, ancestors, or a sense of a greater spirit or the divine. We can also learn to accompany ourselves.

Aspect Three: Self-Attunement

To attune means to bring into harmony. Attuning to ourselves or another is like adjusting the radio dial until we find the signal we’re looking for. To find that signal, we focus our soft attention with genuine curiosity and ask gentle, open-ended questions to understand what is happening for us, without aiming to change the situation.

We know we’ve found the signal we’re seeking when the other person or the part of ourselves we’re attuning to responds with Yes, that’s it!

Now that we have the three aspects of self-resonance, let’s explore six practices for cultivating self-resonance.

Before we go, I want to remind you that when people hold a lot of unhealed trauma, attempting to practice self-resonance can bring up painful feelings. Warmth can melt us out of a numb, frozen state, and sometimes, that can feel uncomfortable or scary.

If that happens for you as you experiment with these practices, please take care of yourself. You might pause, scan the room for safety, wiggle your hands and feet, or do whatever else you need to return to a more comfortable state.

You might also seek out a trauma-informed therapist or another professional who can help you cultivate a sense of inner safety before you dive in alone. It can be hard for us humans to offer ourselves resonance until someone else models resonance for us.

Practice One: Turning Toward Yourself

The Arabic word for heart is Qalb, which means to turn. Accompanying ourselves requires that we turn our heart’s attention toward ourselves.

From now on, I invite you to pay attention—When you notice that you don’t feel so great, I invite you to get curious about whether it feels like your heart is energetically turning away from or turning toward the part of yourself that is struggling.

If you sense that your heart is turning away from yourself, try getting gently curious about what might help you turn toward yourself. Ask yourself: What might help me welcome and turn toward this part of myself that is struggling? Listen for what arises, without pressuring yourself to shift in any given direction. 

Practice Two: Imagining Giving & Receiving Warmth

I invite you to imagine that there are two parts of yourself—1) an emotional part that feels all your emotions, such as sadness, fear, loneliness, confusion, anger, disgust, and even happiness, and 2) a second, resonating part of yourself who accompanies the emotional part and offers warm attunement.

Self-resonance can feel either like 1) seeing through the eyes of your emotional self and receiving warmth and attunement from your resonant self or 2) seeing through the eyes of our resonant self and offering warmth and attunement to your emotional self.

For years, I only practiced the latter, strongly identifying with the loving, resonant witness, because I believe that that’s who we are at our core. Over the years, however, I’ve found that many clients have an easier time starting with imagining themselves as their emotional selves and in their minds’ eyes, receiving love from a resonant self witness or even from a competent protector such as a future self, ancestor, or spiritual being.[2]

I invite you to play with trying to access these two perspectives now. I’ll guide you.

To begin, I invite you to imagine someone who you trust to offer you warmth and care. This may be someone from your family line, a caretaker from earlier in your life, a friend, partner, teacher, mentor, companion animal, character from a story or book, famous person, spirit or deity, ancestor, or another being from the more than human realm.

Imagine that this being is beaming upon you radiant, glowing care and affection, and notice how it feels to be held in their loving gaze.

If this feels challenging, please know that you’re not alone. When we haven’t received much warm accompaniment from other people, of course it can be hard to imagine receiving warm accompaniment from other people. For now, I invite you to approach this practice with a sense of experimentation, knowing that it can take repeated practice before we’re able to start imagining and experiencing receiving love.

If you’re able to feel this sense of warmth and care, I invite you to linger a bit in the sensation, allowing yourself to bask in their love for you.

Then, slowly, I invite you to play with imagining that you are looking through the eyes of this being who is shining the light of this warmth and care upon you. Imagine that you are this being who loves you so much. Notice what happens in your body when you do that, soaking in any pleasant sensations you feel.

Then, slowly, I invite you to allow this image to fade.

Now, I invite you to bring to mind someone you experience warm, uncomplicated love for, such as a child, companion animal, dear friend, beloved place, or something or someone else that you love.

Imagine turning your attention toward this beloved being in your mind’s eye, welcoming them with your presence and shining a light of affection upon them.

See if you can sense in your body the warmth and care you feel for this beloved being, and notice where you feel these sensations in your body. Experiment with amplifying the warm sensations, turning up the volume., and imagine absorbing them, as if your cells were tiny sponges.

If you notice feelings of pain or sadness, see if you can imagine holding the part of you that is hurting with tenderness and care.

If it feels relatively easy to access this sense of fondness and affection for another, I invite you to play with swapping out the image of the one you love and replacing it with an image of yourself, shining the light of warmth and care upon yourself.

Notice what happens in your body when you do that, not trying to push anything, taking any pleasant sensations you feel.

Then, when you feel complete, slowly allow the images to fade away, and bring your attention back to the present moment.

As you go throughout your days, I invite you to keep experimenting with embodying your resonant self, offering warmth to your emotional self, and with embodying your emotional self, receiving warmth from your loving, resonant self. You might even toggle between the two perspectives, choosing whichever feels most supportive at the moment.

Practice Three: Greeting Yourself by Your Name

We start most conversations with other people by saying hello, and we deserve the same care and respect from ourselves.[3]

When you notice an uncomfortable feeling arise within you, rather than ignoring or trying to change how you feel, experiment with greeting the feeling like an old friend or a young child who you love, offering an open-hearted hello, and greeting yourself by your name—like, Oh, hello, Katherine!

Greeting ourselves by name can help us do what development psychologist Dr. Robert Kegan called the subject-object shift.[4] We shift from being subject to our experience and lacking choice to gaining the observational distance that helps us consciously choose our response.

Practice Four: Soothing Self-Touch

Back when I taught childbirth classes, one of my favorite lessons was about oxytocin, adrenalin, and how love acts as an antidote to fear. Here’s what I told my pregnant clients: 

There are two major hormones at play in birth: oxytocin and adrenaline. Oxytocin is known as the love hormone and is responsible for creating the contractions associated with birth, breastfeeding, and orgasm. Adrenaline is a stress hormone related to anxiety, fear, and doubt and can cause us to tighten up our bodies.  

Oxytocin and adrenaline bind with the same hormonal receptors in the body. As a result, too much adrenaline can stall labor contractions and slow down the birthing process.  

But when a birthing person feels loved and supported during labor, the fear hormones decrease, and labor can progress smoothly. One of the most effective pain-coping practices for labor is receiving soothing touch from a warm, accompanying person, in part because it promotes the release of oxytocin.

Luckily, oxytocin is produced by every gender and not just during labor, and soothing self-touch can help us access the calming effect of oxytocin and experience warmth and relaxation. Sometimes, it is far easier to access self-resonance through our bodies, as opposed to trying to think our way into it. 

Now, if you don’t like touch, feel free to skip this practice and if you’d like, look for other ways to access physical warmth such as cuddling up with a cozy blanket or drinking a cup of warm tea.

And, if you’d like to, I invite you to experiment with the following soothing touch practice now:

Pick up one and place the entire palm of that hand gently on your opposite cheek. Place your other hand on your opposite upper arm. Allow the weight of your head to settle into your hand, gently supporting your head, holding yourself. Take in any sensations of warmth and care.

Sense into the conversation between your hand and your face, as if your hand was greeting and accompanying your face. Notice how your face responds. Your hand might ask your face how much pressure you like, if the temperature feels right, or whether you’d like some gentle massage. Notice how your face feels and whether it asks for any modifications.

You might feel silly at first holding yourself like this. It might feel taboo to receive soothing touch from yourself.

If it’s been a long time since someone held you this way, you might also notice that soothing touch brings up feelings of sadness, shame, or discomfort. If that happens, I invite you to see if you can turn toward the uncomfortable feelings with love and kindness, and say hello to them as if they were a beloved friend or child.

And, if you allow yourself to receive the warmth of your embrace and have enough privacy not to feel too awkward, you might also notice that your touch feels good. If you’re able to access sensations of comfort as you do this, take a moment to linger in those feelings and imagine absorbing the sensations into your body.

Over the coming days, I invite you to experiment with different types of touch. My personal favorite is tapping my fingers around my face, collarbones, and the space on my lower thighs, right above my knees.

Other people find squeezing their hands together, squeezing their feet, stroking their upper arms, massaging their shoulders, placing a fist on the center of their chest and the other hand over your fist, standing and swinging their arms in a helicopter type motion, hitting their lower back particularly helpful. Notice what feels good, and keep doing more of that.

Practice Five: Journaling 

Journaling can help us access self-resonance, largely because it helps slow down our thoughts and shifts our perspective from subject to object, from implicit to explicit, from too-close-up-to-see-ourselves-clearly to distant-enough-to-choose-our-response, from feeling like our feelings, thoughts, and situations are happening to us to accessing a sense of agency.

Of course, many people have a challenging relationship with writing or have had a negative journaling experience. If that’s you, I invite you to ask yourself if you’re willing to experiment with journaling and only proceed with consent. If it feels helpful, keep experimenting. If it doesn’t, feel free to stop.

After almost fifteen years of engaging with many of the practices I teach, I still sometimes struggle to access my resonating self or to discern my next steps without the help of my journal.

Whenever I’m struggling and unclear about what to do next, I take out my journal as soon as I can, tune in to myself and make attunement guesses about what I feel, what I need, and what needs acknowledgement.

Practice Six: Attunement Guesses

An attunement guess is an attempt to see if we understand what another person is experiencing and put into words what we imagine the other person might be feeling, needing, or experiencing.

Attunement guesses are different from super open-ended questions like “What do you need?”—which can be bewildering to answer when we’re feeling confused and stressed out. And, they’re different from telling someone what they feel, which can feel invasive, invalidating, and disrespectful.

They might sound like this:

  • Are you feeling lonely, and do you long for a sense of family and friends who have your back?
  • Did you feel a sense of alarm when you received that email, and do you long for your colleague to be able to take your perspective rather than only seeing what went wrong?
  • Would you like some acknowledgement of how worried you are about your child who just went to college, and do you long to know he’s all right and still loves you?

We know that resonance has occurred in response to an attunement guess when the part of ourselves that is receiving the guess responds with a Yes!

Attunement guesses aren’t an attempt to change the situation. Instead, they put words to our feelings, needs, longings, and whatever else needs acknowledgement. Usually, when we feel a nagging sense of anxiety, tension, or discomfort, it’s because something needs acknowledgement. When we receive our body’s message with precise attunement, our bodies can breathe a sigh of relief.

Whether or not we’re in self-resonance ultimately comes down to how we speak to ourselves.

In the next two episodes, we’ll explore two types of attunement guesses that can be particularly helpful for soothing the nervous system and discerning our next steps.

[1] Lewis Mehl-Madrona, Narrative Medicine: The Use of History and Story in the Healing Process. (Rochester, VT: Bear & Company, 2007.)

[2] I first learned the term “competent protectors” from Carmen Spagnola’s class about healing attachment wounds—Secure.

[3] I learned the power of saying hello to our parts from Ann Weiser Cornell in The Power of Focusing. I highly recommend this book if sensing your body’s sensations and emotions feels challenging for you. Ann Weiser Cornell, The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to Emotional Self-Healing. (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 1996.)

[4] Robert Kegan, In over our heads:  The mental demands of modern life. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994).


Forgot Password?

Join Us