Grounding is a way of detaching yourself from an emotionally painful situation. Although it is a form of distraction to remove yourself emotionally from a situation, it is not the same as avoidance. The difference between grounding and avoidance is that grounding is used to create space between yourself and the emotion or event. Once you are detached from the event or emotion you are better able to deal with or process it. Avoidance is simply running away from the emotion or event without any attempt to deal with it. Grounding is healthy and avoidance is not.
How to use grounding
You can use grounding any time and anywhere, without anybody needing to know about it. The process is best used when you first start to notice unwanted emotions. If you wait too long to ground yourself, it may be more difficult as powerful emotions take over.
When grounding it is important to return to the present moment, and avoid dwelling about the past or the future. Also, avoid judgmental thinking. Try to remain detached from the emotion or situation. I find it useful to literally try to witness the situation as a third person in my own mind.
A good way to start is to use the “10 seconds to perfect balance” method I wrote about previously. The method is a great way to return to the present moment very quickly, and gain distance from the situation.
The 3 ways of grounding
There are 3 basic ways of grounding: mental, physical, and self-soothing.
Mental grounding involves refocusing your mind. You can visualize a calming or joyous event or experience, recall and mentally describe a past event or place in detail, focus your mind on a song, or anything else that requires your complete mental attention. Remember, the goal is to distract yourself from the unwanted emotion or events that are causing it. So, it is best to mentally ground to something that is unrelated.
An example of mental grounding is recounted by prisoners of war who survived for years under the most awful conditions imaginable by focusing their mental attention on reciting poetry, or visualizing themselves in a different place. Meditation is a very powerful way of sharpening your mental grounding skills.
Physical grounding is about focusing your senses and becoming fully aware of your surroundings. You may notice details such as designs on a chair, or the colors of a painting. You can also focus on any sounds, particularly those that are soothing. The goal is to become completely attuned to and aware of your environment as it is in the present moment. A good way of diverting attention from painful emotions is to take a cool shower. You can also go to the gym, or go for a run. Walking meditation is another good activity for physical grounding, as is breathing meditation.
Self-soothing is the third basic way of grounding yourself. This technique is closely related to cognitive therapy, where people are taught to recognize their self-talk, and change it so that it is less hostile or negative. Do this by thinking kind, uplifting, or soothing thoughts about yourself, others, or the situation. Instead of thinking, “there is no way I can do this!” think, “this is really difficult, but I’ve done things that are more difficult and I’m sure Ill get through this.” Focus on the positives of a situation, or people around you. Most importantly, think about yourself in kind and nonjudgmental ways.
Grounding may be very difficult as you are starting to learn and use the techniques. You are, after all, retraining yourself to break emotional habits. However, as you continue to persevere these techniques will become natural and require less effort. Learning to ground yourself can change your life forever. By doing so you will have better relationships, improved health, and a new perspective on life.