Try Softer by Aundi Kolber, MA LPC, is an approach to managing anxiety and healing through the avenue of compassion and gentleness towards oneself. Kobler first encourages readers that trying softer is the opposite of “white knuckling” it through pain. She defines “white nucking” as “ignoring, minimizing, numbing, lacking boundaries, and/or profound exhaustion from over or under functioning.” This is done through first recognizing that being human is a process; a lifetime journey that occurs in layers.
“Instead of trying harder to forget, we try softer by becoming engaged, attentive observers of our bodies, minds, and spirits so that we can give each of those parts what it actually needs to heal; paying compassionate attention to ourselves in order to heal and move forward.”
Next Kobler, describes the brain functioning as a method of empowerment. When one understands how they function, why they function that particular way and then how to respond, they have more grace for themselves as they navigate their circumstances.
Kobler explains the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which controls unconscious functions like breathing, heart rate, and visceral responses. It is composed of two parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. This is where the terms fight, flight, freeze and fawn derive from. She describes the fawn response as the attempt to “neutralize prolonged danger by accommodating or pleasing others rather than acknowledging own discomfort.” The freeze response is described as emotionally detaching or dissociating.
Functioning in a calm and stable state is known as the “window of tolerance”. One is able to manage life stressors, problem-solve, think rationally and be curious about their situation. However, when in a threatened state, our bodies operate through the ANS and shift towards a hyperarousal or hypoarousal state as indicated below:
AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM
Sympathetic-Hyperarousal (Fight, Flight, or Fawn)
"I may feel: overwhelmed with adrenaline, heart racing, shaking, angry, out of control, scared, anxious, need to over accommodate."
Parasympathetic - Hypoarousal (Freeze)
"I may feel: sluggish, depressed, suddenly exhausted, foggy, zoned out, numb, disconnected." Next, Kobler describes how the three parts of the brain interact with each other. The brain stem is the first to be developed and the most primitive part of the brain. “Your brain develops from ‘bottom up’ because your body prioritizes baseline functions: life breathing, heart rate and sense of safety. Next, the brain begins developing the need to attach to a caregiver. It forms unconscious functions and attachment circuits (limbic system). Lastly, it forms the ability to experience empathy, think with nuance, and problem-solve through the development of the prefrontal cortex (PFC).”
Kobler helps readers understand that:
“When the body is in the fight/flight/fawn or freeze, blood flow is directed away from the PFC so that energy can be distributed elsewhere. You are ‘offline’ and operating out of the brain stem. We cannot connect the systems of our bodies that allow us to truly problem-solve. However, when the PCF is ‘online’, information from all three parts of your brain is linked which is known as vertical integration. You can then pay attention and respond to the information your whole brain is giving you. In understanding this, I can notice a sense of dread and rather than ignoring, stifling or shaming myself, I can become passionate and curious instead.”
Kobler spends the remaining first half of her book defining trauma, what traumatic responses look like, and explaining attachment styles based on early interactions with primary caregivers. The attachment formed early in life impacts our attachment styles as adults. Kobler provides hope, grace and gentleness throughout her book as she explains how autonomous, or secure attachment, can be earned through healthy relationships with friends, family or therapists.
The second half of Kobler’s book reviews “practices for trying softer” through listening to and tending to your body, emotions, internal critic and building resilience. Kobler describes ways to tolerate difficult emotions and to engage in sharing one's story in a non-judgmental, curious, and compassionate way.
Some of the Mindfulness techniques suggested include grounding, containment, pendulation, beauty hunting, and tracking as noted below:
Overall, Kobler’s book provides an informative, practical and grace-filled approach to navigating anxiety and trauma. She provides a path for healing and encourages readers that there is hope for everyone.