I’m a small-town California girl turned mental health therapist. Favorite things: babies (but don’t have my own!), comfy pants, and taking too many pictures. I'm all about realistic self-care, mental health for everyone, and personal growth even if you hate that phrase (cause I do!).
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This is one of my basic beliefs: each human has the inherent right to feel safe at all times. Sadly, the reality is far from that, but it’s something we strive for in hope nonetheless. People who have experienced trauma, especially as children, lost their sense of safety without the tools + resources needed to return that safety. This might have been a one time event, or an ongoing pattern. Safety is usually an important theme in of healing, growth, and recovery from trauma. There’s so much to say on the topic, but I’ll cover some basics.
Feeling unsafe limits our ability to experience human connection, which is foundational to our wellbeing as social beings. We don’t feel the benefits of meaningful relationships, and we inevitably continue to be in a stressed state. This has detrimental effects on our wellbeing, even if we are able to “push through” and make it work. Feeling unsafe most of the time can be the root of frequent anxiety and depression, perfectionism, overworking, relational difficulties, and emotional outbursts.
“Safe” is a hard-to-define experience, but something that you’ll know when you feel it. Some of the most safe feelings for me have come when I’m driving alone (something about a contained space, a sense of being outside without actually being outside, and being able to release my emotions however I need to), when I’m home alone, and when snuggled up with my boo (seriously, there’s some high amounts of oxytocin––the chemical that causes our felt sensations of being connected, loved, and safe––released with simple affection like holding hands, a hug, in addition to with sexual pleasure and mother-infant bonding).
But feeling safe isn’t just about external, relational safety. It’s also an internal experience, a way of feeling within ourselves (given the right environment). I asked folks on instagram what “feeling safe” means to them. I loved hearing their thoughts and how they describe it:
“When no one is expecting me to defend how I’m feeling or how I chose to be refreshed.”
“Staying on top of my mental health”
“Being with children–their honesty and inability to fake love feels safe”
“Riding my bicycle down the coast in good weather, or in my garden. Sacred spaces.”
What does it mean to feel unsafe? The answer is not so simple. First, we have to learn to identify when and why we feel unsafe.
Spoiler: our bodies can also tell us when we feel safe or unsafe. Here are a few ways to tell you feel unsafe:
Perhaps you often feel unsafe, get curious about why that’s the case, and what you need to feel safe. Sometimes it’s an indicator that we are, indeed, unsafe. But for someone with a history of trauma, our body can tell us we are unsafe simply because something in our environment (or our emotional experience) reminds us of previous threats, but there may not currently be a threat.
Possible reasons for feeling unsafe:
Sometimes we shut off being aware of our physical sensation indicators of safe/unsafe, so we need to learn our body’s language. This requires paying more attention through embodied mindfulness, which leads me to my third point…
When someone who has been in unsafe mode for a long time, returning to a sense of safety takes time and intention.
The ultimate goal is to feel safe a majority of the time, only feel unsafe when there is a true threat, and have the tools and resources to deal with feeling unsafe in a helpful and effective way.
Feeling unsafe is deeply troubling, yet some of us live with being in that state most of the time, so much so that it feels normal. Healing this means growing our own skills and tools for bringing yourself to a place of feeling safe. Some of these tools include emotion regulation, relaxation, communication and relationship skills (including facing conflict), practicing healthy boundaries, increasing physiological awareness and practicing embodied mindfulness, and practicing self-care.
It sounds like a lot, because it is, but it is, to be honest. It takes time and it most certainly isn’t something you can do alone. But it is absolutely worth it and you can do it.
This worksheet is a helpful guide for processing emotions that come up when we don’t feel safe, particularly difficult emotions like fear, anger, jealousy, or sadness. You can download it now and use it in your own reflection. Just click the image below.
by Kylie |
February 7, 2019
I'm Kylie. I’m a small-town California girl turned mental health therapist. Favorite things: babies (but don’t have my own!), comfy pants, and taking too many pictures. I'm all about realistic self-care, mental health for everyone, and personal growth even if you hate that phrase (cause I do!).