“If you want to improve the world, start by making people feel safer” Stephen Porges
I love this quote from Stephen Porges, it speaks to me at many levels. Socially I suspect we have all had a taste in recent months of what it is like to feel unsafe. Covid-19 has dramatically changed our ways of living, staying safe has become a priority and our vulnerability has been presented to us in unavoidable and unequivocal terms.
Added to this, safety is a very personal concept. Experiences of trauma, illness and death of loved ones can leave us sensitised to threats, and compromise our ability to feel safe, even when no danger is present. The first step in any therapeutic treatment is to create safety. For when we are safe, then we are free to relax, to learn, and to heal. Without safety, we are in protective mode and these experiences are not possible.
Oftentimes, people are not aware of the lack of safety within their own body. Trauma can reduce the felt sense of anything, we may numb out, dissociate, lose ourselves in thinking or employ a range of ways of soothing ourselves unconsciously with alcohol, food or other distractions. We lose our connection with our physical form, and without it, there is no safety.
So how can we begin to feel more safe? An essential step is not placing ourselves in harm’s way, making sure we really are not actually in danger, right here, right now.
Assuming we are in a safe environment, the work then is internal. It’s about becoming familiar with how our body feels, here and now, and separating out from the there and then of past experiences that are still affecting us now.
When you feel unsafe inside yourself, here are a few things you can do to help in the moment:
- Feel your feet on the ground. Take your attention down into your feet and feel the physical sensation of them. How warm or cool are they? Is there any tingling, throbbing, or any other sensation? How does the ground feel beneath them? What about the feeling of any shoes or foot coverings you have on?
- Look around you, and notice what you can see. Listen out, and notice the sounds of here and now. Check inside for what you can physically feel in this moment. Identify three things you see, hear, and feel, and keep going around these senses until you have a good sense of where you are.
- Remind yourself of the date and year. Remind yourself of your current age. Tell yourself the address of the place you are in, and say the names of the people who love and support you in your life currently. These facts help orientate any part of you feeling stuck in the past to the here and now and your life today.
If you find feeling unsafe or hyper-vigilant is a pattern for you, then psychotherapy may be useful. You can check the UKCP directory for therapists close to you, or to consider online therapy with me, please get in touch confidentially at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone on 0191 3720318.