I often ask clients questions like “when do you feel safe?” “how do you know you’re safe?” “how do you make yourself safe?” and am frequently met with blank looks. I have to admit, the first time my Somatics and Trauma teacher suggested “we generate our own safety” I had that same blank look.
Before we delve into what generating our own safety means, let’s examine the advantages of being in charge of ourselves in this way.
When I generate my own safety, I’m able to:
Connect with others and experience intimacy. Connection is on the continuum from just enough to profoundly deep;
Listen deeply to my yearnings and the yearnings of others, choosing whether or not to be responsive;
Leave situations and people where circumstances are toxic and damaging to my health and wellbeing;
Set boundaries, ranging from insisting absolutely no to utterly openheartedly yes;
Know what I want or need and ask for it, clearly, without manipulation from a one-up or one-down stance;
Tolerate people declining to meet my wants and needs;
Decline to meet other people’s needs and wants without guilt;
Experience joy, satisfaction, fulfillment;
Empower myself, empower others;
Move to action to realise ambition and desire;
Tolerate the ebbs and flows of life;
Tap into a deeper wisdom, however that manifests itself for me (spirituality, religion, nature, creativity, etc.);
Extend compassion to self and others, especially under pressure.
So if these are the benefits, what else is generating our own safety about? It’s about being or embodying our adult self, the part of us that is responsible, smart, resourced and tapped into our resilience. For example, someone who grew up in a nurturing environment with access to nature and animals may be able to replicate that state (physical, emotional, spiritual) with ease by remembering such a time and experiencing the warm glow it brings, or perhaps the sense of being at peace, or feeling connected to the earth, or at one with something greater than them. For others it will involve seeing clearly the images of that time - horizon, sky, landscape, trees - and perhaps hearing the soundtrack of birdsong, the breeze, contented four-leggeds grazing or playing. Another aspect of generating your own safety is having a sense of your worth, value, importance in the scheme of things.
For some, this is a tall order. Those who grew up in non-optimal circumstances where the environment itself was threatening will have a harder time accessing a sense of safety internally. The abuse survivors I work with may be unable to ever remember a time when they felt safe externally, let alone internally.
So where do we begin? I’m going to pose some questions for you to ponder to start the exploration process.
You may be able to think of a time when you felt confident, buoyant, joyous and we are looking for something similar and different. Can you remember a time when you felt peaceful inside, internal organs relaxed, the orifices of jaw and pelvic floor at rest. Nothing to do, nowhere to go, no demands, and yet, if called upon, you knew you could respond confidently and with measured skill to some demand? If you can’t remember a time, can you create that state now?
Can you remember a time when you felt resilient? Resilience is usually created when we are challenged by something in childhood and have the sense that somebody or some creature really believes in us, supports and appreciates us, and we feel brave and resourced enough to tackle that challenge. Resilience is connected to being loved and loving yourself, accepting your strengths and limitations, having your skillset available to you.
Have you ever been in an environment where you needed to have your wits about you yet project an air of confidence, a don’t-mess-with-me attitude? Could have been when in a new and potentially threatening environment, such as walking down an unfamiliar street where you’d been warned pickpockets* operated. Akin to generating a protective forcefield around your body, radiating stay-away-I-can-take-care-of-myself. Do you know how to do this?
Can you remember a time when you experienced resourcefulness? Resourcefulness comes from having overcome a series of difficult situations, so that a degree of assurance accompanies you about your day. A deep knowing you can rely on your inner resources to guide through both familiar and unfamiliar circumstances.
Are there certain environments more conducive to experiencing this internal sense of safety? Are there other environments which definitely interfere with your ability to feel safety? What’s the difference? How do you know this difference in your body through sensation or mood or both?
Are there certain people who influence you similarly - more safe, less safe? What is it about them triggering your self-preservation mechanism to turn on? Where do you notice that in your body? How do you know you’ve been triggered? How do you settle yourself?
Are there certain circumstances which create a more-safe, less-safe experience? If you come up with a few circumstances, what’s the common denominator? How do you currently settle yourself at these times?
If you’ve got this far, well done! For those who’ve struggled with some of these questions or simply want guidelines for how to generate safety, here are some suggestions:
Begin by checking your body for sensation - notice pressure, movement and temperature. Scan your whole body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes and notice where you feel pressure, tension or relaxation, warmth or cool, tingling or burning;
Move on by scanning for a place in your body which feels strong, peaceful, resourceful, stable, well-being. Notice where this is and what the sensations are, letting you know this is a “good” place to remember;
If you’re unable to find somewhere in your body, think about something outside of yourself which bring the same sense of strong, peaceful, resourceful, stable and well-being. It may be a past experience, a place, your favourite person or four-legged and as you remember everything about this/them, notice how the sensations in your body have shifted and keep shifting;
Feel the weight in your feet holding you to the ground, relax the belly so it is soft and round, relax the jaw and allow your eyes to have a soft-focus, breathe a little more deeply than usual and notice the rise and fall of either the chest or belly. This is a grounding exercise [which we’ll practice in session together]. We want to connect the sense of well-being you accessed above with this grounded sense. The two together are most likely to provide you with an internal sense of safety, our goal here.
The preceding is a process you can practice and get better at. Research suggests it takes three hundred repetitions to get something into muscle memory and three thousand for embodiment. Let’s start the process!
*Research suggests pickpockets and muggers carefully select their prey, observing and choosing the weak and vulnerable over the brave and strong. Unless the brave and strong are distracted by headset music or phone conversations on the run that is….