One day, somewhere in the neighborhood of my mid-thirties, a day like any other, I sat on my office chair at work and realized, I didn’t feel “safe”. Not the kind of unsafe a person feels when they are walking on a tiny ledge 100 feet above the ground…No, the sort of safety I longed for was much more subtle, elusive even.
This goblin hung onto my back wherever I went. My constant companion, such an integral part of my life I didn’t recognize it as an issue. Like a fish doesn’t know what it is like to be out of water.
Gratefully, I started to see safety and protection as powerful forces in my life. These two unmet needs were running the show. Without a sense of safety, I kept myself in a small container: I built an illusion of safety through my decisions about who I married, where I worked, what I said…everything. I held myself back without knowing it. At times, the yearning for more had me pushing the limits and trying new things. When I walked a little too far down the path toward uncertainty, SNAP, I’d sabotage and spring back into the security of my tiny life.
I unconsciously created the restriction and it remained strong due to a sharp absence of psychological safety. There was no real danger and yet I operated with a black cloud of fear looming over me.
- “Will they like me?”
- “What will they think?”
- “Will I fail?”
- “Can I do this?”
- “Will I look like a stupid, no-good, idiot?”
I exhausted myself trying to control the uncontrollable or hide from risk of harm, as if it was possible to avoid being hurt or rejected.
Life tasted like flat soda, which was warm, and often made my stomach yucky. I knew there was more to life and it became my mission to feel one hundred percent, in-my-bones, safe. Once I knew how to find internal safety, I could face my fears.
Safety provided the platform for me to jump into the unknown and explore. I learned how to tolerate the discomfort and discovered a world of opportunities before me.
Psychological safety is required: A prerequisite for authenticity and growth. When we find it, our lives flourish. We create deeply rooted safety by becoming our own protector. We stand up for ourselves, set boundaries, speak our truth, and follow through with agreements.
The filling that holds all of these layers together is an emotional responsiveness to ourselves.
Let’s get physical
Steven Porges developed an awesome theory called the Polyvagal theory. This theory essentially puts forward the scientific foundation of feeling safe. It goes beyond the psychological and into the physiological causes of insecurity. We face our fears on both levels to heal and thrive.
Regardless of what we may want, our autonomic nervous system takes over during times of perceived threat in an effort to “keep us safe”. This shows up as tension and emotion in our bodies. It is energy and can move much quicker than our logical brains can think. We must get skilled at recognizing and changing the physical state of our bodies to get good at shifting emotions. We see it. We feel it. And when we are ready, we release it.
Imagine how this one step alone could increase your sense of safety. Nothing leads to insecurity more than feeling like you have no control. Tuning into yourself, and turning towards the disturbance empowers you greatly with the ability to take charge on your own behalf. This takes conscious effort, as we are built to move away from discomfort.
“Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity” – Einstein
When the nervous system is firing off danger signals it needs us to engage and actively create an “all-clear” signal. We do this in many ways and they all involve stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
The most direct route is simply to breath deep. Slow it down. Your biology will not fail you, but your expectations might. Expect the sharp edge to round a bit, not go flat. That is success. Revisit deep breathing often.
You can also talk yourself down. Become your own guide and support with safety reminders like these;
- “This will pass”
- “I am safe right now”
- “Everything will be alright”
- “I can handle whatever comes my way”
Practice finding deep calm and relaxation as often as you can. Our bodies come to know what this deep level of peace feels like and it becomes the new standard. We develop our own personal homing pigeon to escort us back to calm.
May you come to intensely crave the internal sanctuary of hushed nerves.
All the best, XO