Even when our circumstances are safe, we may not feel safe within our own bodies. Explore the importance of cultivating a feeling of safety from within, and how it can help us heal deeply.
Safety seems like a pretty basic idea: Am I at risk for harm or not? But for many of us, it’s more complex than that. Am I physically safe as well as emotionally safe? Does my internal feeling of safety match my environment? Am I safe internally as well as externally?
Safety may feel like a simple enough concept for those of us who grew up in predictable, loving environments. We have a clear sense of when we are safe and when we are not. But, for example, when our caregivers were unpredictable, it can confuse our ability to easily intuit safety. This is also true if we’ve experienced trauma, which is, among other things, an experience of un-safety where something unexpected happened and we were not able to prevent it.
What Does Safety Look Like?
Safety is material, to a degree. At its most basic, it means that we are in appropriate shelter with other human beings who are calm and predictable. But it’s also a feeling: some ineffable signal from deep in our bones.
Safety should, theoretically, mean that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that no harm is going to come to us. But this is impossible. Even with all the best conditions of safety, random things can happen. We can’t guarantee that, for example, an asteroid won’t suddenly hit the Earth, a storm isn’t brewing, an illness isn’t somewhere deep in our bodies coming out to kill us. The reality is that life has risk and unpredictability built into it.
So if we can’t agree that we are safe in any given moment, what about the feeling of safety? Can I take in enough clues from my environment and the people around me that I could access some internally felt sense of safety, even while taking it as a given that I can’t predict the future and that the future could theoretically contain harm?
The Healing Power of Feeling Safe
When we can access a feeling of safety, our bodies settle and calm down. We activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which is the state in which we heal, digest, and balance our bodies. When we know we are in an environment that is safe enough, focusing on the feeling of safety can help invite this healing internal state.
This doesn’t have to be anything big. It could be remembering the feeling of returning home after a long day and locking the door behind you. It could be the feeling of petting your dog or cat, relaxed on your lap. It could even be imagining yourself in a place that only exists inside your head. There is a subtle settling that can happen in the body when we feel safe that we can access even when we can’t agree that we are 100% safe.
The Process of Feeling Safe
For many people who have experienced trauma, especially in childhood, knowing when we are safe or unsafe can be a challenge. We often do know, instinctually, but our experiences have taught us not to trust those internal signals. Working with a counselor or healer who can help unpack these ideas and work towards a feeling of safety can go a long way towards healing not only trauma but also physical ailments and many other things that our bodies already know how to heal.
What is your personal definition of safety? How is that different from the feeling of safety, if it is? Consider what concepts, conditions, or imaginary circumstances allow you to exhale, relax your muscles, and slow down a little. This is a tool that you already have within you to facilitate your healing and general wellbeing.