Safety & Stability

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    Leanne Matton

    Keeping yourself safe and supported

    Working through traumatic experiences is unhelpful if you aren’t feeling safe and grounded. Being overwhelmed is not conducive to healing, and it’s difficult to teach yourself how to feel safe when you have little experience of this.

    So before we get started, let’s take a look at some of the strategies outlined in your Safety & Security e-book that will help you support yourself and stay grounded throughout this process. This work is hard but what you’ve experienced on the way here has been much harder. Let’s walk through this together, holding each others’ hands as well as our own, and start to build a pathway to peace that was probably not sufficiently formed in childhood.

    We can start by remembering that grief and trauma are not pathology, they are creative ways of surviving abnormal and overwhelming difficulties. Your tenacity and resilience are something we can celebrate and focus on to emphasise the strong, creative, incredibly resourceful part of you that is more in control of your destiny than you realise.

    When you’re doing shadow work, unpleasant emotions and sensations will come up. These are signposts in the dark, pointing you to the treasure you left there a long time ago. They are not dangerous but they might feel threatening. Our aim is to try to let these signposts be here and get curious about them.

    One way to do this is through grounding, a process that helps you be aware of your body in the here-and-now. This prepares you for past memories embodied in your body that may come up in the present. Your body is a wise organism that knows exactly what it needs to do, but it’s important to move slowly so our mind isn’t overwhelmed in the process.

    Some examples of grounding include:

    Sighing or taking a deep breath
    Changing position – eg. slowly putting your arms up in the air or bending to the side
    Noticing your feet on the ground and how they feel
    Touching cold objects such as a rock, an ice cube, a crystal
    Looking around the room and noticing what’s familiar, naming them aloud
    Drinking a cup of your favourite tea
    Stroking your pet.

    While you’re doing these things, you’re letting your nervous system know that it has many ways to manage difficult feelings. You’re allowing it to settle without doing anything to make it happen, other than getting out of your body’s way and letting it do what it was designed to do. As you do this, you let your body know that it can trust you, that you will let it attend to your highest good without your mind trying to interfere.

    Coping Statements

    Create a list of ways you can reframe the responses you’ve had in the past to anxiety and stress. See if you can elaborate a more helpful present-oriented way of looking at these feelings and behaviours.

    For example:

    Hyperalertness: “I learned to watch out for myself because no-one else protected me”.
    Addiction: “I learned to numb my feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and overwhelm by using a substance that made my experience of these feelings more bearable”.
    Isolating: “I learned to be self-sufficient and keep to myself to avoid being hurt by others because that was all I knew of human connection.”
    Promiscuity: “I learned how to have power over men because they always had power over me.”
    Mistrust: “I learned that it was safer to expect the worst in people so I wouldn’t be disappointed.”
    Self-loathing: “I found a way to protect others and feel in control by blaming myself.”

    A survival kit

    This kit is a collection of things that are resources for you, things you can draw on to help you soothe and regulate your nervous system when you start to feel overwhelmed. It might include items such as:

    a card or note written by someone meaningful, such as a close friend, family member or teacher
    a favourite affirmation(s)
    a list of things you could do that bring you joy
    a photograph of someone or something special
    a talisman like a crystal or some other item with special meaning
    a transitional object like a teddy bear
    a list of people you could call or message, including those in our group
    images of things you would like to give to your inner child.

    Recognisng when dissociative abilities are at work

    You may have been using dissociation as a means of regulating your nervous system when you feel overwhelmed. This is one strategy for surviving and returning to a feeling of safety, however we are aiming to do this a different way here by helping you stay present with the sensations and emotions as they arise so they can move through you and discharge naturally.

    Before starting a prompt, notice the degree to which you feel grounded. Ask yourself:

    “How fully present in my body do I feel right now? 50%? 20%? 75%?

    It’s unlikely you’ll be fully present as most of us aren’t and don’t need to be. If you feel like you’re less than 60% present with your body though, think about activities that will help you increase this.

    Activities that are useful include movement, for example it’s much harder to dissociate when you’re standing or walking You can also engage the more intellectual part of the brain by doing things like writing lists and schedules. Some questions to explore:

    Does it help to change position, get up and move around the room, or sit somewhere else?
    Does it help to breathe more deeply into my diaphragm?
    Does it help to read the latest weather report, make a shopping list, write my goals for the year or check out the latest book I’d like to read?
    Does it help to do something creative like colouring in or working with clay?

    Stay in the present

    It’s important that you be in the here-and-now of life while doing this work, so do the things that bring you back to yourself in 2019.

    Go to work
    Attend social events
    Go outside
    Play with your pets
    Garden, cook, make art
    Reach out to friends, the group, your therapist.

    These things are particularly important when you’re feeling vulnerable or overwhelmed. Remember: stay active and engage in activities that keep you connected to the here-and-now.

    We are putting safety nets under you because this work does not always feel pleasant. When learning how to correctly interpret the ways messages from the past are being expressed in the present, there will be triggers that feel threatening because they bring up emotions that make you feel unsafe. Notice that you ARE safe even if you don’t always feel it, and remind yourself of this by using these safety nets at least daily.

    Do grounding activities
    Read over your list of coping strategies for when you’re being hard on yourself
    Use your survival kit
    Reduce dissociation
    Try to stay connected to the present and to other people.

    For today, make a list of the statements and activities you’ll include in your safety nets. Share some of them with us below. Let’s commit to supporting each other through this process by reminding each other to use our safety nets and sharing what we put into them.

    • This topic was modified 3 years, 10 months ago by Leanne Matton.
    • This topic was modified 3 years, 10 months ago by Leanne Matton.
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