Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.
Welcome to my new educational essay series On Safeness, Stabilization, & Self Care. Over the next three weeks I’ll be talking about these ideas, what they are, why they are important, and how they relate to our trauma processing work.
I believe it is important to start with defining what exactly I am talking about, so this is where we start. These are my own definitions (formed and influenced by my education, my clinical work, and my life), and while there are other therapists who would agree with these definitions and who use this same language, others may not. I don’t believe there is only one way to define these ideas, however so that you can understand what I mean when I use these terms, I’m sharing these definitions.
Safeness is not the same as safety. Safety is an outer state, more of an absolute state (we are either physically safe or we are not), whereas safeness is an inner state of being and feeling. Safeness is a way of feeling (sensations & emotions) and sensing internally.
There are three aspects to our sense of safeness: safeness in our environment, in our self/body, in relationship with the person(s) who is (are) in the room with us.
Having a sense of safeness in our environment means that we can feel calm and at ease in the space we are in. It is knowing we aren’t likely to fall through some hidden hole in the floor, that the roof over us will protect us from the elements, etc. It is an inner knowing that we are okay in the physical space we are in and that no harm will come to us..
Our sense of safeness within our Self (including in our body) is about trusting our Self (including our body). It means that if something dangerous should crop up, our bodies know what to do and how to respond. It is trusting that “gut feeling” and trusting that we will not only hear it but also honor it. It means trusting that we will make the right (conscious intentional or automatic depending on the circumstances) decision for that moment. It is also about feeling good within our own skin.
The idea of our sense of safeness in relationship can be a bit trickier, in part because for many of us the idea of a “safe relationship” is confusing. We may think that to be in a safe relationship means that the other person will never ever cause us emotional harm. Here’s a thing though, we are all human. Which means the people we are in relationship are human, with their own traumas, their own conditioning, and their own unconscious motivations. Which means, other people, given enough time, will cause us some emotional pain.
Where the idea of safeness in relationship comes in, is when this time the other does cause us emotional pain occurs, that we, together, can come through it. That we can work it out. That we repair. And through the repair process the relationship is then made stronger, and our sense of safeness in the relationship grows. Our sense of safeness in relationship also means that boundaries are respected, that we are able to say no and have that no honored, that we can share ourselves and not be punished for who we are in some way.
(Please note that I specifically named emotional pain and not physical or psychological. If someone is causing you physical or psychological harm, that will never be a relationship where you can grow a sense of safeness, and when you have the resources I would encourage you leave that relationship and find your ways to processing the pain caused.)
Stabilization is when we feel steady and secure in our emotions. It means we are not flooded or overwhelmed by feelings of sadness or anger. This does not mean we never feel sadness or anger; it means that they don’t overwhelm us. For many of us living with trauma in our bodies and minds this differentiation may feel impossible.
I’m here to tell you it is possible. More on that in the coming weeks.
Stabilization is also not living in that state of overwhelm, it is feeling a sense of calm, much of the time, and sometimes even when things outside of our control happen. It is in the not having big reactive responses, and instead being able to respond to outer chaos intentionally and thoughtfully.
Again, this doesn’t mean we never feel angry or sad or frustrated or misunderstood… it means that we recognize those feelings (physical sensations and emotions) and do not act out mindlessly or thoughtlessly from those feelings.
Ultimately stabilization is about having a really great relationship with our frontal lobe (where logic and empathy live) and having all the parts of our brain working together instead of our amygdala always being in charge and running rampant.
In a nutshell, this is caring for our Self, for our Self. What I mean by this, is that many of us have received the message that we need to fill our own cup so we can be of service to others. I don’t consider that self-care. That is caring for our self for others. To me, that is not true self care.
True self care is when we nourish our self in some way (from drinking enough water during the day to seeing our therapist each week to getting enough sleep to finding ways to calm and soothe our nervous systems) because we want to care for our Self, because we believe that we are deserving.
This can be a pretty big leap. I think many of us have (and I include myself in this in the past) grudgingly done “self-care” so that we can be better parents/partners/workers; so that we have the energy and resources to be of service to others.
There is nothing wrong with being of service to others. And. There is nothing wrong with taking care of our Self for the sole reason of caring for our self.
What does any of this have to do with trauma, grief, or embodiment?
Fostering a sense of safeness and stabilization are the “first phase” of any trauma processing work. This is work that needs to be done before you dive into the deeper processing work. Once we have developed a sense of safeness and feel emotionally stable, we then have the inner resources to truly do the deep, challenging, and messy work of trauma processing and in depth embodiment work.
Coming to the idea that we are an interconnected (to others) yet autonomous Self, and that we are deserving of care because we exist not because of how we care for others, is revolutionary and also a part of our trauma processing work. Even the idea of claiming our autonomous Self, which includes our body, mind, and spirit, as ours, is pretty revolutionary, and is also part of our trauma processing work.
I talk more about all of this in the 8 minute video below.
This essay is the first in a three part series I have written exploring the ideas of safeness, stabilization, and self-care.. I hope you find it helpful and informative.
Definitions (this essay)