Overcoming Traumatic Stress: The Four Places of Safety
By Dr Becky Spelman
Traumatic stress occurs in response to extraordinary events such as natural disasters, involvement in vehicle crashes, violent crime and terrorist attacks. The toll that this type of stress takes on the body can be overwhelming. If you’ve experienced anything fitting this description in the past, you know that it can leave you feeling emotionally drained and in some cases incapable of carrying out your everyday tasks.
The most important thing to do before starting any practical work on yourself is coming to a place of safety. You can’t make any positive improvement in your life while you’ll still in a place of fear. You must establish a solid foundation that you can work from. That involves feeling safe now in this present moment. Although you can’t do this on command, the first step in getting to a place of safety is by acknowledging that your traumatic experience is over. By doing this, you’re affirming that there is no threat to you. There are four main types of safety:
This is the most immediate form of safety that we think of when threatened. It means no harm can come to your physical body. To be physically safe, you must be able to take steps to remove yourself from harm without the aid of others.
This relates to your thought processes that relate to your belief systems. Being safe in this context means you’re able to align yourself with thoughts that enable you to bring out the best of your character and accomplish your daily tasks.
Emotional safety is being able to identify how you feel about your trauma and how you’re able to deal with triggering situations. In the aftermath of a traumatising event, your ability to intuit danger can be impaired because you’re constantly experiencing alarm signals.
This may or may not apply to you, depending on your attitude towards a higher power that is in existence. If this is relevant, experiencing intense trauma can cause you to question the validity of your faith and why bad things can happen to good people.
Evaluating Your Level of Safety
Here are a set of question that will allow you to assess whether or not you feel the appropriate level of safety.
Is there anything that is causing pressure or threating harm towards you?
Is there anything in your current environment that doesn’t feel safe to you right now?
Are you able to protect yourself from the people who you deem to be unsafe?
Are there people in your life right now that make you feel unsafe?
Are you able to engage in your daily activities without feeling under pressure of threatened?
Are you able to express your beliefs and thoughts without feeling threatened?
Are you able to put boundaries in place to make you feel protected?
If after answering these questions, you find that there are still too many reminders of your trauma either in your work or home environment, you may need to make some changes to create a more harmonious setting. This is vital for you to start your recovery. If you’re attached to some of these items, you can always reintroduce them at a later date when you’re more advanced with your recovery.
Creating a Physical Place of Safety
Beyond simply having a home, it’s important that you have a designated space that you can call your safe place. So when you’re feeling triggered and need space to find reprieve from your emotions, you know you have somewhere that will be of comfort to you. This area will include whatever makes you feel most at ease. It could be your bedroom, a spare room with a sofa and cushions. It could be decorated with lots of ornaments or sparse. It’s whatever works best to alleviate your stress.
Creating an Inner Sanctuary
In addition to creating a physical space, it can be useful to have an internal place you can take yourself to when you’re feeling overwhelmed. This can be a time or place from your past when you felt safe as a child. Or, it can be completely fictitious. It’s important when choosing this place that you don’t choose somewhere that currently exists in your life. If you do, there is a risk that place could become tainted by negative experiences that you may have with other people. Any time, you feel threatened – when physically able to do so – you can close your eyes and take yourself to this place of inner peace.
About the author:
Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.
***If you’re struggling with your traumatic stress and think you might benefit from speaking to someone about your situation, we offer a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with one of our specialists to help you find the best way to move forward. You can book yours here.
Herbert, Claudia. (6th Oct 2016). Overcoming Traumatic Stress. Robinson; UK 2nd ed. Edition 5thJan 2017).
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