When we start on our path to recovery from trauma and PTSD, it’s very important that before we do anything else, we think about ways in which we can help ourselves to feel safe, to feel protected from further danger and hurt. Trauma recovery can be compared to when you learn to drive a car – the most important thing to learn is how to stop the car, both in a controlled manner and also when faced with an emergency, a very rapid stop if you need to. Safe trauma recovery requires exactly the same built in safeguards.
When we are in a safe environment we can relax and be ourselves, we can take small manageable risks toward growth and change. Some of us can experience the sense of safety with a trusted friend, partner or family member or therapist or sharing with fellow survivor – but we can ALL also start to explore the possibility of feeling safe within ourselves.
For some of us even the thought of safety when you’ve only known danger and hurt can be frightening or seemingly impossible to attain, but actually starting to create it can be done by taking some small simple practical steps.
Some of us continue to live in environments where there is an ongoing risk of trauma. This might be living with an abusive partner. It may be that your first task will need to be removing yourself from danger, if at all possible. It may include contacting local refuges, getting advice on your rights, on obtaining protective or restraining orders or other legal protections. It may involve knowing how to summon law enforcement agencies if you are in immediate danger of or have been physically attacked.
Whether you need at this point to flee an abusive partner, civil unrest and violence or natural disaster, you may need to make an emergency escape plan, of how you will access shelter or go to a safe home belonging to relatives or friends.
It may involve you improving the security of your home, changing locks or adding extra security, changing phone numbers. It may involve you avoiding risky places or making sure you have a companion if you have to walk anywhere at night.
Learning self-defence can be useful at all stages of recovery even for those of us who aren’t living under physical threat. It can build up self confidence in our bodies, give us a sense of being able to deal with any situation and may prove lifesaving in an emergency.
Emotional Safety and Support Networks
Trauma is isolating and can leave you feeling disconnected and different from others. Sharing your experiences and feelings, although scary, can help. At other times though, you may want to retreat – take courage and know that struggle is to be expected. The following list of suggestions is just to get you started:
- Have a list of things you really enjoy doing and do them
- Have a list of things and places that make you feel safe
- Check in with yourself as you work through the exercises and notice if you are holding your breath, if you feel tension in your body, if your emotions are getting overwhelming or thoughts are racing – if so, slow down, take a break or stop for today. There may be parts of the course that you have to leave out, at least for now, and come back to at a later date
- Avoid watching TV programmes that might trigger you
- If possible avoid making large scale life changes at the same time as working towards your recovery
- Look at your current social support network and think about which members of your family or friends may be able to offer support on an emotional level – who can you call if you are having a very difficult day? Are there any local support groups you can join? Be very careful to choose your supports carefully. You need people who can be absolutely trusted, who will keep conﬁdences and will not negatively judge you or harm you. Building up a relationship with a counsellor or other therapist experienced in trauma recovery can be extremely valuable. Again it is important to choose someone you feel comfortable and safe with.
It might mean finding a steady source of income, it might mean focussing on eating well and exercising. It also includes tapping into and developing your own inner strengths, and any other potentially available resources for healing – that might mean other people, a support group or a friend, a helpful doctor or counsellor or some alternative therapy. It also involves learning how to regulate your emotions and manage the symptoms that cause you suffering or make you feel unsafe. This might involve learning new relaxation skills or mindfulness, or taking up a hobby that you really enjoy and can lose yourself in such as art or writing.
Pacing and Setting Clear Boundaries
Safety also involves pacing ourselves and setting clear boundaries. When you were traumatised, you weren’t safe. This time, however, you will always remain safe and in control. You will progress steadily, but as slowly as you need to remain in control. Always move at a comfortable pace. You alone know exactly how far and how fast you are able to go. When we feel so awful, we tend to try to go faster, to take bigger steps, than our minds and bodies are able to just so we can feel better. However, tiny steps are essential.
We sometimes need to push ourselves BUT If ever you are pushing yourself while still feeling a chronically high level of fear or anxiety, ease off, slow down, go back a few steps. Never do anything that makes your symptoms worse.
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!