Moving Beyond Safety


It’s been pretty amazing to watch this organic shift that starts to happen when we reach a tipping point in our sense of safety. I’ve anticipated that I’ve been headed toward something new, but couldn’t quite vocalize it, nor identify it. It did seem to become more accessible as I continued, and continue, to work on the fear in whatever forms it seems to arise. And then I’ve had to push myself, with help, to go to places I don’t know if I would have gone on my own…to make real change, without the assurance that it is in the exact perfect direction, but it is movement! nonetheless.

The main thing I want to share with you today is that eternal bliss is not the goal. I have heard this many times, but until recently it was only mind stuff. I could not allow for another option, given the amount of unsafety I had experienced at very vulnerable times in life. I could conceive of the logic of bliss not being the endpoint, but I could never imagine it for myself until recently. You may, and I certainly did, hold eternal calm/safety/bliss/relief as the goal while facing head-on the Leviathon that is developmental trauma. That is just fine. It is also good information to let you know where your are at in your nervous system development. And then at some point, I cannot predict for you when, you will start to be interested in life, and want to poke your head out into the world, and begin to wonder what it really possible for you out there.

Through a series of recent discoveries, it’s suddenly quite clear to me in a new way that discomfort is not the enemy. It is information. It can tell us to reposition our bodies, or that there is something to pay deeper attention to, or it could be a an incomplete self protection response waiting to express and finish its business. And, it can also be our bodymind’s way of communicating to us that something NEW is happening. Our ages old wiring tells us to PAY ATTENTION TO NEW STUFF in case there is something we will need to respond to. It does this with BIG FEELINGS that can be incredibly uncomfortable, and that our minds may mistakenly predict based on our past experiences COULD BE VERY BAD, EVEN DANGEROUS! If we just accept this mind interpretation, we might even be able to find something bad happening to justify the interpretation and satisfy the part of us that wants to keep running that same old program. Rinse. Repeat.

NEW could be bad, but it could just as easily be neutral or good. Unresolved trauma is what gets in the way of being able to tolerate discomfort that arises when we move toward our authenticity, when we try to stretch to satisfy the needs for variety and adventure that make us feel alive in the world. The difficulty making accurate assessments of safety is called faulty neuroception. It’s a short in our system for being able to tell safe from not safe. Imagine how devastating this can be for someone who has a hard time feeling safe and is working really hard to figure out how to establish some modicum of security in the world. Or maybe you already know.

Stretching ourselves doesn’t have to come in the form of overwork, overdoing, overexercising, or overextending ourselves. We don’t have to cliff jump in a squirrel suit or ride motorcycles without helmets. These seem to be forms of pursuit that lead to breakdown of the mind and body, and eventually to illness or early death. These forms of pushing beyond our limits seem to be more an unconscious numbing the intolerability of intense feelings and experiences than they are really living fully. Finding meaningful work, play, partners and friends; being adequately appreciated for our work and care; saying no to things that we know we should; and continuously moving toward our potential and responding to life’s challenges can provide plenty of excitement in themselves. Things that get in the way of of that are likely traumatic stress-related.

Stretching ourselves in the form of risking everything to be who we really are takes guts no matter what, but it also takes nervous system capacity. Trying to do it without capacity is a drag! Illness, long recovery times, constant setbacks. Having experiences that made us feel unsafe or unwelcome at a very early age, perhaps even from the time of conception, can make almost any amount of charge stimulated by just living feel life threatening. It can literally shut us down and send us into hiding, scrambling to find some sense of safety. And that response is completely involuntary – an artifact of previous experiences. It may feel completely out our control, and in a lot of ways, it really is, until we get a better sense of what our body is trying to do. It may take a long time for us to start to turn attention toward what is happening inside, because it is so uncomfortable in there. Once we can make some sense of what our body/nervous system is saying, we can start to work with it and not against it. We can finally be on our own team!

I’m so happy to realize and share with you this newfound breath of fresh clarity I have about the difference between various forms of coaching, and deep nervous system informed psychotherapeutic work that addresses this shutting down effect. Some signs that you might want to look more deeply into how to cultivate more therapeutic experiences of safety for your nervous system healing include:

  • chronic feelings of unrealized potential
  • difficulty being in groups, crowds or in public spaces
  • limitations on your movements or activities because of fear or anxiety
  • paralysis when trying to make movement on your goals
  • freeze, dissociation or panic when encountering stressors
  • discomfort or difficulty being at ease around others
  • mental/emotional/physical exhaustion after doing activities you like or being with people you care about
  • random unexpected anxiety peaks
  • longstanding depresssion or fatigue
  • feelings of derealization
  • always feeling like a fraud or like you will be found out
  • not being able to take in or feel appreciation, comfort, connection, or pride
  • feeling very young and vulnerable, and feeling pressure to hide it or get over it
  • meds or tools work for a little while but never satisfactory or don’t last

These are not all the ways to tell you might have unresolved nervous system dysregulation, but I think they paint a good picture for you. There’s a ton of well meaning self help literature and helpers out there who do not know or understand the neurophysiology of trauma, nor how to treat it. Educate yourself so you can target your time, energy and money you put into it. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad because you can’t do the thing, whatever that is, that they are telling you to do, that is supposed to fix the problem. If you’re stuck, it’s likely there’s a good reason. Listen…can you hear it? Your body is trying to talk to you! I so hope you can be your own best friend and start to listen. Just start, in the tiniest way to you can manage. Get a guide who knows the territory, if you need one.

About Cynthia M Clingan

Cynthia Clingan is a licensed professional clinical counselor in Columbus, Ohio who offers somatic psychotherapy, spiritual coaching, and meditation and mindfulness instruction.
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