When the world feels unsafe

Feeling unsafe - Anxiety counselling Totnes, Paignton and Newton Abbott Matt Fox

Ever have that feeling, that whatever you do with other people, you’re bound to be let down in the end? Or do you often think it’s easier to get things done yourself, rather than be disappointed or frustrated by someone else’s endeavours?

Life can feel lonely or heavy when you it’s hard to trust that family, friends, colleagues will be there for you and come through when times are tough. In these times of great change and unpredictability, the world can feel very unsafe.

Holding on to yourself is a double-edged sword. While you may feel a sense of hurt and sadness when you don’t get the help you want and need, you may feel safer and more in control with getting things done yourself.

The dance between disappointment and control can be exhausting and frustratingly hard to see any end to it.

What allows you to trust?

At the heart of trust is feeling safe. If you feel safe, it’s easier to make connections, sustain relationships and believe that ultimately the world is a benign place, not a hostile one.

If the opposite is true and you feel unsafe, then it’s likely that you will all those same things that little bit harder.

What tends to happen is that you override those feelings with some neatly constructed defences. You become the uber helpful person, the determined workaholic, the diligent son or daughter, the ever-sacrificing parent. The feeling of being unsafe gets buried very deep and sometimes almost forgotten.

How is it that your sense of trust and safety have become so badly undermined? For most people, it’s some kind of trauma. The more visible kinds can be from violence, war, accidents, or the loss of one or both parents or a carer at an early age. Equally disturbing and undermining to safety and trust are the more hidden traumas such as emotional, sexual or physical abuse.

These can gnaw or rip away at your sense of safety and do grave damage over the long term. Sometimes the memories get buried and nearly forgotten or they remain close to the surface, easily triggered and therefore certain situations are avoided at all costs (for example if you have a scary experience on a plane it might make you clench or think twice about getting on one again).

Whether visible or hidden, the imprint of trauma stays within until addressed and healed.

What helps best with trauma?

Research* has shown some things work well to help rebuild safety when trauma has occurred:
– Depth counselling and psychotherapy centred around a positive healing relationship
– Yoga and other body work to bring you back into a more grounded relationship with yourself
– Writing and journalling about your experience to reclaim your story
– Mindfulness to be aware of your responses and needs
Neurofeedback (real time feedback of your brain function used to teach self-regulation)
– EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) to change your relationship to your memories

For others, while there may not be a specific traumatic event, it might be the trauma of emotionally unattuned or unavailable parents which eats away at your sense of safety. When a parent is inconsistent or regularly unavailable emotionally, it becomes hard to trust that your world is safe or that your needs can be met. A tightness and armour are formed to protect you from hurt and further feelings of abandonment or neglect.

What happens when you continue to feel unsafe?

Humans are very resilient and cope incredibly well with what’s been hard in their life but sometimes the legacy of feeling unsafe starts to seep out in unhealthy ways:
– an obsessive need to keep control
– rigid and inflexible behaviour
– outbursts of anger
– passive aggressive behaviour
– nightmares and disturbed sleep patterns
– anxiety
– depression and stuckness

Healing starts with both developing an awareness of what’s happened to you and reclaiming your story, knowing that you are more that the difficult things that have happened to you. Counselling which supports the integration of your unsafe experiences in a place of safety can be an important part of starting to feel differently.

With that, comes a growing sense of trust that now, as an adult, you can find greater emotional safety in the world and start to live the life you want.

If you’re struggling with trust and safety…

And want a safe place to explore, I offer counselling and psychotherapy in Totnes, Paignton and Newton Abbott to help you identify the roots of your feeling unsafe and to develop new ways of relating to yourself and the world. Why not get in touch for a first appointment to find out more about how I can help you?

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*For a great read on the lastest research on trauma and recovery, I recommend ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ by Harvard Professor, Bessel Van Der Kolk.

Photo credit: alekspression via Interior Design / CC BY-NC

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