“Safety is an absence of threat plus a feeling of connection.” Dr Stephen Porges

Our nervous system prioritizes our physical safety over connection and routinely hijacks us. We want to feel close to someone yet we are afraid to trust. Our perception of safety and threat is unconscious. Our primitive brain is constantly on the look out for danger and bases its predictions on the past. It works in black and white thinking. Mindfulness of our body and thoughts can help us use the more sophisticated part of our brain to weigh the evidence for a more nuanced perception.

Can I trust you with my body? Will you hurt me? Will I be safe? Can I trust you with my heart? Are you mean at times, or are you reliably kind?

We are all subject to being activated into fight/flight/freeze responses when we face uncertainty or danger. Deb Dana speaks about our home in ventral vagal, a state of trust and connection, and our home-away-from-home, our tendency to go into fight, flight or freeze. It is necessary to understand this basic process so we can notice when we are in fight/flight/freeze and know how to come back home.

Monitor your body for changes. Are you holding your breath? Clenching your jaw? These are signals that you are perceiving that something is wrong or dangerous.

We don’t start fresh every day. We base our threat perception on our history. This evolved to be helpful for consistent threats to our safety. A predator in the bushes will always be dangerous. This survival response is not nuanced enough for modern life or for our changing circumstances.

As a child, did you often wake up not knowing if you would be safe that day? Maybe you experienced physical, verbal or other forms of violence in your home. You may have had unpredictable and unreliable attachment with a parent who was not able to self-regulate. It may have been a bully at school.

Our nervous system never forgets that this danger could happen again. If you experience anxiety on waking, this might be at play. There are several steps you can take.

Understand and accept that your nervous system is trying to protect you and that your perception of threat is not accurate in your present day circumstances.

Learn and practice breathing, grounding and orienting techniques.

Cultivate kindness and compassion for the suffering this causes you. Your nervous system is responding appropriately to history and childhood circumstances that were not your fault.

Do something different. Get out of bed. Do some breathing to regulate your system. Have a guided practice ready to listen to. Use your higher level mind to remind yourself that you are safe in this moment and you are not back in that danger. Tap on your forehead. Look at your daily planner to see what you will be doing. These all help us break the trance of thinking we are in danger based on historical events.

Invest time in learning to come home to a state of trust and connection. This builds resilience and strength. We will always experience fight, flight, and freeze. We don’t have to live there.

With practice, we can correct our risk assessment as we move through our day, practice coming back into self-regulation, and more consistently open our hearts to connection.

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Longing for Connection