It’s simple really. We need to be cared for. We need someone to see us, and love us, and keep us safe. When that doesn’t happen our nervous system knows that it’s not happening.
Cognitive understanding is important. We need to know how trauma works, what a trauma response is, or that we have abandonment feelings from childhood. It is important to know that with our mind, but it is our nervous system that has to experience safety.
When we have had violence and abuse in our life, our nervous system knows that people are dangerous. They can hurt us physically and emotionally. When we are in a relationship and our partner leaves us, it triggers feelings of abandonment. It reinforces our childhood experience and beliefs that they don’t love us because there is something wrong with us.
The problem is that our nervous system is responding to our experiences. When we have mostly had experiences of relational trauma, of not being connected with, and then of being hurt by parents or partners who are supposed to care for us, our nervous system kind of gives up. We feel we are not safe with anyone. That is true based on our experience.
The work we do to heal our nervous system, like breathing, is very helpful. It is important to consistently do practices that help down-regulate our nervous system.
Our nervous system knows people can hurt us but we are hard-wired to feel fear when we are alone because in the animal world, predators cull the weak and isolated. Humans need connection to feel safe. This is where kindness for ourselves comes in.
We try to become safer in many ways. We hope a partner will have our back. We seek financial security, especially if we have experienced home or food insecurity.
We look for it in addictions. If we can’t actually have the experience of feeling safe, we settle for just not feeling the terror by numbing out or going into freeze.
We can have so much compassion for ourselves that life is actually this hard. We keep working at being open to being kind with ourselves. If a friend was to sit down in front of us and say “This is what’s happened to me through my life, and this is what’s happening to me now” we have so much compassion for them. To be able to extend that to ourselves is such a gift and it is so necessary.
The truth is, we might not get kindness and understanding from other people then blame ourselves for picking these people who can’t give it to us. There are a lot of people who aren’t able to feel their own emotions, who don’t know how to attune to someone, or who are too scared. We just can’t help wanting to be loved, even when we have been hurt and abused by people, lived with a lack of love and affection and safe connection from childhood, and our adult experience has reinforced that. That is part of our nervous system too. We need to have an absence of threat plus a feeling of connection in order to feel safe, and that hasn’t happened for many people.
When our young nervous system learned that our body is not safe and that people will hurt us, it is hard to get over that experience. That knowing can’t be healed only in our conscious mind, because we hold that knowledge deep in our primitive brain and unconscious mind.
We need to go directly into our body and experience for ourselves that the energy, sensations and feelings in our body are not here to hurt us. This is always true. Even if a contraction is painful, it doesn’t have a bad intention towards us. This is our own body and our own energy and it is here to do something good. It is here to warn us or protect us or to let us know how how much suffering there is inside. This gives us an opportunity now, as an adult, to get to know ourselves and to attune with ourselves. As we do, we heal the nervous system and brain through feeling safe with ourselves.
What creates danger is that we turn against ourselves. We criticize and shame ourselves. To create safety, we need to do the opposite. We can practice being kind with ourselves. We can bring our adult, discerning mind to our relationship with our inner critic and challenge untrue deficiency beliefs.
We can heal this deep fear. We can heal the stored trauma in our body, and for that we need our mind and gut and heart. We need to be present in our body and make friends with ourselves. That is why we do this work. It is my experience that it is very possible to heal enough to be free from much of our suffering. When we have been hurt by people, our nervous system will never completely forget. We are not going to reach some perfect state where we are never scared and we wouldn’t actually want that. We need to know when we are in danger.
It is definitely possible to come to a place of stability and acceptance, of welcoming and kindness. As we do that, our nervous system experiences safety, maybe for the first time.
Nobody can prevent us from being safe for ourselves. It is up to us.
Sharing our authentic experience with others is part of this work of healing. We find a way to say our truth. We listen to each other and we care about each other. We find safe places to practice being vulnerable, open and not feeling judged and shamed for our experience. That inspires us and shows us we can bring compassion and care to our relationship with ourself. It is in our own hands.