i don't have a feeling of safety - complex ptsd and dissociation
**slight trigger warning - I mention the word abuse**
Hello out there,
I have been posting on other discussion threads but I haven't created my own post until now....
I am realising lately that I can't feel a sense of safety in my body. I can recall times when I have felt safe, for example lying under my weighted blanket, or cuddling with my partner. But, I can't FEEL the safety in my body when I think about those memories. It is as if my body simply does not retain a memory of that felt experience. However, I can feel terror, rage, helplessness, numbness, intense shame etc when I remember awful things from my past and I very much feel it in my body. I can feel good stuff in the moment as a vague sensation, but I can't retain the memory of it in my body. Does that make sense?
I am learning more and more about dissociation at the moment, and I'm realising that I have experienced chronic dissociation (disconnection from my body sensations) to varying degrees since a child. I was never taught as a child what it meant to feel safe and held and nurtured. My childhood was chaotic, dysfunctional and very abusive, physically & emotionally. Thus, the diagnosis of complex PTSD. I am now in my late 40s and the impact of that early trauma is becoming more and more apparent.
I realised this when I called the suicide call back service a few weeks ago and the lady kept saying to imagine a time when I felt safe, or to do something that made me feel safe and to keep doing that until I felt safe in my body. I drew a blank - she might as well have been speaking a different language!! It was a revelation to me! I thought that safety was something you created externally, such as, interacting with people you trust, places that feel comfortable in, and activities that feel nice and not too stressful. I never knew that safety was something you could feel INSIDE your body!! I am slowly learning.......
I would love to hear from others with a similar experience. But, also from those who can describe what safety feels like.
I very much relate to your post. Without understanding it until recent years (I’m late 40s too), I’ve come to realise that I never had a sense of safety from the very beginning (traumatic birth, mother did not bond, father rageful from earliest memory etc). I’ve come to realise that neither of my parents ever had any sense of safety either based on their experiences from the beginning of life.
In the past year I have begun to feel safety on a few occasions. One day last year I was at my favourite place by the ocean and I suddenly realised all burdens had lifted off me and all stress had left my body. It was truly incredible and I realised other people probably feel that more routinely. I could breathe without any difficulty which is very rare for me. I’m quite sure that was linked to the somatic work I’d been doing with my psychologist releasing past traumas.
What tends to happen is the stress response returns (chronic fight/flight/freeze) because my body is so programmed for it, but as I keep touching into safety gradually my body is unlearning its lifelong patterns.
My next main safety episode followed a really kind person singing a healing song to me. I was doing a course with him and I had been really not ok before starting the course. It’s like he just intuitively picked that up as I will never say I’m not ok but will try to act that everything is fine. He saw through that and sang to me. I had the most profound healing and it was deeply physiological and spiritual too. I remained incredibly peaceful for several weeks and felt truly connected to everyone and everything.
Eventually I slipped back a bit. Then I had a session with my psychologist where I finally stopped trying so hard to be ok, broke down and cried and she was so kindly present with me. Again a deep healing followed. That afternoon I had all these healing visions relating to past traumas and difficulties. A feeling of ease came over me and my creativity returned. I wrote my first song in 13 years.
So I am learning safety in my body and it has always been facilitated through coregulation with a safe other person who has deeply understood me and been present with me. Certain triggers can spark fear again. Sometimes those fears are irrational but sometimes not. I had strong fear activated in relation to a couple of people recently who indeed were not safe people to have in my life and I promptly put a boundary up with them. Thus my instincts were correct and I established safety for myself.
So in my experience I think safety inside the body is being able to breathe without any restrictions, complete ease of movement, a sense of deep peace and actual feelings of joy and connection to all life (people, animals, plants, past, present, future). It is a feeling of freedom and I know it exists because I have felt it. Perhaps most powerfully there is a feeling of coming home to yourself - a kind of birthright that can definitely be attained even if trauma was present from birth.
That is the best I can explain it. I’m still learning the experience of safety but gradually getting there. I’d be happy to hear from anyone else on the topic who has experienced safety in their body and what that feels like and means for them.
Also, lastly just remembering too that I’ve learned healing is about receptivity and an open heart. When you are with someone who you can intuitively trust and they can really see and be present with you, it’s possible to open your heart and be receptive to healing. This receptivity is necessary for healing processes to unfold. To me it has felt like my heart opening and a feeling of warmth, gentleness and humility. So I think receptivity is closely connected with safety and they feed into each other.
Hi dig & ER,
I can only say that I feel, for the most part, safe. For me that has been as a result of being on my own for a long time (no relationships for over 20 years). It has taught me to rely in my own inner strength. I can still be triggered as I have talked about previously, but it does not last very long once the episode is over and done with. I think a lot of feeling safe in your body has to do with confidence, self esteem, the ability to stand up for yourself and I know that with the ptsd you have both been through, that is not easy to maintain on a day to day basis. I am not sure if this will help but there is a cd I listen to fairly frequently (which is on spotify if you have a subscription) by Jonathan Goldman called Crystal Bowl Chakra Chants. My suggestion would be to listen to something like this when you are feeling safe, soaking in the resonance of the sound and feeling it in your body along with the feeling of being safe. This could be a trigger for safety when you need it. It should work by being able to resonate with that feeling of safety when you listen to it. My point is that the negative feelings were and are associated with the sounds of anger and chaos, which allowed them to become ingrained over time, the same should be true for positive feelings over time.
I hope this helps a little.
Take care both,
Thank you. That’s very helpful. I think when you learn to resonate with safety, such as through healing, calming sounds, you can draw on that when you need to. I will have a look for those particular chants. On my recent trip I mostly felt safe actually when I think about it. I think because I was in control of what I was doing every day and following my heart and spirit. It was very healing. I was regularly in nature which is absolutely my safe place.
But one night I could not sleep and I was still awake at 3am. I had a lot of grief surfacing. I’m learning it is a natural process in flux and this is just what happens. It was actually a good sign that grief was moving through and not stuck. In addition, some people were fighting in the street which made me feel a bit on edge but sad too. My nervous system was very wired, the same way it always was when I was a child and I would be awake all night. Then all of a sudden I felt the presence of a wise elder with me looking over me. He felt completely, unquestionably safe and rested his hand on me - a healer, nurturer and protector. I straight away could feel instant safety. I could feel the hypervigilance in my nervous system just let go. There is some process now by which I can access safety, or it comes upon me when I need it. So finally, I went to sleep.
Even just writing about this now I can feel calmer. There is a peaceful atmosphere. Thank you 🙏
Dear dig and indigo,
Indigo, I just wanted to let you know that although I don’t have a Spotify subscription I found free versions of Jonathan Goldman’s Crystal Bowl Chakra Chants. I just listened to one this morning. It was very calming and centring. I could feel it expanding my heart and transforming my brain waves. I have an appointment with my psychologist later this morning so I know it will help me to have calmness and clarity when communicating with her, putting me in a good space for that. Dig, I hope something like that might be helpful for you too. I used to go to sound healing sessions in the city and it was where I started to learn about the role of different consciousness states in the alleviation of fear and stress. I would feel safer and profoundly different after those sessions too.
Hi Eagle Ray & dig,
ER - So glad you found free versions and you found it helpful, I need to get myself in the habit of listening to it daily as I find it helpful too. I also have a set of metal chakra singing bowls which I want to get into the habit of using regularly. Your connection to spirit is very strong, I love that the elder came to you to soothe you when you most needed it and you were able to sleep.
When I ended my session with the psychotherapist, she gave me a hug and I burst into tears, I had not had that kind of contact with another human in a really long time and I didn't realise just how much I really needed a hug until that moment.
I hope you are ok dig,
Hi dig and indigo,
Dig, I hope you are going ok too.
Indigo, I relate to the meaningfulness of a hug too. I have been on my own a long time too and I’m so used to not having hugs or physical comfort or support. So I understand the bursting into tears. Your therapist sounds intuitive and caring.
Take care both,
Hi Eagle Ray & Indigo,
Thank you so much for your thoughtful posts, as always. I have had a busy few days, and in general I am going pretty well at the moment. I think the beginning of Spring has helped me to turn a corner and start lifting out of the Dark Night of the Soul during Winter.
ER - thank you for your insights on what safety feels like inside the body.
Ease of movement
A sense of deep peace
Feeling of joy & connection
A feeling of freedom
A feeling of coming home to yourself.
I can recall moments of experiencing that feeling. For example, sailing with my father. I would feel at peace on the water, joy & connection to nature and my father, definitely a sense of freedom to completely relax and be myself, and a feeling of coming home. My father and I had a very special bond out on the water/ocean.
I also feel that way when I am in the ocean just swimming and splashing around. I feel sparks of joy and aliveness as I enter the ocean and the waves start swirling around me. I often squeal with joy. When I am floating and diving under waves and rolling around I let my body go limp and become one with the ocean. I love the feeling of the salty water and sunshine on my skin. I allow my body to just roll around and do what it wants to do. Definitely a feeling of freedom - to just be me. And yes, I can relate ER, that feeling of all the burdens and stress lifting off. I often shake my arms and legs as I get out of the ocean which feels good too, shaking off old stuck energy. I feel invigorated and refreshed afterwards. So...... is that safety?
I also like your reference to coregulation with a safe other person. I have a bit more difficulty with that one. I remember feeling safe and beautifully held and seen and heard with my first counsellor (that I saw fortnightly for about 5 years). But then she stopped counselling to have a baby, so I stopped counselling too. I had become reliant on her, I think. Because I had never had anyone to coregulate with before. I think I closed up after that for a very very long time. It was very hard for me to trust another person. Even with my current therapists, I don't know if I feel completely safe. I think at the moment, I am in a heightened PTSD state, so the hypervigilance and tendency towards fight/flight/freeze is very strong. Actually, I do feel glimpses of coregulation when my partner is stroking my hair, for example, it is very soothing. But, if his kids are arguing in the background, then my body immediately goes into tension/restriction. And your comment about being open to receive is an interesting one. I will ponder that some more.......
So ER....... safety is when the hypervigilance and tension/constriction drops away? Like letting go of the need to hold oneself together? I am experiencing glimpses of that, I suppose, gradually.
And Indigo, thank you so much for pointing towards Jonathan Goldman and the Crystal Bowl Chakra Chants! Got it! I listened to it this morning after my morning mediation. I could feel the healing vibrations in my body and a sense of peace and calm (for the 5 minutes of the track). I love sound healing. I have been to a few crystal bowl sound healings and also didgeridoo sound healings. And it reminded me that I have a Spotify playlist with healing frequencies that I play sometimes. For me though, I need to play tracks like that on repeat ALL DAY as I potter around at home, and then by the end of the day I feel relaxed and at peace. So, it takes a loooooooooong time for my body to unwind and find that place of relaxation and peace and letting go. I find dancing and moving around to some gentle dancey tracks helps a bit too. I have 'psychospiritual' playlists for that.
Thank you both again for your insights and for sharing. I really appreciate it. Please keep sharing if you would like to. It helps me sooooooooo much 🙂
Hi dig & ER,
The thing is to listen to that when you are already feeling safe, when you can focus on the feeling in your body so an association can be formed with safety, so the brain has a chance to do some rewiring. So when you are laying under your weighted blanket or when everything is quiet and you are being held by your partner, those are the times to listen with focus and form a connection so it becomes a trigger for safety. It's great to have it on in the background but that won't achieve the same result because it is not the main focus.
I am not sure if either of you saw my post on the free mental health global summit that is coming up on September 12th, there is a documentary with Gabor Mate that is definitely worth seeing and there are lots of speakers to choose from to watch during the summit. The post is in the Welcome section of the forum is you are interested and the web address is there to find out more about it.
Take care both,
Dear dig and indigo,
Dig, the best way I can describe the feeling of safety related to all burdens leaving the body that I experienced that day by the ocean, was that it was at a whole other level. So I often feel at one with nature and that is very helpful. Like you I have also felt that deep embodiment in the ocean where you go into a kind of flow state, feel the elements of the salty water and sunshine and just let the ocean hold you. It’s such a beautiful thing. But this time by the ocean where all burdens lifted, it was like there was a deep healing throughout my whole system of all past injuries, traumas etc. There was only ease and a feeling that all had resolved. Again I experienced this after being sung to where my body went into a kind of resolving phase where all my fascia stretched out through spontaneous movements, I went into a peaceful sleep and then felt the deepest peace for the next few weeks. So for me those experiences were total safety through a kind of inner resolution that simply played out on its own in the right conditions. It’s hard to do it justice in words because it’s a felt, non-verbal experience. While my nervous system has relapses which is expected in complex trauma, my system now knows what such healing feels like and can gradually work its way towards it. It’s a process of pendulation, which you may be familiar with from Peter Levine’s work.
The guy who sung to me has trained in shamanistic practice in Peru and he spoke about receptivity as a state the shamans talk about. I guess you could say it is having the intent of healing, just internally letting go and opening the heart to spirit. I already sense you are like that anyway (and you too indigo), that you both have that open heart that enables healing. You just don’t want to open your heart in the presence of the wrong people, and that’s why having supports you can wholeheartedly trust, such as an open, kind therapist, mentor, whoever it might be, is so important.
I understand what you’re saying about having had that positive, safe relationship with the first counsellor but then closing up after. I remember watching a video Peter Levine made about work he did with a US marine named Ray who had PTSD. Ray said “trust is a heavy thing”. For anyone with trauma being able to let go and just trust in the presence of another can be really, really hard to do. Actually that video which is on YouTube may even be helpful to watch. It’s called Somatic Experiencing - Ray’s Story.
For me I had an intuitive sense from my first session with my current psychologist that she was going to be safe. It still took me a year though to fully let go that day I just said I’m so exhausted from presenting as if I’m ok all the time before I put my head down on the desk and cried. I had never in my whole life allowed myself to let go with someone like that before because it was way to dangerous as a child to say if I was not ok. The relief was incredible and more deep healing followed. So the whole thing is progressive and it’s just gently allowing the release of past traumas and letting in the good, including the kindhearted-ness of others. That letting go and then letting in is the receptivity.
I am still a work in progress, but I now have quicker recovery times when trauma responses activate and I know, without question from what I’ve experienced, that healing is possible. I’m gradually becoming a good parent to myself as I begin to internalise what is healing and normal while letting go of all that isn’t.
I hope maybe that helps a bit. It’s a process but one you can work through and find healing in.