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The power of feeling safe

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

Photo by Mind+Balance Mental Health Care


When we hear the word safety, we many think of everything from physical, emotional, mental, and financial safety. This word for some of us may elicit positive memories and experiences of feeling safe, and for others of us this may be a reminder of all the ways we feel unsafe. Our sense of safety is also impacted by the various identities we hold , the power and privilege we have or don't have based on our dominant and marginalized identities, intergenerational trauma, and the access/barriers to social, economic, political, and educational capital we have. The sense of safety is also an embodied feeling that has some basis in our neurophysiology which is both difficult to understand and something that also makes things make so much sense.

Why Is feeling safe So Important?

What are the Nuts and Bolts of the power of feeling safe?

What does this mean for me?


Why Is feeling safe So Important?

We all have had that feeling in our body when we walk into a room or meet someone new that tells us if we are feeling comfortable, uncomfortable, safe, scared, turned off, annoyed, etc. Some may call this feeling intuition, implicit and explicit bias, and a gut reaction. And one could say it's probably a mixture of all of the above. Feeling safe is a foundational component for our bodies to function on a number of different levels.

What are the Nuts and Bolts of the power of feeling safe?

Dr. Stephen Porges' work helps us understand that the felt sense of safety in our bodies in has a neurophysiological basis. Our nervous system is responding to cues of safety and danger within our body (e.g. physiological signs - heart racing, sweating, shortness of breath, GI issues), external in the environment, and between each other. When we feel safe, we are able to feel connected to ourselves, others, the world and our social engagement system is turned on. When we feel unsafe, our autonomic nervous system will turn on its' defense strategy systems such as fight/flight, freeze, please/appeasement which inhibits our ability to connect to ourselves, others, and the world.

Gaining an understanding and appreciation of the mind-body connection can help us honor the physiological responses as adaptive in response to cues of safety/danger rather than good or bad. Then we can use these bodily sensations/physiological responses as signals to our cognitive processing systems to discern if the adaptive responses fit or not fit the context which is informed by everything from physical environmental, implicit and explicit biases we hold, and our lived experiences so that we can proceed accordingly.

What does this mean for me?

Dr. Porgues writes that "the human nervous system is on a quest for safety, and we use others to help us feel safe and our nervous system craves reciprocal interactions to engage the state of feeling safe." He shares that to balance the needs of social interaction with needs of safety, there is need to know when to turn defense systems on/off.

One way we do this is to learn ways to regulate our visceral state and it is able to help us engage and enjoy social interactions. Changing things such as posture, moving our bodies, minimizing low-frequency sounds in our environment, noise in general, getting enough sleep, fueling our bodies enough with food are all ways that can help us regulate our physiological state for safety and connection.

If you are interested in reading more about the power of feeling safe and the Polyvagal theory, please check out the book"The Pocket Guide to The Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe by Stephen W. Porges". The link below provides you with the option of purchasing the book through BookShop which is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. As a participate in their affiliate program, BookShop provides me a 10% commission on every sale and a matching 10% to independent bookstores. And you can also purchase the book at your favorite places to purchase your books, or check out your local library to see if they have the book available for loan too.

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