Friday, May 28, 2010

Trust and Safety: The Story Continues

Trust and safety. Ever since I started writing on this subject two weeks ago, I have been dogged by these words. Are they synonymous or does one lead to the other? Here is another example.

In January, as many of you know, I was hit by a car. Now, being hit in such a way is a near death experience. I was incredibly lucky—barely injured —but had the driver been going faster, or failed to stop when she did, I could have been seriously hurt or even killed. It is enough to make one doubt their safety …

So, not one to miss a chance to doubt, for the first few months after the incident, I began experiencing my age-old nemesis: generalized, amorphous anxiety, a sure sign that safety was lacking. Interestingly, I didn’t recognize it at first. It took a close friend to open my eyes and even then, I denied it. “I am over it,” I said, “I had some fear, but its gone now.” Despite the denial, a part of me did hear her, enough that is, to ever so slightly open the door and let me see what was really happening. Sure enough, I wasn’t “over it”. Not only was I feeling anxious but I was losing trust in myself. (With no safety, can there be trust?) I began questioning my career path, my appearances and my writing abilities. I didn’t recognize it at first. Losing trust is like the insidious seepage of toxic waste — before you know it, one’s sense of safety is a crumbling edifice.

More importantly, however, than how I lost it, is how did I get it back?

Well, the first step was acknowledgement. That went a long way towards recovery. By stating “a part of me feels anxious” I could separate myself (my Self) out from that amorphous state and start dealing with it. In separation, I became the witness to my feelings rather than being overwhelmed by them. Bearing witness to one’s feelings is somewhat akin to being the ideal parent to a young child. The parent helps the child express their feelings while maintaining a safe environment. They help the child establish healthy boundaries (how, when and where to express) and model healthy expression back to the child. Moreover, they are authoritative rather than authoritarian, offering strong but compassionate leadership that the child can respect and look up to. When we act as a witness to our parts, whether these parts reflect our feelings, thoughts or behaviours, it is like we are reparenting ourselves. And, in that reparenting, we reestablish inner trust and safety.

The second thing I did was to deepen the relationship with this anxious part. I did this by exploring where it lived in my body (solar plexus) and then seeing if there were any images or sensations related to this part. For me it felt like a crazy spiral of swirling fingers mixing up a bad stew… gotta love these images. Ironically, the more I noticed the safer I felt. The safer I felt, the calmer I was which increased my trust. It is like waking up from a nightmare: the darkness at first disorientates and scares but the more you tune in to your surroundings, the calmer you feel. Same with my parts. With deepening trust and safety, I could then listen to what my anxious part was trying to tell me: it was scared of losing out, not being worthy, being alone, and disappearing. If I took each to its natural conclusion, it was really scared of dying. This part was acting just like a child would after any big scare.

With this information, I slowed down and began reassuring this part of myself. I did this by some self talk but also through reconnecting to my body: I noticed my breath and its natural flow; noticed how it felt to sit on a chair and to lie on the floor and walk across the room. I breathed into these feelings, validating them, grounding myself in the process. In turn, my anxious part felt safer —she (my part) was “part” of a bigger picture, she was not alone.

I then confided in friends and told them of my anxiety. I wasn’t looking for answers or sympathy, just a supportive audience and it worked. It took a few days, perhaps a couple of weeks, and the anxiety completely subsided. Self trust and inner safety not only returned to pre-incident levels but gained a stronger foundation.

So, back to the question of what comes first, I feel they (safety and trust) are two sides of the same coin. In this story I lost my sense of safety because I lost trust in my ability to keep safe. In recovery, I had to enough internal safety to trust (and work with) what my friend suggested but, then again, I wouldn’t have been able to go with any of it unless I trusted myself and the process. It’s becomes a circular argument: the more trust we have, the safer we feel; the safer we feel, the more trust we have. And, if I can add one more point, we can only trust another to the degree that we trust ourselves; we can only feel safe in our external environment if we feel safe within ourselves.

So, I end this discussion for now, but as always, I welcome your comments.


  1. Just loved the way you talk about your self dialogue. It's something I've been doing quite a lot of myself lately! Thanks again for sharing.

  2. And what if I got my self to talk to your self ... what a delight! Perhaps even better than getting my "people" to talk to your "people"...(Hollywood would never be the same).