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Building a Sense of Safety

In the past I did not have a sense of what it meant to feel safe, and even less what it took to build and maintain that feeling. I did not feel that I had a right to demand or refuse the conditions that impacted my sense of safety. Any of my needs that counteracted the status quo were automatically attributed to me as a problem. That Carolynne always stirring up shit. Safety, it is not just physical, but emotional. Emotional safety is methodically destroyed in emotionally abusive relationships. The person you originally thought you could count on above all others is the one that launches the most vicious attacks. It is then compounded by being told that you are overly sensitive or you are imagining things. After a while, you lose perspective on what is healthy and supportive and what it not. You no longer know what is happening, you can feel the reactions, but you are unsure of why. You doubt yourself, it isn't a big deal is it? Clearly your reaction is the problem.

Beginning the process of building and defining your own sense of safety is a critical piece of healing from emotional abuse. In the beginnng you may not know what it is that is disturbing for you in a situation. All you know is you have that burning hot knot in your stomach, and you have that internal sense of panic. Your mind will tell you all kinds of things to try and minimize the situation. Because for you, letting that beast loose has always lead to retaliation and danger. In the past, you were best served by stuffing it down and keeping it quiet. You do not want to upset any applecarts.

Yesterday during my trauma session, we discussed a situation at work. It is a situation, that while on surface it appears very minor, (the manager is demanding that we start and end each day with a "hello" and "goodbye " in a chat forum that we have for informal communications. I find that I have a very visceral reaction to it. The irony being that prior to her arrival it was actually something I did often anyway. But when someone is ordering you to do it, it no longer feels good. This type of behaviour can be very triggering for people who have been dominated.

In this situation, I naturally wondered if I was over reacting. Its such a small thing, and why am I having such a reaction to this order. Through the discussion with my therapist I realized that this request while small, is not insignificant. It really is about power and control. And my manager really did not like when I said no, I will not do it. In doing so I was directly challenging her position and authority. As a victim of domestic violence, sticking up for myself has been a long bumpy road. Initial attempts were bumpy, in some cases I was overly aggressive, much like a wounded animal. But over time I have gotten much better at it. Though often I still doubt myself and tend to need a lot of reassurance that I am not making a mountain out of a mole hill.

You have a right to protect your sense of safety. Until my therapist repeated this a few times I didn't realize that was what this was about. It makes perfect sense I would react to someone attempting to exert control over me. I had spent years being controlled. Many of the dynamics of this situation were very similar to abusive relationships. You are being told what to do, and if it affects you negatively, that is just too bad. There is something wrong with you because we are all a family here. Why are you so unfriendly? One thing I am not, is unfriendly. I have always been a very friendly and welcoming person. Yet, this actually has been a part of me that has always been attacked "Your miserable, anti-social, people only tolerate you etc." Note: your strengths will be the part of you that is most viciously attacked. It's important to recognize that these attacks are not about you, but are attempts to subdue and control you.

My therapist said something else that is critically important. She said "you have a right to protect your sense of safety, and that is not always going to be comfortable for those that have to hear it." That last part is really important, IT MAY NOT BE COMFORTABLE FOR THOSE THAT HAVE TO HEAR IT. The idea of saying something that might be challenging or upsetting for someone is difficult. Often we want to smooth the waters, apologize for having needs or a different opinion. But that is something that in fact we are entitled to have. You are not a bad person because you do not want to fit into a particular mold. You do not have to justify it, nor do you have to apologize.

It is a real challenge to overcome or natural reluctance to speak up for ourselves, and at first it probably will not be pretty. You may be a little to load, and feel like perhaps you don't make a lot of sense. You may not have words for what is happening, or for your reactions. But with practice and reassurance it does get easier. they are your feelings, they are real and they are valid. Keep trying. In time you can learn to keep your boundaries with quiet but firm grace. After so many years of being told what you feel, and what you want, it takes some time to recognize your true needs, wants and desires. Learning to build and protect your environment is a skill, and one of the challenges that comes out of healing. You are allowed to take up space, you have a right to breathe, you are worthy. It's also ok to be wrong. Your human. Be gentle with yourself and listen to that inner voice that is saying NO.

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