When you begin along your journey of healing, of finding yourself again, it is imperative that you start with creating a place of safety. What an easy word to say, write and read yet so hard to feel. How do you create safety when you have been isolated and have been told time and time again the story line that no one but the abuser can be trusted? Or harder yet to come to terms with (which will be another post later) is how can you trust yourself again?
Establishing safety—both as a feeling within yourself and physically within your environment—can take days, weeks, or even years. This is not an easy stage.
Establishing safety is not 100% within your authority, since to live means to be vulnerable. But that does not mean it is 0% within your authority either. Establishing safety requires a lot of hard work and may require that you, as the survivor, dramatically change your life or lifestyle. While this is a difficult part of the healing journey, absolutely no survivor can skip this stage.
No one can be fully safe unless the environment they live, work and interact in is also safe. Attaining that safe space includes your ability to move in society with a sense security. It is important to work on your ability to identify dangerous situations or individuals to the best of your ability. Develop an action plan to get out of a dangerous situation if at all possible. Consider designing simple escape plans from your home and work if your previous situation was particularly tumultuous. Look into using private protection whistles, learn self defense, buy a dog! Your personal safety is your first priority.
Your emotional safety is equally important. As a result of emotional trauma, you may begin to feel numb, disconnected and you are sure to lose your trust in others. You may have been told over and over that your abuser is the only one that can be trusted, when that is the furthest from the truth. It can take a lot of time for this programming to go away, and for you to feel safe again.
If the trauma you’ve experienced is psychological, you may suffer from troubling memories, anxiety, fear and shame. You need to know that each time you tell your story, the less power it has over you and the better you will feel. Shame and fear are erased by dignity, wisdom, and peace.
Safety within your environment and within oneself is only part of the equation.
Take a look at the physical and emotional safety of your social support network. There may come a time when it is necessary to remove people from your life who are a potential source of physical or emotional danger, or to increase the number of people who can and do provide emotional support, protection, or practical help.
We will continue to discuss this process more in our next blog post.