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Emotional Trauma: What does Safety have to do with it?

Bessel van der Kolk MD wrote The Body Keeps the Score and he said:

“When our senses become muffled, we no longer feel fully alive… If you have a comfortable connection with your inner sensations … you will feel in charge of your body, your feelings, and your self.”

van der Kolk notes, TRAUMA affects not only those who have suffered it but also those who surround them and, especially, those who love them.

He also said: Such post-Traumatic reactions make it difficult for survivors to connect with other people, since closeness often triggers the sense of danger. …….

And yet the very thing we come to most dread after experiencing trauma — close contact with other people — is also the thing we most need in order to begin healing.  SAFE RELATIONSHIPS, BEING ABLE TRUST/LOVE/FEEL.

Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives. SOMETHING THAT SEEMS SO SIMPLE, a basic human right, to be safe, might seem simple to some people but survivors of any kind of emotional trauma may find it more difficult.

The natural state of humans is to be somewhat on guard, always looking for danger, looking to protect. We were evolved to be ready to run....fight or flight.

However, in order to feel emotionally close to another human being, our defensive system must temporarily shut down.

In order to play, have relationships, and raise our children, the brain needs to turn off its natural defense mechanism.

Many traumatized individuals are too hyper-vigilant to enjoy the ordinary pleasures that life has to offer, while others are too numb to absorb new experiences — or to be alert to signs of real danger.

Typically we are tuned in to the emotional shifts of the people around us and we can read another person’s friendliness or anger based on brow tension, lip curvature, and body angles. …….

But one of the most harmful effects of trauma is that it disrupts this ability to accurately read others, leaving the trauma survivor either less able to detect danger or more likely to misinterpret danger where there is none……..

The thing that normalizes and repairs our ability to read danger and safety correctly is human connection.

Dissociation from the body is a response to trauma, but what is most problematic is our day-to-day pain and suffering that comes from the re-triggering of the memory response by some stimuli that wouldn’t typically cause a problem for someone who has not been traumatized. Example, fireworks for a war vet or darkness for an abused woman.

In my experience with the abusive partner that I was living with for 3 years, in his unwarranted fit of rage, he would pull the lights, lamps etc. out of the wall sockets, lock them in a closet and then lock me in a dark room. As a result, I do not like to be in a dark room or even have low lighting.

Bessel said: "The problem is that many people feel safe as long as they can limit their social contact to superficial conversations, but actual physical contact can trigger intense reactions."

Achieving any sort of deep intimacy — a close embrace, sleeping together, sex — requires you allowing yourself to experience immobilization without fear.

It is especially challenging for traumatized people to recognize when they are actually safe and to be able to activate their defenses when they are in danger.

This requires having experiences that can restore the sense of physical safety. “Disconfirming experiences” .is what needs to happen.

So what does safety have to do with it? ....EVERYTHING.


You can’t know what your purpose in life is if you are filled with fear, filled with anxiety, stress and hopelessness.

Getting safe, Actually Being safe and really Feeling safe are what will create a sense of peace, calm and resolve so that you can begin to heal and repair the wounds that the emotional trauma caused.

Each person is different so repair times may be different or repair techniques may be different.

Whenever you are ready to start healing, feel free to reach out to me so we can get started right away.


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