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People who Have Experienced Trauma Deserve to Feel Safe



When you have chronically lived with Trauma over the course of your lifetime, or even experienced a single traumatic experience, you may develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result. Our bodies, brains and nervous system can be acutely changed by experiencing trauma. This can leave us grasping for a sense of safety that can be difficult to regain.


Some people will be afraid of situations, people, places, sounds and smells that remind them of the traumatic experience. This can cause a desire for avoidance of anything that is triggering and brings the trauma flooding back. Unfortunately though, it isn't possible to avoid triggers much of the time as we go about our day to day life. This means, we need to learn ways to lessen the effects that triggers have on us, so that we can reclaim a sense of safety, and live a normal and healthy life.



Experiencing a trauma can deeply effect our core beliefs, our mental and emotional reactivity, and our ability to cope with stress, among other things.


If you haven't been formally diagnosed with PTSD by a mental health or medical provider, you can check out this list of PTSD symptoms to see if you may have PTSD yourself.


After reviewing the list of PTSD symptoms, if you think that this sounds like the cause of your mental health, relationship or other problems, it is important to consult with a trauma-informed therapist as quickly as possible. Working with a trained and skilled clinician can allow the healing you so deeply crave to begin.


Finding Safety


When you have PTSD, learning to find save spaces for yourself is critical to your recovery. If you don't feel safe in your body, your mind or your surroundings, your nervous system is always going to be on high alert. This is a PTSD symptom called hypervigilance.


According to WebMD, you may be experiencing hypervigilance if you have any of the following symptoms:


  • Fixation on potential threats (dangerous people, animals, or situations)

  • An increased startle reflex (more likely to jump or be jarred by sudden sounds)

  • Higher heart rate

  • Behavioral (obsessive) avoidance of certain situations

  • Overestimation of threats or dangers


Though not everyone with PTSD will experience hypervigilance, or experience it in the same way, it is exceedingly common. Being constantly on alert for danger this way can be exhausting, and lead to tiredness or low ability to cope with stress.


If you feel unsafe in your body, your mind or your surroundings, learning to create a sense of safety for yourself can have incredible healing power.


One of the most effective treatments for PTSD is EMDR. This is a therapy where you work to break the effect that triggers have on you in every day life. It is done by reprocessing traumatic events with a trained and certified EMDR therapist. The therapist will help you find a sense of mental safety, so that triggers will effect you less often.


According to Good Therapy,

One of the most common relaxation techniques for EMDR is known as “safe place,” also referred to as “calm place.” This technique is part of the second phase of EMDR known as “preparation.” Prior to this phase, the person’s history is taken, assessments are performed to determine if EMDR is appropriate, and a treatment plan is prepared. This matters because before a counselor proceeds with EMDR, a person must be assessed for physical health, support system, and any tendency to dissociate. Therefore, it is imperative that all portions of EMDR protocols are performed only by a trained, qualified EMDR clinician.

Lately, I have been struggling because when I was going through EMDR, I used my old house as my "safe space." So, if you are working on safe space for yourself, it may be beneficial to ask your therapist if you should use an imaginary safe space for your therapy, instead of an actual place.


Recently, I saw an episode of Criminal Minds that shows the idea of a safe space being used as a coping mechanism. In this episode, an FBI agent is kidnapped, and he retreats into a mental safe space to disassociate from the pain he is experiencing. This enables him to be stronger in the present moment to escape from the danger he is in.


In addition to creating a mental sense of safety for yourself, it is also important to feel physically safe. Otherwise, you may still feel triggered by events in your surroundings.


Victim Connect provides some tips for those in abusive situations seeking safety, which include:


  • Seek Trusted Help – Let trusted family, friends, teachers, or neighbors know of your situation and ask them to help you stay safe. Have a signal or a code word that you can use to let them know if you are in trouble.

  • Keep Important Items Handy – Make sure you have easy access to money, medications, phone numbers, and important documents if you have to leave in a hurry. You may want to have a bag hidden or left with a friend with important items for you and your children.

  • Know Where to Go – Think about safe places where you can go if you have to leave suddenly; consider friends, trusted family members, or a local shelter. Try practicing how to leave safely so you will be prepared if the time comes.

  • Alter Your Routine – Regularly change the routes you take to work or school so your routine is not predictable.

  • Protect Your Home – Consider changing the locks on your doors, getting a new phone number, putting your lights on a timer, and keeping your windows shut when you are not home.

  • Learn About Your Legal Options – Find out about your legal options such as protective orders/restraining orders against an abuser, alternative child custody arrangements, and civil remedies.

  • Remember to Care for Yourself – Try to be kind to yourself and allow yourself time and patience as you move forward; everyone responds differently to crime. Practice Self Care and healthy coping skills.


In addition to these steps to safely leave an abusive situation, there are other things you can do to protect yourself on a daily basis such as always parking near a light if you are out at night, using the buddy system, carrying pepper spray, or taking a self defense class. When you feel more in control of yourself and your surroundings, you are taking your safety back into your own hands.


Struggling with Triggers


Since I was abused both in childhood and adulthood, I experience a strong mental connection between yelling and potential violence. I learned as a young child that yelling was a strong predicter of physical abuse. This is a connection I am now struggling to break. Any time someone yells at me, I typically will have a panic attack, and a strong desire to flee.


Even if you haven't been physically abused, yelling can still be a strong trigger. This often happens if you have experienced emotional abuse. This can happen in an intense fight with another person, in a hostile work environment, your home environment growing up, or in a relationship with a romantic partner.


Often victims of emotional abuse will tend to minimize what happened to them as a coping mechanism, even when they have left the abusive situation behind. Although emotional abuse leaves scars on the inside where other people can't see them like with physical abuse, emotional abuse can be just as damaging.


According to Bridges to Recovery,

For some, emotional abuse eventually leads to nervous breakdown. While there is no clinical definition of this phenomenon, it typically refers to the point at which psychological distress disrupts functionality. This loss of function occurs when the effects of emotional abuse become too much to bear.

When you are in a situation where you are being yelled at frequently, this can have extreme consequences to your mental health. Just because someone isn't hitting you, that doesn't mean they aren't still harming you.


According to Taylor Counseling Group, some of the consequences of yelling in relationships can also include:


  1. Depression: The more you experience yelling in a relationship, the more helpless you feel. You want to fix the issues happening in your relationship but can’t seem to make it work. Helplessness can lead to depression, causing persistent sadness and feelings of worthlessness.

  2. Fear: The psychological effects of being yelled at in a relationship include fear. You may fear upsetting your partner, leading to a loss of trust and an unhealthy relationship.

  3. Fractured communication: When adults yell at each other to solve relationship issues, it’s usually a result of poor communication. It’s essential to speak politely and leave the room when overcome with excess frustration and anger.

  4. Stress: The stress-related psychological effects of being yelled at by a spouse include high blood pressure, headaches and heart issues.

  5. Low self-esteem: Studies show verbal abuse causes self-esteem problems and harms mental health. You may start to believe your feelings and boundaries don’t matter to your partner and experience humiliation when yelled at.

  6. Anxiety: One of the psychological effects of being yelled at by a partner is anxiety. Anxiety can result in an increased heart rate, hyperventilation or panic attacks due to being yelled at.

  7. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Being subjected to constant yelling and verbal abuse can cause symptoms of PTSD. Symptoms can include insomnia, feeling the need to be on guard, getting easily startled and displaying self-destructive behavior.


It is only natural to feel triggered and unsafe in a situation where people are yelling, because it brings back past trauma. You might try to power through this type of situation, no matter how bad you feel, but this isn't always possible. Sometimes the fight/ flight/ freeze/ fawn response is too strong. Stressful situations trigger your Amygdala before your rational brain.


This is an evolutionary response based on the way our brains are wired, and not something you need to be ashamed of! When you have experienced past trauma, it strengthens these pathways in the brain, making you more quick to react to potential threats (such as yelling) than people who haven't experienced trauma.


Release the Shame


Often, when we are triggered because of our past trauma, we are ashamed of the ways in which we have acted. An automatic trauma isn't you at your best. This is something I struggle with, too. I have a tendency to beat myself up over the ways that I have acted inappropriately when triggered.


When we are in a fight/ flight/ freeze/ fawn state, we are reacting the way our brains tell us is best to cope with the immediate danger and get us to safety as quickly as possible. We aren't using our logical, rational thinking.


Later, when we have calmed down from the triggered state, we may feel badly about what we have done. We may feel ashamed that we allowed others to see us in a state that is not our best. These feelings of guilt and shame may be difficult to release.


Learning to forgive yourself, and let go of feelings of guilt and shame over your actions may feel impossible at times. When you are in this state, you may have intrusive thoughts that plague you. Times like this, it is good to reach out to a therapist, crisis line or a trusted friend or family member. Knowing that you aren't alone can be incredibly healing.


Being gentle, kind and forgiving of yourself can help you let go of the pain of the past and move on with your life.


You won't always be at your best. That is true for every person alive today. When we react immediately to threatening circumstances, we aren't thinking. We are just jumping into action the way our evolutionary survival mechanisms push us to do. It is important to forgive yourself for not being at your best, so that you don't have the added mental strain of holding onto guilt and shame.


Creating mental space


In addition to seeking out safety, you can also seek out ways to create mental space, so your fight/ flight/ freeze/ fawn response won't spring into action so quickly.


Practices like mindfulness, meditation, yoga and journaling in addition to traditional therapy and EMDR can help you cultivate a sense of inner calm that will reduce your baseline of stress, and therefore make you less likely to feel triggered on a daily basis.


Using as many calming practices and coping strategies as you can on a daily basis will help you learn to reclaim a sense of safety in most daily situations. This can also help you to prepare for situations where you are in actual danger in the future.


Closing thoughts


Finding safe spaces in our lives, both mentally and physically, can be hard when you have PTSD. It may be something that you continually struggle with. When this happens, you can journal about the triggering situation once you have calmed down, and think about what you could do differently next time.


You can work on safety in therapy, by using alternative practices, or by doing things like taking a self defense class. Finding safety may look different for each of us, depending on the triggers that make us feel unsafe.


Also, it is important to work with a trained trauma therapist to do EMDR or other healing techniques. Having a therapist on your side can help you to feel less alone, and more able to cope with difficult situations.


In addition to a therapist, you can work to find a care team. This can consist of a psychiatrist, case manager, life coach, support group, or any other resources that you find to be helpful in managing your mental health. If you are having a very bad time, you may also want to consider inpatient care to get regulated.


Let me know in the comments if these tips are helpful, and any questions that I can help to answer in a future blog post.



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