You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of. – Jim Rohn
I caught myself again saying the words, “I don’t feel safe.” This is relatively new to my lexicon. I hear it often now. Men and women say it. Children say it. It’s a beautiful awareness evolved from our new understanding of trauma. Life impacts our central nervous system and can leave long-lasting impressions that resurface as we navigate our way through our current lives.
Our safety gauge dictates how we move towards life and how we shy away from it. Of course, being safe and feeling safe are essential for the body’s survival. But if I unpack this often overused statement I can see how the concept of safety is far more complex than first meets the eye.
Finding the Simplicity in Feeling Safe
Safety can be real or perceived. Danger can be real or perceived. It’s my responsibility to hone my discernment in how I can self-regulate and always keep myself safe. If there is no real and present danger … who or what is fuelling my worries and keeping me in the low-lying shadows of anxiety?
It is said there are four main states: Stimulated, Calm, Comfortable and Uncomfortable. Therefore, when feeling safe I can be calm and uncomfortable. Unsafe makes me stimulated and/or uncomfortable. These states are not fixed. They also increase and decrease their intensity depending on my mood, health and overall feeling of wellness. So, if that’s the case … my feeling safe is very dependent on both my external and internal landscapes. Clearly, I need more awareness and presence with the feelings and the cause – and that only comes from a pause and some present-moment reflection. It will take time and practise to get this skill down to second nature – but I know it’s worth it.
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference. — Serenity Prayer
I often cannot change my external landscapes and I’m more and more trusting and accepting of what is. What I find more challenging, and therefore more rewarding and more valuable, is taking full responsibility for my internal landscapes. This might sound obvious, however, more and more as a society we are moving away from self-responsibility and more and more into the blame-game.
The secret ingredients to true happiness? Decisive optimism and personal responsibility. – Amy Leigh Mercree
I notice when I expect the world to make me feel safe and I’m fixated on the external dictating my safety, my balance, my inner-equilibrium is rocked and I can become derailed. It can be as simple as my partner withdrawing attention. They are not there for me as I would like and I start feeling insecure (not safe). I can often lose balance in ways I don’t understand. I then get preoccupied with the recovery. Calling on all my irrational defense mechanisms to make sweeping generalisations; I am better off alone, relationships are the worst, I don’t need anyone, I can only depend on me, etc.
Those quick, back-to-balance, Band-Aid impulses pull my focus away from discerning the trigger-point(s) that knocked me off balance in the first place. I am hijacked by notions of self-preservation. I am so swiftly distracted with antidotes and the elimination of the uncomfortable arousal and alarm that I lose sight of the core wound. Nine times out of ten, I am fixated on an external reason for my inner disturbances. Again, it’s perhaps a fantastic and necessary response to real and present danger … but not at all helpful in breaking old trauma-cycles and negative behavioural patterns.
Better Understanding and Supportive Self-dialogue
I want to be in an intelligent conversation with myself and others about my state of being in every given moment. I want to be in a symbiotic relationship with the world. I want to own my real experiences and my reality. I don’t want to live in a ‘false’ heightened awareness of dopamine, adrenaline, and cortisone when I don’t actually need to.
We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future. – George Bernard Shaw
To reiterate, I am not talking here about extreme abuse or threat. I am talking about my daily relating to the world around me. Safety is not only the absence of fear. It’s also the mastering of perceptions and the letting go of knee-jerk habits that perhaps no longer serve me. For example, I was once chased and mugged whilst on holiday in Paris. Subsequently, I am in terror when I hear anyone running behind me. The sound of footsteps behind me is literally terrifying.
It’s taken many years to moderate that terror. It’s taken wilful, soothing self-talk to convince my nervous system that I am not in present danger. I no longer imagine turning and facing every runner and beg them to slow down and walk past me. I no longer imagine pleading with them to stop running and give them the full explanation of my trauma-response. It is my responsibly to thank my nervous system for the alert based on past experiences and then to update the software and lean into the fact that I am indeed safe.
Press Pause when Possible
Like so many of us, I am complicated and a mass of contradictions. Finding the ‘pause’ button to allow solutions or understanding to rise from presence is my main practice. To simply breathe and feel into the Truth of my mental, emotional and physical states. To not simply let the old programmes habitually run me.
I don’t yet have the familiar habit or ease to ask for what I want or conversely, reject what I don’t want when I find myself in a situation where I feel ‘unsafe’ or ‘inauthentic’. I override myself and put up with so much because I think it’s the ‘right’ thing to do. There are thousands of learned mental responses that keep my old behaviours alive: Don’t rock the boat. Turn the other cheek. Don’t be so dramatic. Stop drawing attention to yourself. Stop being precious. Suck it up Princess. First world problems etc. etc. etc.
All these short, sharp one-liners keep me in check. They keep a sham of safety and me in my comfort zone. But if I am honest, how comfortable is my comfort zone? It often feels like a ‘safe’ prison where the more authentic me is desperate to escape. These internal admonishments keep me from facing my fear and engaging my risk and courage in order to grow. I end up staying too long in conversations I’d rather leave. I am silent when I should speak up. I turn the feelings inwards and somehow hurt myself. I waste time in great epic (and brilliant) ruminations in my head after the event has passed with what I really wish I’d said or done.
I want to state clearly and with conviction: “I don’t worry about who will be offended if I speak my truth – I worry about who will be misled and deceived if I don’t!”
But I do worry and I can also trap myself with pride or image management. I want to be seen as a good man. I don’t want to lose favour or love. So I keep the perceived external peace. Again, there’s a feeling of personal sacrifice and inner-conflict around authenticity. I freeze in self-betrayal in a heart-beat and can render myself speechless or inert.
I want to expose all these untruths that bind and gag me. I want to liberate myself from these invisible chains. I want always to monitor that my delivery is appropriate to my content. I rarely regret what I say, but I often question my delivery. It’s an art to deliver a clear, clean message that is heard from a place of mutual understanding rather than attack and blame.
I am not what happened to me … I am what I choose to become. – C.G. Jung
The need to feel safe is both essential and a trap. It’s a trap when the illusion of safety detracts from the reality and expansion that courageous Self-Responsibility affords. I need only keep enquiring into what it is that I need to feel safe. Enquiry Question — how can I take full responsibility for my internal landscapes and move away from, or reconcile, external landscapes that no longer serve me?
I have a ‘go-to’ phrase that supports my self-improvement and my self-care. It never fails me in all situations when I am reaching for a peaceful resolution with people or with the world.
I am 100% responsible for 50% of all the dynamics I find myself in.
I must devote 100% of my responsibility and awareness to my 50% of any situation or personal relating dynamic. This models good intention and commitment to bringing clarity and authentic solutions. It offers equally; empowerment and deep relief. I cannot ‘fix’ other people or the world. Staying with my own self-awareness and process always produces the most benevolent outcome. I have been in the habit of cleaning mirrors with a dedication and ardour that was seemingly virtuous. It was, in fact, a futile endeavour. More often than not I hadn’t noticed that all along, the dirt was on my face, and not on the mirror’s surface.
John O’Donohue is a beloved poet and philosopher. A deeply religious man. A man steeped in the power of self-reflection and breaking the human condition-bondage. His following poem gives me a sense of hope and self-responsibility that awakens my soul’s thirst for an eternal new beginning — An Eternal Self-Emergence that is both safe and offers safety.
For a New Beginning by John O’Donohue
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
What arises for you when reading this article and/or the poem? What are your reflections and insights? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Much love and clarity to you, beloved … As always, we journey together.