Because I work with teenagers, I’m used to the eye roll, especially when I suggest deep breathing or any sort of mindfulness exercise. It always makes me laugh because I remember being that age and giving an eye roll that could win an Olympic medal.
I totally get it, breathing and being still and/or mindful sounds oversimplified. But when we really get to the root of it, focusing on your breath or mindfully noticing your environment and body sensations teaches and embeds feelings of safety at the most basic level.
And we need a place to feel safe, because when we don’t, we often do one of two things…
Try to control (boss everyone around, perform to the highest level, judge, demand, etc.)
Try to escape (shop, eat, sleep, use drugs or alcohol, withdraw, act like a doormat, etc.)
These behaviors are okay if used in moderation, and are even necessary at times. If a lion is chasing me, I want and need to escape! If I am in charge of a presentation at work, I likely need to exert some control.
Problems occur when we take either tendency to the extreme or when we begin to see the world as an unsafe place and use these behaviors when they are not necessary or functional.
When these behaviors begin to cause problems, perhaps it is time to stop seeking safety in this way and try to create a healthy safe space within your mind.
By making the choice to realize discomfort is an inevitable part of life. It doesn’t always mean you are unsafe. Sometimes it just means you need to sit with it and realize most emotions, thoughts, feelings, and even relational difficulties may cause discomfort – but they won’t kill you. You can stand them and you can stay safe while experiencing them.
Here’s three quick ideas to help you create a safe place in your mind (and yes some include deep breathing, and you may insert eye roll here, LOL!)
- Think of a place so safe no one could hurt you. It doesn’t have to be a realistic place, or it can be, it’s your space. Think of the way it looks, smells, feels, and sounds. You can even draw this space if you want to, or take/find a picture that closely represents this space. This is a safe place you can go anytime you want. It will never disappear because it exists inside of you. Instead of immediately escaping or controlling your pain, try going here first.
- Try progressive relaxation. If you don’t know what that is, here is a link. It sounds simple, but remember, you are training yourself to feel safe in your own skin. Try it everyday for a period of at least 2 weeks before you determine if you find it helpful or not. It is a skill that takes time to develop.
- My personal new favorite, the breath prayer. Again if you don’t know what that is, click here. Why is this my favorite? Because it allows me not only to find a safe space within myself, but tuck myself deep into the heart and presence of God. Again, it takes practice to develop this skill, but it’s worth it for the sense of calm and peace that emerges.
The thing about habitual escape and control behaviors is they were likely necessary and functional at some point. They kept us safe at a time where we felt very unsafe. But the usefulness may have waned as situations changed. It might be time to find a new way to stay safe and I hope these suggestions help you find a place to start.