The current reality is that there are some obvious ways we might not feel safe. We are constantly bombarded with bad news in terms of ‘natural’ disasters and the rapid spread of Covid variants. What little I know of neuroscience tells me that our brains are constantly scanning the environment for what is safe and that is one of the strongest protective aspects of our existence. And then of course we have our needs for connection and community that are challenged by restrictions of what we can do during the holidays and still feel safe.
But there is more to feeling safe than what our limbic system is attending to. There is also psychological safety. There have been several frameworks that address psychological safety, but for our purposes, I want to talk with you about the deep psychological needs that can wreak havoc with our sense of well being if they are not met. These needs show up in our responses to the pandemic and natural disasters as well as in our everyday life regardless of external stress.
The Essential Motivator patterns identify essential qualities of our being that influence our responses to stressful situations as well as the gifts we have been given to meet these core psychological needs.
As I’ve been thinking about when I feel unsafe, I realize that very often what is at risk is my sense of competence and feeling knowledgeable. It is an interesting experience to recognize that when I get triggered in a conversation, it is often because I don’t feel safe in that conversation.
I’m currently in physical therapy with a therapist who is trained in a modern approach to recovery and healing that involves using research that looks at healing from a neuroscience perspective. I have found myself triggered and argumentative at least 3 times in the last few months with her. I’m not proud of my behavior, but it has been a great learning experience. Each time, I’ve reflected on what triggered me and then later apologized and cleared things up. During my last session we had a discussion about how we trigger each other.
Clearly the physical therapy itself is not threatening. I’ve had a lot of it over the years and it always helps in some way. So why was I threatened? Well, each time, I would come in with my ‘systems’ and she would point out right away that my ‘felt sense’ is not helpful to her and it gets in the way of her treating me. She quotes the research about how a felt sense of pain that has been going on over three months is not a reliable piece of evidence of what is wrong and would need to be worked on. Apparently our brains create a subjective sense of what we’ve experienced before, but it may not relate to the root cause. So these patterns are what needs disrupting and my self-talk is getting in the way!
So why do I find this threatening? For one thing, it challenges my sense of competence. I have an usual amount of skill in reading my physical state that I learned back in 1970 during childbirth preparation in Belgium and that I developed even more through lots of body work. It plants the seed that I might not know as much as I think I do. It was only in talking this through with our close Mentorship Circle group that it dawned on me just how much my Theorist core psychological need was the main trigger. I don’t feel safe when I don’t feel competent and knowledgeable.
Luckily, she was receptive to my sharing with her about my responses and admits that she gets triggered sometimes too. As I now understand it her goal is to not only to treat my body, but to treat the thinking patterns that are keeping my body in pain to the point where I have trouble working at the computer. This is a form of physical therapy that is not practiced much in our area, but was practiced in northern California and I think she finds it painful to know something that can help and have it not taken into consideration. So now, I can understand where she is coming from and maybe I can be more patient at times.
The key take away for me is that my core needs were behind my out of character behavior. And now, I can think about how much I am learning from her rather than how much I feel threatened. I can engage my talents for analysis and thinking systemically to be more curious and learn instead of feeling unsafe.
As we go into the holidays that can sometimes trigger stressful situations at family gatherings or out and about with the stress of covid, I hope you can take a moment to reflect on what you need to feel safe. I hope the following table helps you.