What’s SAFETY got to do with it?

Have you ever found yourself in an uncomfortable situation and no matter how much you want to feel or react one way, you can’t force yourself to be different? We all know how important our mind is; some believe it’s the most important part of who we are. We’ve been taught to use our heads for thinking, problem solving, finding solutions, and making decisions. But, what happens when we can’t seem to change our mind or take an action no matter what we tell ourselves? Advances in science and research have some answers for us. They are helping us move beyond what we once understood to a more expansive and inclusive ways of being in the world. These advances offer us a map for understanding and moving forward.

Although our thoughts are extremely important and appear to dominate us, systems within our body operate like automatic pilots under the radar and are much more in charge than we know. First and foremost, our bodies are organized for safety. This organization for safety begins at birth and continues throughout our lifetime, influenced by experiences. The safety system within our body is designed to keep us alive and overrides everything else, even our thoughts. This means that no matter what we tell ourselves or are told by others, if our body is registering un-safety, automatic mechanisms instantly take over in an attempt to deal with the perceived threat. This happens automatically and is out of our awareness and out of our conscious control; it overrides everything and everyone else.

The mechanisms within our bodymind that are activated, as well as the resulting behavior, can range from being barely noticeable to extreme; for example our stomach tightening when watching something unpleasant on television all the way to road rage. You may encounter these states of conflict and not be able to override the reaction though your thinking attempts to.

The safety system is powerful. Understanding how it works can offer a path that leads to change. It can help move through stuck places with greater compassion. Understanding the safety system can deepen your empathy for yourself as well as guide you toward freedom. So often we criticize ourselves for having fear or feeling stuck in some area of our life when what is really operating, under the surface and out of conscious awareness, is the body’s neurological system trying to keep us safe or get us to safety.

Now, thanks to modern science, we are becoming increasingly aware of the important role our body and our emotions play in our life and how our body, especially our gut and heart, communicates to our brain and influences our actions.   Tapping into the wisdom of the body can provide important cues and clues that are outside of cognitive knowing. Understanding the safety system gives us another way to gather information and guide us to move in a way that is in greater alignment with who we really are instead of what we have come to believe about ourselves.

Have you ever experienced when you are in a new situation having a vague feeling of being unsettled or feeling uncomfortable? In our common language we tend to use the words comfortable and uncomfortable, but when we tune in and understand the signals of our body, it actually is all about safety. You may tend to minimize or dismiss these feelings, “no big deal” or “I’ll get over it”. The vague, uncomfortable feeling persists even though you try to ignore them.

Your thoughts go to self-criticism, and judgment. You may even feel you are unable to take an action. This is a moment when you have the opportunity to check in with your body. Begin by noticing your breath. Is it shallow or does it feel held and tight?   By tapping into the wisdom of the body you can begin to see that these unsettled feelings are signaling that your body perceives a threat even though the mind is dismissing that there is anything to be afraid of.   By including the body we can acknowledge our fear response as indicated through your restricted breath and begin to take steps to help ease the neurological system. Using mindful breathing tools can begin to shift the unsettled feelings in your body. This shift occurs through acknowledgment and validation that incorporates the body. It offers a path that includes empathy, compassion and action rather than a path that might include criticism, judgment, shame or inaction.

Understanding the safety system, becoming aware of the cues and clues of how it operates within the bodymind and having tools available can be a life changing experience, personally and relationally. Bringing the mind and the body together is one of our greatest resources. It can help us all experience greater love and acceptances and shift from living a life of conditioning and reaction to a life of responding with greater freedom and ease.

Lorie Speciale