Updated: Apr 16, 2019
My Safe Space
It is hard to pinpoint the beginning of my quest for a trauma-informed life. I suppose the exact moment, the precise location, matters very little to anyone but me. After all, when hiking on the Appalachian Trail, does one human’s starting point matter to any other hiker they may encounter along the way? Certainly, it may be of interest to the other person during conversation, should it occur. Perhaps you are weary, and your new acquaintance may be more familiar with this part of the trail than you.
Being from Pennsylvania, it should come as no surprise that I have grown up loving the forest. Trees have always inspired awe in me. I imagine then it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that my Safe Space is a giant tree growing in the middle of my mental landscape.
…There is no Place Like Home.
The phrase “Safe Space” has many meanings. To many LGBT people, it may mean a place where those who need it can go to find help if they are being bullied or experiencing discrimination. People in the helping profession may say to a person concerned about confidentiality that their office is a safe space. To those who are slogging through the mire of difficult memories however, a Safe Space is an impenetrable fort and a refuge when the monsters threaten to overpower.
Therapists trained in trauma-resolution treatments will help you create a mental safe space prior to delving deep into desensitizing and reprocessing memories. Often, we will associate your safe space with an inconspicuous pressure point, say, for example, the fleshy space between your thumb and forefinger. This way, you can access your safe space in the middle of a triggering situation without drawing attention to yourself. It is a healthy form of dissociation. In a matter of seconds, you can find safety. This isn’t just a cliché either. There are physiologic changes to your body taking place, restoring you to a calmer state. The moment you enter your safe space, even if it is just through applying pressure to your access point, your heart rate begins to decrease, your breathing will deepen and slow, and your brain tells your limbic system (the part of your brain that takes over when you are triggered) that you are safe. The adrenaline and cortisol being pumped into your system return to normal levels, and you begin to feel safer. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend doing this if you are in real physical danger!
A Legendary Blanket Fort
In my work with children who have endured abuse and neglect, I often take a non-directive approach. Children are encouraged to explore my office freely, making their own rules, as long as they are safe. This child-centered technique is grounded in Jungian theory, empowering a traumatized child to exercise mastery over their own environment, a privilege they did not have during their abuse.
Often, children will be shy and timid when first introduced to my play-therapy space. They seek frequent permission and approval for every action. They do not trust their own assessment of their space – asking what things are, or what they do. I smile and patiently place the control back in their hands – “I wonder what that does?” or “This can be whatever you’d like it to be.” After a few sessions, the space becomes safe, their domain to rule and create.
Every week, a child I worked with would create a fort with the furniture cushions, blankets, and rugs. The forts began with just a corner between the loveseat and couch, but in a matter of 6 weeks it grew to half the office space. Their most ‘legendary’ blanket fort consisted of three ‘rooms.’ The child’s ‘bedroom’ had a secret compartment where they brought my weighted blanket and hid behind a couch pillow. Once secured, they sat in complete silence for 6 minutes. “Take a picture, send it to my mother, and tell her to come back and look for me.”
Safe Space can provide you with relief in the moment, a place to meditate before a difficult task, and an opportunity to retreat at the end of a long day. Contact me for a free handout about how you can create your own internal safe space