Can you remember a time when you felt really calm and safe? Maybe as a child on your mother’s lap; spending time with someone you love; walking in nature; or snuggled under the blankets in bed. What is your safest, calmest or happiest memory? If you cannot remember ever feeling calm and safe, what is the most okay you have ever felt – even for just a moment?
If you will, allow yourself to pause and remember that time, place or person and notice how you feel in your body right now. What is your breathing like – is it shallow or deep? How do your muscles feel – are they tight or relaxed?
When we get in touch with our safe place, it can be an empowering experience, bringing us a sense of calm, safety and connection with ourselves.
What do I mean by ‘safe place’ and why might it be useful?
Firstly, it is important to mention here, that when I refer to a ‘safe place’ or a sense of safety, the priority always has to be physical safety. If you are not physically safe – if you do not have a safe home, enough food, or you are in danger of being harmed, these things ideally need to be attended to before addressing an emotional sense of safety (Rothschild, 2010).
For those of us who either grew up in an unsafe environment – whether it be physical or psychological – or have experienced some level of trauma or abuse, we can often feel that the world is not a safe place. For one person, feeling unsafe might mean being afraid to express themselves for fear of judgement or ridicule; for someone else, it might mean feeling in physical danger a lot of the time (even when they are not); whilst for someone else, it may be a much more vague, yet powerful sense of just not feeling okay.
Knowing how to access a sense of calm and safety for ourselves, means that anytime we begin to feel overwhelmed, anxious, stressed or fearful, we have tools we can use to ‘put the brakes on’. We have the ability to calm our emotional, physiological and cognitive responses.
Following are some activities that can begin to assist us in connecting with and strengthening our sense of feeling safe in the world. They are based in both mindfulness and art therapy. These are simple ways we can nurture ourselves and feel more in control of our sense of self. Once we know how to connect to that part of ourselves, we can then draw on it whenever we feel the need.
– To begin, make sure you are sitting or lying somewhere quiet, where you are unlikely to be disturbed.
– I find this exercise works best if you either close your eyes, or drop your head and turn your gaze inward.
– Take a big, long, slow, deep breath in, through your nose. Imagine the air going all the way down to your belly.
– Then, slowly, slowly breathe the old air out, through your mouth. See how slowly you can breathe the air out.
– Do this slow breathing, in through your nose and out through your mouth, 3 times.
– Now, notice your feet on the floor, connected to the earth.
– Notice the weight of your body connecting with the chair.
– Notice the back of the chair, supporting the back of your body.
– You are supported.
– Take another 3 long, slow, deep breaths.
– What can you hear in your immediate surroundings?
– When you are ready, you may like to open your eyes.
– Before rushing straight into the next moment, you may like to take your time. Give yourself some space. Let yourself remain in the present and feel what it is like to be right here, right now.
Photo credit: rachel.caiano via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
‘Where is your Safe Place?’ – Art Therapy Activity
This activity is to help you find a place inside yourself where you feel safe and calm. It could be a happy memory of your childhood, or a time you experienced something really profound, or a particular person you feel really safe with – anything you want. Spend some time imagining what that special place is for you, before you paint or draw that place. The picture can look however you want – there is no right way and it doesn’t have to look perfect – it is about the feeling and the meaning it has for you.
This exercise provides us with a means of connecting with our inner strength. It is another way we can ‘put on the brakes’.
I suggest beginning this activity with the Grounding Exercise described above. Maybe while you have your eyes closed, you might like to really get a feel for your ‘safe place’ memory. Try to remember as much detail as possible – where you were, what time of day, what season, who were you with, what could you see around you, what could you hear and smell, how exactly did you feel? What colours and shapes do you associate with your safe place? Do you have a sense of where in your body your safe place lives?
Then, when you have a clear sense of your safe place, create an image of it, using paints, oils pastels, pencils or whatever you have.
Once you have finished your image, take some time to reflect on what it was like to do the exercise. How do you feel? What did you notice?
Now that you have a clear sense of your safe place, it will be available to you whenever you wish to connect to that place inside of yourself.
More Safe Place Ideas
Trauma expert Babette Rothschild (2000), also suggests oases and anchors as effective tools in gaining a sense of safety.
– An oasis is any activity you enjoy doing that requires your concentration over a period of time, for example knitting, gardening, learning a new language, or cooking from a recipe.
– An anchor, is an external something that exists in reality (rather than an internal resource), that provides you with some form of support. It is an object, place or person which creates a sense of calm in your mind and body. For example, it might be your home, your partner, your dog, or swimming at the beach. The ‘Safe Place’ activity above, is a kind of anchor. It is something, when focused on, that you can draw on when you feel overwhelmed or unsafe.
Future ‘Safe Place’ Workshops
I will be offering ‘Safe Place’ workshops in 2017. These workshops are based around art therapy, body awareness and mindfulness, including activities such as:
– Creating an image of yourself from a time when you felt really strong.
– Creating a sculpture of your guardian angel.
You do not need to know how to draw, or be an artist, to do art therapy. It is for everyone.
Please email me if you would like to be added to my email list for updates on upcoming workshops (I do not spam).
For further support, you may wish to see a counsellor, psychotherapist or other health care professional. This article provides general information and cannot respond to the therapeutic needs of specific individuals.
I am a psychotherapist, counsellor and creative therapist, in Perth, Fremantle and Mundaring, Western Australia. I specialise in working with women around the issues of self-worth, anxiety, body image and personal power. I am a certified Gestalt Therapist, with a BA Psychology and a Grad. Dip. Women’s Studies. I have a strong interest in trauma therapy and use both body awareness and art therapy in my work.
If you would like to book an appointment, please contact Toni Jackson.
Phone: 0439 995 302
Main photo credit: Can Stock Photo / forestpath