The Tragedy of Never Feeling Safe
Growing up in a dysfunctional home, many who have developed complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) did not have the emotional or physical support they needed from their parents.
Often, as children, survivors were left with an internal and eternal feeling of being unsafe because of the trauma they faced daily. This piece will focus on the importance of feeling safe, hypervigilance, and methods you can use to overcome feelings of doom.
The Importance of Feeling Safe
As children, survivors of complex trauma did not receive the reassurances we needed from our caregivers that they would be okay. Survivors gained a sense of hope and acceptance that they could still thrive no matter what life threw at them.
Feeling safe means not feeling that you will soon be involved in a nuclear war or fall off a cliff. Feeling safe means not feeling worried about being criticized by those around you. It is also the ability to develop and use a safe place in your mind that can be accessed in the presence of childhood trauma. That safe place is a natural device when we are born but is soon lost during abuse.
Feeling safe also means being full of self-assurance, lacking self-doubt, and emerging from childhood, feeling deeply that you deserve to live in a sane environment that brings you happiness.
Feeling wanted leads to feeling safe in the world. However, for many survivors, there was a bleak absence of love and security; therefore, they never felt safe and secure, let alone attached to their caregivers.
Without feeling safe, children cannot thrive, nor will they attach themselves to others outside the home. This leaves children isolated and in fear, which, if left untreated, can cause many mental health problems later in life.
Hypervigilance is a state of extreme alertness and makes a survivor who experiences it very sensitive to their environment. Hypervigilance causes a survivor of childhood trauma to feel unsafe and wait for another episode of trauma, even though the likelihood of anything bad happening today is unlikely.
Feeling hypervigilant is usually a symptom of mental health problems, including complex post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and dissociative identity disorder. Being hypervigilant has adverse effects on the survivor’s life and can affect how they interact with others and how they view them. It may also cause paranoia as the survivor struggles with feeling unsafe.
The unsafe feeling isn’t something the survivor can shake on their own as it is their past and what happened there; they usually require professional help. Many indicators accompany hypervigilance, including physical, emotional, behavioral, and mental symptoms.
Physical symptoms of hypervigilance.
- Racing heartbeat
- Fast and shallow breathing
Emotional symptoms of hypervigilance.
- Severe anxiety
- Persistent worrying
- Fear the judgment of others
- Judge others unfairly
- Emotional withdrawal
- Mood swings
- Emotional outbursts
Behavioral symptoms of hypervigilance.
- Feeling jumpy
- Having knee-jerk reactions
- Overacting to loud noises
- Overreaction to comments of others
Mental symptoms of hypervigilance.
- Sleep problems
- Foggy brain
- Inability to concentrate
Hypervigilance is very uncomfortable and can interfere significantly with the survivor’s ability to interact appropriately with other people. An intimate relationship with a partner is complicated when you fear they might abandon or hurt you.
Triggers and Feeling Unsafe
People experiencing fear and hypervigilance don’t react appropriately to environmental triggers. These triggers cause the survivor to suddenly become filled with emotions that range from intense fear to rage.
Some common triggers for hypervigilant episodes are as follows.
- Feeling abandonment
- Feeling trapped
- Feeling judged
- Feeling unwelcome
- Hearing loud noises (yelling, arguing, and sudden noises)
- Anticipating pain or fear
- Feeling physical agony
- Reminders of the past trauma
- Feeling out of control
These powerful emotions mirror those the survivor felt when they were abused and mistreated by the adults in their lives.
Treatment Options for Always Feeling Unsafe
To treat hypervigilance, it is necessary for your doctor to first try to determine what is causing this phenomenon. The doctor’s treatments may differ from person to person depending on the cause of their experience of never feeling safe. Considering that you will need a referral to a therapist or psychiatrist is vital.
Medication. You may require medications if you have developed an anxiety disorder or another trauma-related illness, such as complex post-traumatic stress disorder or dissociative identity disorder. These medications include beta-blockers, antidepressants, or anti-anxiety medications.
Therapy. Therapy with a qualified therapist or other mental health professionals may be helpful and might be necessary if you wish to conquer not feeling safe. Here are a few of the therapy methods you might try.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is an effective method to help treat anxiety. During a CBT session, you will talk about your traumatic past with your therapist, guiding the conversation. Your therapist can help you see what causes your lacking feeling safe and how you can deal with it.
Eye movement desensitization and processing (EMDR). EMDR combines eye movements with remembering and processing traumatic memories.
Traditional Talk Therapy. In this treatment, you will share your memories of what happened and work through them until they become unobtrusive and fade into the past where they belong.
Grounding Exercises. I’m a survivor of childhood trauma and have lived with hypervigilance all my life. Some days I feel terrified for no reason and like something terrible is about to happen. One exercise that helps me overcome the awful feelings of doom is to do grounding exercises.
Grounding exercises are things that bring you back to the present so that the flashbacks or feelings you experience from the past are less overwhelming.
When you feel like the world is about to end or something horrible will happen at any moment, it is critical to remind yourself where and when you are in the ‘now.’ Say your name, age, and where you are out loud to yourself.
You can also splash some water on your face. Another exercise might be to look around you and name all the objects in the room.
One cannot perform the first two grounding exercises mentioned above in front of other people or the office. However, you can take deep breaths through your nose and breathe slowly through pursed lips anytime and anywhere.
You can try several exercises to help ground yourself when hypervigilance strikes. I mostly use the deep breathing exercise, but I have also used the other two on the list above. After using them, I can feel my fight-or-flight instincts calming, and I can go about my day again.
Ending Our Time Together
Never feeling safe is a tragic consequence of childhood trauma. However, you do not need to remain victimized by this internal problem.
Through treatment, you may learn new and effective ways to cope with not feeling safe and the hypervigilance that accompanies it. However, when you are not in a therapy session, you can use the following tools:
- Pause before reacting
- Acknowledge your feeling and emotions
- Practice mindfulness
- Set healthy boundaries with yourself and others
Feeling unsafe always is exhausting and a real problem when forming relationships. Only through proper treatment can you escape the pain and suffering of hypervigilance.
Originally published at https://cptsdfoundation.org.