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  • Fe Robinson

The freedom of safety

"We all need freedom and security, which is why when the world doesn’t feel safe, we often don’t feel as free." Esther Perel

At first glance, freedom and security might seem like they are opposites or somehow incompatible. I liked this quote from Esther Perel which eloquently expresses the power of a felt sense of safety. Much of my work as a trauma therapist is around this very theme, of helping clients create and sustain a sense of safety, helping them to feel secure in themselves and in the here and now, and this setting them free from the fear of the past, enabling them to live in the present.

As children, it is our caregivers who are prime in making sure that we feel safe and secure. Where they can offer many, many experiences of co-regulation, we learn that we are seen and known, and that we are loved and safe. Co-regulation is the process of them recognising and responding to what we are feeling, and soothing and reassuring us to discharge the big feelings. This leaves us knowing that our feelings are valid and valued, that their love is not conditional, and that people will come and help us, that people are safe and the world is safe for us on a day to day basis.

When this is our consistent, pre-dominant experience of being cared for, our care-givers become a safe base from which we can come and go, topping up on emotional regulation as we explore the world with increasing boldness over time.

Where we have not internalised a sense of co-regulation and so are less able to self-regulate, it is harder for the world to feel safe, regardless of what is happening. This can cause us to be on alert, vigilant, over-thinking, reacting strongly, and having an underlying sense that all is not well, oftentimes without a clear idea of what may be wrong. This inhibits our natural sense of curiosity and adventure, and may mean that there is not a felt sense of freedom. When the world becomes less safe, as with current economic, political and conflict dynamics, people who find self-regulation hard will be especially impacted.

So what to do? Step one is to reflect on your experiences of feeling safe, and of feeling free. When did you last feel free? Which people, places, activities and moments cause you to feel a deep sense of ease and safety? How common are these experiences for you? When you think of freedom, what 3 words come up? And if you think of safety?

As you explore, if you find there are themes you may want to look at further, psychotherapy may be a useful support. Finding a sense of co-regulation, and of freedom from the past may be a useful next step in creating more of the life you now want to live.


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