Feeling Safer

Feeling Safer

It’s normal to experience fear or helplessness from time to time. Problems arise when these reactions are invasive, chronic, or otherwise impact your wellbeing, relationships, or work. Because the need for safety is so vital, it’s equally vital that we regulate ourselves to meet pain and threats with Calm strength.

My new book Resilient focuses on growing 12 essential inner-strengths for lasting well-being in a changing world, and Calm is one of them. 

In the excerpt below, you’ll learn how to feel safer, and have a greater sense of calm.

Fear arises when threats seem bigger than resources.

Sometimes this is actually the case, such as getting an unexpected bill that you don’t have the money to pay. But due to “paper tiger paranoia,” threats often look larger than they really are while resources look smaller than they really are.

Even if you realize that fear plays an irrationally large role in your life, it can still be hard to let go of it. Many people are afraid, in effect, of not being afraid, since that’s when their shields come down. Then they fear that WHAP! something might hurt them.

To be safer, we need to decrease actual threats and increase actual resources. To feel safer, we need to stop inflating threats and start recognizing all our resources. Then we don’t have to be afraid of not being afraid.

Let’s say you’re doing what you can to reduce the actual threats in your life while developing real resources for handling them. Meanwhile, make sure you are seeing threats clearly, appreciating your resources, and feeling as safe as you reasonably can.

Seeing Threats Clearly

Pick one thing that worries you. It could be an illness, finances, or a conflict with another person. It could also be an area of life in which you’re holding back to reduce risks, such as avoiding public speaking or not asking for what you really want in a relationship. You can do this process by reflecting to yourself, journaling, or talking about it with someone, and you can use it with multiple things that worry you.

How Big Is It?

Be specific and concrete about the size of the challenge. In effect, put a fence around the issue rather than letting it be nebulous and overwhelming. For instance, instead of “My health is bad,” how about “I have high blood pressure”? Bound the issue in space and time. What part of your life does it affect – and what is unaffected? When does it happen – and when is it not very relevant?

How Likely Is It?

Perhaps you’re stuck with an ongoing condition, such as a chronic health issue.

But most of the time when we feel anxious, it’s about something bad that might happen: there is a threat of pain, but not pain itself.

For instance, a person might think, “I could get sick” or “If I express anger, no one will want me.” If what you are concerned about is a possibility but not yet a reality, ask yourself: What are the odds, actually? In your past, a certain kind of bad event could indeed have been likely, perhaps because of the people you lived with or knew back then. But today, things are different, and the chances of a bad event are probably much lower.

How Bad Would It Actually Be?

What would you experience if the threat did come true? Let’s say you’re afraid of someone rejecting you if you’re more vulnerable or assertive. OK, suppose the feared event occurs. What would you actually feel if it happened? On a 0-10 scale, with 10 being the absolute worst imaginable, how bad would you feel? And for how long? In the past, similar events could have felt truly horrible, especially during childhood when things are felt more keenly before the nervous system fully matures. But these days, as an adult, you have many more inner shock absorbers.

There’s a good chance that you wouldn’t feel as bad or for as long as you fear you would.

Let the Good News Land

Let all this sink in. It is really, really true. You can believe it. Let yourself feel convinced of it. Using the HEAL steps, open to relief and reassurance about this good news. Take it into yourself, easing and gradually replacing excessive, needless alarm and tension and anxiety.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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