This is not a simple thing. Many of us do not trust our sense for fear and thereby we do not act to protect ourselves when we should. But just as much, many of us also trust our sense for fear too much and are immobilised to paralysis when we are otherwise safe. But I would say, it’s perhaps more the former that leads us into precarious situations we should otherwise run from.
Feeling safe is the optimal human experience, where within social and personal dimensions we experience that comfort of wellbeing.
The trouble with life, however, is there are so many situations we find ourselves in where we’re not safe. This can be about the situation, the people in the situation, or both.
I would argue that the key skill of life is a blend of discernment and decisiveness: to discern situations we’re unsafe before deciding action that ensures or restores our safety.
We cannot act if we haven’t already discerned what to act on and how. Equally, it causes a great deal of dissonance when we’ve discerned when we need to flee yet we cannot. Indeed, the freeze response can disable the ability to flee, as many trauma sufferers know all too well.
We all have the opportunity to flee when we feel unsafe, but not all of us have the capacity; it’s just not that simple for many people. The more unsafe we feel, the more we may freeze. This underscores how important it is to listen to the early voice of fear. This is about nurturing our discernment and practising action.
Let me say it again: just getting into an unsafe situation (which is not their fault!) can be the biggest part of the problem for those who have suffered trauma. They’re instantly re-traumatised which enables the freeze response.
Whenever any of us is triggered we can expect some kind of fight-flight-freeze-fawn response, and all of these serve to disable our ability to find safety.
Somehow, we need to trust our fear and respond to it. Perhaps in some ways this is a learned response, and it pays to practise it in safe situations, so we’re prepared to respond as we’ve practised when the unsafe situation approaches.
We need to expect that some people—perhaps many—won’t actually understand what we need to do to retain control over our wellbeing. They may expect that we can be a pawn in their game of life. Or, they may simply not get it. Or, they just may have no empathy.
We need to be prepared to upset people in order to be safe—to retain our sense of wellbeing. We need to be prepared to act in the moment, and if need be to apologise later. But we need to acknowledge that bucking the system is very hard for many people.
We may need to be prepared to accept that retaining the right to protect our wellbeing will cost us... opportunities, relationships, jobs, even careers.
Too many of us—perhaps all of us to a point—continue on a path we know to be unsafe for fear of upsetting people or damaging our prospects or for other reasons.
We need to place a higher premium on our wellbeing and ensure we do what we can—all within our power—to provide for our safety.
Why do we think that listening to our fear is such a bad thing? Being in touch with feeling fearful is a crucially important life skill.