Feeling unsafe after a traumatic experience is normal. As a trauma survivor you may feel a constant sense of fear or helplessness and you may become so afraid that you’re looking over your shoulder every few seconds. All of this is to be expected, but the problem arises when these feelings of fear and hyper-awareness continue over a long period of time. Feeling unsafe for months or years after a traumatic event is usually a sign that you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But there is a way for you to reclaim your sense of safety.
Find A Safe Place
One of the first steps to feeling safe again after trauma is to find a safe place. That safe place could be your home, your therapist’s office, your workplace or anywhere that you feel calm. Wherever your safe place is, retreat to it when you’re overwhelmed by fear. But don’t stop there; next you’ll want to expand that place. Think about why you feel safe in this place and then work to find other places that have the “safe place” qualities you value. Remember, what a safe place is may differ from one trauma survivor to another, so don’t allow anyone to dictate to you what is safe.
Before you can begin to feel safe again in the wider world, you’ll need to place your traumatic experience into perspective. Ask yourself: How likely is it that this (the traumatic event) will happen again? How likely is it that this will happen in the place that I’m going to? What about this place or person makes me feel safe or unsafe? Remind yourself that you are not defined by trauma and that while we all desire to be safe, nothing is ever guaranteed. Life is a dangerous business and safety doesn’t mean a life without risk. You must decide if the rewards you’re seeking in life (i.e. going to work, enjoying entertainment, visiting friends, advancing your personal goals) are worth the risks you’re taking.
Practice Relaxed Alertness
It’s important that as a trauma survivor moving from hyper-awareness you don’t fall into being so relaxed that you take unnecessary chances. To gain true safety, you must practice relaxed alertness. Remind yourself that life is filled with risk, big and small, but that you have it in your power to take steps to protect yourself as much as possible. In a relaxed way, decide if a situation, person or place is dangerous and then take action to protect yourself. That “action” can range from avoidance to taking necessary safety measures. Listen to your instincts, stay relaxed but alert and remember that you have a right to be safe.
Trauma survivors struggling with PTSD may benefit from working with a trauma counselor. A counselor can help you develop the tools necessary to feel safe again and heal. You can also seek help from trusted loved ones who can provide the support you need to feel safe while you’re healing from trauma. Don’t feel ashamed of asking someone for assistance if you’re feeling unsafe. For example, asking someone to walk with you at night or stay with you so you’re not alone is not too much to ask of a loved one.
Feeling unsafe after trauma is normal, but with time, support, and effort you can get on the road to feeling safe again.