Practicing becoming a consistent and fierce protector for our
vulnerable selves, trusting that we must act from what is so for us in
the moment, not from what is supposedly "really so."
When you're feeling uneasy, unsafe, untrusting or just vaguely "not okay" in any situation…
It doesn't really matter where that feeling is coming from: inside or outside, past or present,
accurate or distorted perceptions…
Or even if your response is "appropriate…"
What matters is that you do whatever you need to do to find safety for your self
in the moment. Removing your self from the situation is always an acceptable option!
The vulnerable little parts of me have almost always been able rapidly to sense when the circumstances in which I found my self were unsafe, unhealthy or simply not-okay for me. Yet, for much of my life, I rarely paid attention to their rumblings. If they ever actually got through to me, my conscious mind would dismiss or invalidate these apprehensions. So, until my mid-forties, these parts suffered through a good many unpleasant and undermining situations out in the world.
Having been mothered by a woman who had no tolerance for my fears, I had learned to respond to my self inthe same way: I was critical and impatient with any anxieties I noticed in me. Although the phrases had not yet become popular, my self-talk was the equivalent of "get over it" and "get a life."
Through the years, as I became more psychologically sophisticated, I found a whole new vocabulary to use as I continued to find ways to invalidate any misgivings about my safety that might be stirred in me by interpersonal situations. I'd view these feelings as arising from either my distortions of what was going on or my past experiences being incorrectly overlaid on current circumstances or my projecting my inner reality onto the actual situation.
At 32, shortly before I was scheduled to leave my life in New York to begin my cross-country journey into the unknown, I went to a one-day experiential workshop introducing us to Charlotte Selver's Sensory Awareness techniques. What happened there was a perfect example of my typical way of dealing with my inner warnings.
The workshop came just ten days after I'd had my first-ever surgery: the removal of a small fatty tumor from the front of my right shoulder. That day-hospitalization procedure had involved general anesthesia and a small number of stitches. These had been removed just the day before this workshop that I'd been eager to experience.
As the group of ten of us gathered, the facilitator had us go round the circle introducing our selves and our intentions for the day. As I listened to these people describing themselves, I experienced intense visceral queasiness and nausea. None of these people with whom I was to spend the day felt kindred. Most were male. The male facilitator, who had come highly recommended, seemed overly impressed with himself in a puffed up kind of way. Almost without exception, the self-descriptions offered by the participants had, for me, the ring of posturing, as though they were engaging in a sensitivity competition. This was an odd sort of dance that many men seemed inclined to play out in those early days of the second wave of feminism. In ordinary social situations, I found this more-sensitive-than-thou posturing irritating. In this workshop where the agenda was for intimate connecting with our selves and each other, it stirred considerable unease. I felt I was in an unsafe environment. I felt very untrusting of the whole set-up. Nothing about it felt okay.
For seven hours and through the many exercises we were doing, I constantly argued with my self about these apprehensions I was trying not to have. I told my self that I was being excessively critical of the male participants and facilitator because of my strongly feminist orientation and my then-general cynicism about men's motivations. I told my self that I was projecting all of these feelings onto the situation because it was really hard for me to allow my self to be taught something I didn't already know by someone I didn't know, especially a puffed up male authority. I told my self that I was feeling uneasy only because I was feeling fragile, still healing from the cut in both my physical and energetic body. I told my self that all the strong body/emotional messages were the consequence of my distortions and inner realities that had little to do with what was really going on in the workshop.
Repeatedly invalidating my gut feelings, I kept pushing my self to "get over it" and just be there with the work proposed. The intense struggle inside my psyche made it nearly impossible to find room to attend to the sensory awareness of such things as the weight of a stone in my upturned palm as I walked in circle with the group.
In only one exercise was I able to be in the middle of what was going on inside of me and, simultaneously, connected with what was going on outside of me in the work of the day. We'd paired off, one of each pair sitting with our back against a wall. Our partner began to move toward us from a starting position against the opposite wall of the room. The task was to discover "at what distance between your self and your partner you feel safe." Only when I had my partner move two rooms away, to the opposite side of the house, did it feel safe to me. In the sharing afterward, I finally was able to talk some about the extreme uneasiness I'd felt all day and about the intensity of my inner battles around being there at all.
If I were to feel even a small measure of such disquiet in a similar situation at this stage of my life, I'd have unobtrusively gathered my things, slipped out, gone home and written the facilitator a brief note indicating I'd left because it had felt unsafe for me to be there. (In fact, I recently did just that at a movement workshop that I'd hoped would offer me new tools for some body releasing I'd been working on.) But, back more than 39 years ago, I had not yet learned how to take such good care of all of my selves.
Only when, in my mid-forties, I first met my inner Little Ones did I begin the practice of becoming a consistently protective, unconditionally loving Mommy to all of my intuitive and sensitive selves. (See The Little Ones Story for more about this.) It's this practice that's helped me to be with my vague (or strong) uneasy, untrusting, not-okay feelings in a more caring way. I know now that it does not matter where these feelings come from. I know now that as a good Mommy I must always take them seriously. That means hearing them, acknowledging them with respect and responding to them with concern and tenderness. Only when my fearful selves feel protected can we then sit together and explore the sources of the anxious, uneasy feelings. Only then can we safely and together, look to find new ways to cope with these fears or new choices to make.
In our feel-the-fear-and-do-it-anyway/get-over-it culture we, constantly and from very early on in our lives, are being socialized to disregard our inner voices, to attend only to so-called objective reality (whatever that is). To openly acknowledge and appreciate that we can act only from what feels so for us in the moment – no matter what an outside eye might see as the supposed truth-of-the-matter, this is a revolutionary stance. It is a radical act of self-care to honor our inner voices above all others. And, it is equally radical to act to protect our selves from what might, to others, seem to be imaginary fears.
When you feel uneasy, unsafe or not-okay in any situation, consider taking your apprehensions seriously (no matter where they may be coming from) and honoring them by practicing such radical self-care.