Originally published November 6, 2013.
Republished January 25, 2017 after a web host transfer.
My post traumatic stress disorder began in my horrific childhood. My method of feeling safe may be more effective for people with similar backgrounds. I had to cope with horrific actions from one person. Military veterans, on the other hand, cope with horrific actions from tens, hundreds, or thousands of people. Vets with PTSD from war experiences may need different methods or more than one method for feeling safe. Service dogs, for instance, mean many vets can take less medication and live with fewer unsettling surprises. Service dogs also provide breathing room in social situations, putting themselves between their vet and other people. Vets can use their dogs’ need for walks as a reason to leave when a social situation becomes overwhelming. Service dog organizations include Hero Dogs, K9s for Warriors, Patriot PAWS, and Pets for Vets. Perhaps vets could combine service dogs with finding their safety experience for even greater relief. Victims of crime would have experiences closer to mine, since I am the victim of attempted murder.
Farming is another way for vets to get past their PTSD.
See this article for what civilians can do to help veterans with PTSD. See full citation below.
My PTSD began the first time my mother tried to kill me. It increased after the second time she tried to kill me. After failing to kill me physically, my mother spent the rest of my childhood doing her best to kill me mentally and emotionally. Decades later I finally understood that my mother wanted me dead because I was her second daughter instead of her first son.
My PTSD was compounded by the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. If Abraham was willing to kill his son because God told him to, I feared my mother would kill me if other people told her to. And then I became terrified that anyone who didn’t like something about me would try to kill me. But after decades of terror that anyone could kill me, I now know how to feel safe. I have a happy ending I never expected.
Murder is a physical and emotional experience. My physical and emotional safety experience — the one that washes away the terror — is listening to the main and end title music from the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. To read how I made the discovery of my safety experience and why it is a physical and emotional experience for me, read the Murder Secret Families page at speakingfromtriumph.com. Since I wrote about this in detail on that page, I will not write about it in detail here. But, I will explain what to look for so that other people with PTSD can identify their safety experiences. Below are specific steps to take, but first I will explain what I now know about safety experiences.
Your Safety Experience Will Stand Out in Your Life in Some Way, Maybe in Many Ways
I do not remember when I saw To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time. I do know that it immediately became my favorite movie. As an adult, I recorded the movie to my VCR so I wouldn’t have to wait for a television network to air it. Every time I watched the movie, I made sure to listen to the opening music without distraction. After the movie ended, I kept rewinding so I could listen to the end music repeatedly. If you read or at least skim the Murder Secret Families page, you will see that I wrote about watching the movie in my journal repeatedly. I even wrote that I identified with the character Boo Radley, but wanted to be the character Scout (June 12, 1993 on the Murder Secret Families page). Scout survived attempted murder and was able to feel safe again. I survived attempted murder and wanted to feel safe.
Your Safety Experience Will Probably Satisfy a Behavior Style Need
In the DISC behavior system, I am a High I/High S (High I over High S). If you need information about the DISC system, you can download my free S&R Keys file from smilessparksuccess.com. The file also explains six basic values to help you identify your guiding values and rank your other values. Knowing your value ranking could help in identifying your safety experience.
High I people ease stress through socializing with other people. High S people ease stress through quiet activities. High I people are emotionally expressive. High S people are emotionally nonexpressive. I am emotionally expressive when it comes to having fun or telling stories about people who created positive turning points in my life. I can still cry when I tell these stories. One turning point happened in 1981, the other happened in 1996, and I can still cry when I talk about them.
When I need to express my deepest emotions, I do so by writing poetry. Writing poetry is a quiet activity. When I need to reassure myself with positive emotions, I do so through music. Listening to the music that represents positive emotions to me is also a quiet activity. Even though I am a High I first and a High S second, I relieve stress and express my deepest emotions through my Secondary High S behavior style need for quiet activities.
Your Safety Experience Will Add More to Your Life Than Feelings of Safety
In my first few months of feeling safe every day, my life improved in other ways.
First, I have been doing research for years for various books I’m writing and revising. For all those years, I put the various articles I’ve collected into boxes and brown paper bags, letting them sit instead of filing them. I kept thinking about filing them, but never had the energy to do it. After about four months of feeling safe, I suddenly started filing the articles. At first, I filed at least a few articles everyday. Now I file articles weekly. I’m still doing research, but by the time I finish the research everything will be filed. I’ll be able to start writing the revisions without further delay.
Second, I now know how to write each book more effectively. I know how to determine the purpose of each chapter, I know how to use just the right amount of information to make the points in each chapter, and I know how to explain what needs explaining. One of the books is based on what I wrote in my journal about therapy and about the clues in my life that helped me recognize my mother’s attempts to kill me. That is my most difficult book to write. Over the years since I discovered my safety experience, I have refined the structure of the book to satisfy a variety of readers.
Third, I feel safe taking actions for myself in ongoing relationships. Taking actions for myself used to feel scary. If my own mother could kill me, anyone else in the world could kill me.
Fourth, I can meet new people with less anxiety. In the past, meeting new coworkers or supervisors or groups made me anxious that someone would decide to kill me if they didn’t like something about me. The last time I remember feeling that anxious was in the spring of 2014.
Fifth, I have been doing a talk at a conference every year for five or six years. The talk is based on three examples from my own research and how those examples apply to something completely different. For the first several years of the talk, I kept asking myself why I included the first example. It’s a good thing none of the participants ever asked me why I included that example because I could not have explained why. I did not know why I included that example.
After weeks of feeling safe, I suddenly knew why I included that example. It made perfect sense to me and I could easily explain it. The next time I did that talk, I explained my difficulty understanding why I included that example to my audience. When I told them my new understanding of why I included that example, it made perfect sense to them, too.
Identifying Your Safety Experience
To identify your own safety experience, follow these 5 steps:
Identify your High and Secondary High behavior styles.
Use the Quick Look pages for behavior styles in my
S&R Keys download from smilessparksuccess.com.
Identify your High and Secondary High stress relief needs
on the “Behavior Style Keys for Opening Doors to Personal
& Professional Success” page of the S&R Keys download.
Figure out if you ease stress through your High or Secondary
High behavior style, then identify all the activities that ease
Identify your guiding values using the Quick Look pages in
the S&R Keys download. Rank the remaining values.
Read through the values and think about how each value
affects your feelings.
Identify how you express your deepest emotions. Feeling
safe is a deep emotion. If your PTSD is so overwhelming
that you cannot identify any feelings of safety, start with
any positive emotion you can identify.
I talked about being afraid of my mother in therapy with two different therapists. Neither therapist ever asked what made me feel safe. If they had asked, I would not have been able to answer right away. I would have had to think about it, probably for weeks or months. I wasn’t looking for my safety experience when I found it. I was adding different pieces of my favorite music for experiencing feelings to my iPod. I put Mockingbird on my iPod thinking I would listen to it occasionally. Instead, I felt a need to listen to it everyday. I hadn’t even identified the feelings I experienced while listening to Mockingbird. I just knew it allowed me to experience feelings I needed to experience. I finally figured out that Mockingbird meant safety to me one night while I was listening to it. I was sitting in the dark in my parlor, listening to Mockingbird and wondering why I needed to listen to it. I suddenly understood.
My PTSD was part of a terrible secret in my life and in my family. I had to acknowledge feelings of terror before I could acknowledge feelings of safety. It took four decades to acknowledge the feelings of terror. It took another two decades before I learned how to recognize the feelings of safety. But I didn’t have anyone helping me recognize my safety experience. If my therapists had asked what made me feel safe, I would have at least started thinking about it. I could have discovered my safety experience sooner if professionals had given me the help that fit my needs instead of their perspectives.
I hope this blog post is enough to get you to your safety experience sooner.
Make full use of all the downloads you find at smilessparksuccess.com.
After You Identify Your Safety Experience
Once you have identified your safety experience, bring that experience into your life as much as possible. At first, I listened to Mockingbird on my iPod every evening. Then I started listening to it as I fell asleep. I was sleeping the first time my mother tried to kill me. I woke up to my mother trying to smother me. For decades, I had trouble going to sleep and staying asleep. I still have trouble sleeping at times.
On bad days I listened to Mockingbird for hours.
Now I have a playlist that has the main and end titles listed twice. I listen to that just about everyday.
I listen to Mockingbird while reading through the book based on my journal. I can read only a few pages at a time, but I started the book years ago and couldn’t reread it to finish writing it until I discovered my safety experience.
I listened to Mockingbird while writing this blog post.
Each Person with PTSD Has to Identify His or Her Own Safety Experience
I am unable to identify a safety experience for anyone else. Please do not email me with questions because I will not respond. After identifying your behavior style and guiding value combination, think about how your behavior styles and guiding values interact in your life.
Could Safety Experiences Erase PSTD?
If I listen to Mockingbird often enough will it erase my PTSD for good? I don’t know. I do have a chronology of improvement, however.
For decades, terror episodes were so real I didn’t know I was in a terror episode. Some of the terror episodes lasted for days.
After listening to Mockingbird for months, I became able to recognize terror episodes while I was in them. I could listen to Mockingbird to help me get out of them.
Then, I became able to talk myself out of the terror episodes when I wasn’t able to listen to Mockingbird. At first, talking myself out took hours, then dwindled down to minutes.
Almost four years after I started purposefully listening to Mockingbird to feel safe, I have not experienced any terror for almost three years. This is in part due to an experience that happened the last time I felt the terror.
I still do not feel completely comfortable meeting people in certain situations. But I only feel uncomfortable, not anxious.
Even if I someday experience another terror episode, I now know how to feel safe. Knowing how to feel safe is enough for me. I can have days and weeks and months and years of feeling safe. For me, feeling safe for any part of any day is a happy ending.
If you have PTSD, I hope you find your happy ending.
“The amazing grace of Unit 1”
The Christian Science Monitor Weekly
May 30, 2016, pages 21-23
“Can Civilians Do Anything to Help Veterans With PTDS?”
The Veterans Site
Paula M. Kramer
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Updated August 18, 2017
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