My therapist said something that stuck with me. She said we need felt experiences that change how we felt before. We need such experiences to heal and grow. She said words will not do it. They touch only on an intellectual level. Intellectual is just the surface. Our core needs for nurturing, growth and connection run way deeper than the surface. They are largely subconscious. We often have to feel our way to them.
I can tell myself I’m good enough and strong enough and yes, people like me, but until I feel those things in real experiences, I will never truly advance in my development. The same goes for compliments from others. Their words do not deeply sink in, but their facial expressions, tone of voice and actions do. How I feel when I’m with them, makes all the difference.
How do we feel safe as sensitive people?
Our temperament has us innately looking for threats. We are sensitive to stimuli. Depending on our nature, we could also be sensitive to rewards. According to Dr. Thomas Lynch, professor of clinical psychology, if we take an individual with high sensitivity to threat and put them in an environment where focus is on performance and mistakes are intolerable, they will develop coping mechanisms. These coping mechanisms might include: avoiding risk, trying not to stand out, masking feelings and maintaining emotional control.
Society is not so warm and fuzzy
Our current culture asks a lot of us. We must stay busy and productive. We must know a lot of people and maintain composure. No losing it. No outbursts of emotion. Lives are complicated but only the weak can’t hack it. Vulnerability is a sign of weakness. We’re supposed to soldier on ingesting millions of bits of text, juggling complex schedules and maintaining many relationships.
It’s hard to feel safe in such an environment. Positive trust-building interactions and solitude are becoming more and more rare. We may be surrounded by people every day but still feel disconnected.
This valuing of performance has most of us running like hamsters on a wheel. So we learn to stuff our emotions and isolate to recover. Ultimately, these leave us physically ill, depressed or lonely if we never get to a place of feeling safe and connected to the world.
The kicker is the more we feel safe the more we explore and communicate with others. The more we interact comfortably, the less isolated we feel.
Healing within relationships
Relationships often bring up past hurts or fears. We may experience fears of abandonment or rejection. We may worry we can’t trust our partner because our last partner betrayed us or made us feel small. To grow past those wounds we need to feel safe. We need to feel our current partner not doing what was done before. They reassure us rather than reject us. They consistently show up instead of canceling plans at the last-minute. When they greet us with a genuine smile and long loving hug, we heal.
Others can make us feel safe by forming healthy attachments with us. Healthy attachment means an ability to trust and depend on another person. We know someone cares about us without expecting something from us. They respond to our bids for attention and we assume they have good intentions.
A simple way to connect with others according to Dr. Gordon Neufeld (Hold on to Your Kids) is to gather or collect them when we see them. We do this by gaining eye contact and getting them to nod in acknowledgment of our presence. If we can get them to smile and look us square in the face when we talk, we are on our way to warm, open, connection.
Feel safe without involving others
If we don’t have a significant relationship in our lives we can still find that delicious realm of safe feelings. In flow state we can feel safe and full. We feel internally rich. When we get to that satisfying state where skill and challenge are perfectly matched, we no longer need anyone else’s approval. Time flies and our work feels effortless. We are content on our own. Knowing we can experience such a pleasurable state, makes it easier to make decisions and defend our values. We are less dependent on other’s influences. We don’t feel as insecure because we’ve been changed by moments of joy. We know such a peaceful state exists and we can return to it. We have felt its comfort and safety. Where once we may have felt isolation or loneliness, now we feel connected with something bigger.
Where do you feel safe? What experiences have healed you? Do you allow yourself to feel deeply?
If you need help learning how to feel and not intellectualize, please contact me for personal coaching.
The Quiet Rise of Introverts: 8 Practices for Living and Loving in a Noisy World is a guide to help tenderhearted and introverted individuals grow and nurture their peace, purpose, and relationships. Through personal examples, scientific studies and real action steps, Quiet Rise will help sensitive individuals build personal and social resilience.
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