Coping Skill: Find Safety

We can’t always harness the power of the pause in the moment; that can be tough as we’re learning what to do, right?

So, working on our coping skills before we actually need them is a good idea. Just like knowing our warning signs is a helpful pre-stress awareness, knowing what makes us feel safe is another piece of the puzzle.

Jake Ernst, MSW RSW (find his work here: https://www.mswjake.com/) has developed an extremely useful framework to explore this very thing, and he calls it the “Routes to Safety” model. 

He built this model on the belief that feeling safe is essential to healing. I believe the same. 

When we feel unsafe, we switch to protective mode. Sometimes we call this “fight or flight.” In this state, we’re focused only on survival and self-preservation, and all of our resources go to our physical self, leaving very little for our mind to process our emotions or even store information about what’s happening (see my blog post about your brain and trauma for more info on this here.)

This can be an extremely exhausting response to a situation which might not require such an intense level of physicality or emotion, but because of what we’ve experienced and learned in our life, it’s part of what happens under stress.

All of that is to say, the more we can access safety or provide it to our Self in moments of stress, fear, or overwhelm, the more capable we’ll be of coping with what’s coming at us.

We will be regulated and ready.

We each have ways we access and feel safety, and the 8 routes group the ways in which we do this. Each of them looks, feels, and sounds different from the other.

Created by Jake Ernst, MSW RSW (www.mswjake.com/resources)

Here are the Routes of Safety explained:

Inner Guidance – Using resources within our Self as a pathway to access and secure safety. This could look like building trust in your Self, journaling, etc.

Structure & Certainty – Relying on predictability, probability, and risk-calculation to access and secure safety. This could feel like needing something to do in order stay regulated, or using lists often.

Sensory Experiences – Using our sensory and somatic (body) systems to reach a felt sense of safety and regulation. This could sound like turning on the TV for background noise or look like using a weighted blanket.

Quality Relationships – Relying on connective and relational resources to reach a place of safety. This could look like healing and connected relationships, or feel like intimate touch.

Protective Measures – Securing a felt sense of safety through internal or external sources of survival, security, or protection. This could include setting and enforcing personal boundaries.

Closeness & ProximityDecreasing the physical distance between yourself and another person or object to achieve a sense of regulation or safety. This includes things like giving and getting hugs, or cuddling with someone when watching a movie.

Private Retreat Increasing the physical distance between yourself and another person or object to achieve a sense of regulation or safety. This looks like needing alone time, or reading a book, among other things.

Common Humanity – Accessing a sense of safety and reassurance from our shared human experiences that shift our perspective. This feels like knowing you’re not alone, and that you can share your opinion and experience, with allies at your side.

I highly recommend heading to Ernst’s website here and accessing more information about the Routes to Safety by clicking the “Resources” tab. You’ll see so much more there about what each route looks, feels, and sounds like.

Keep in mind that we can use more than one route of safety, both dependent on the situation and the phase of life we find ourselves in (what once worked when we were younger may not work now). We can also use a combination of routes to safety at any time.

Take a look at what each of these categories represents and see where you seem to land. Then, I encourage you to seek out moments of safety when you don’t need them – charge up your safety batteries, so to speak! – so that when you are anticipating a challenge or trying to deal with stress, you know more about how to regulate and manage effectively.

Let us know how it goes. Glad to be here with you.

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