Where's Your Safe Place?

Years ago, when I went to group therapy at the YWCA, the two therapists who conducted the session told us that it was important for them to create a safe place for us.  They wanted all of us to feel that we could be free to talk about our experiences without being judged or feel uncomfortable in any way.  That's why they wanted to set some ground rules.  Actually, they ended up asking us a series of questions, so we could set the ground rules.  For example, they wanted us to decide what we should do if we run into each other outside of the YWCA like at the store, movies, etc.  We decided that we would not speak to each other until after all of the group therapy sessions were over because we all needed to focus on our own healing.

We always had a good group who respected and supported each other.  We would never ask each other questions about the assaults we experienced.  That was one of the rules and something I don't think we would have ever done anyway.  When it was our turn, we would briefly mention our similar feelings and struggles which reassured someone who just shared their feelings that they're normal and not crazy or weird.  Then we would go onto to share our own feelings and obstacles we were facing.

The whole idea about creating a "safe place" seemed a little weird at the time, but after a while it all made sense.  Everyone whether you're a survivor of sexual violence or not needs somewhere you can just be yourself.  However, survivors need a lot of Tender Loving Care (TLC) when it comes to creating a "safe place."  When society, the media, and even some of those we love and trust blame us instead of the criminal who assaulted us, we need and deserve a "safe place" to be ourselves and say whatever we feel.

Growing up, my "safe place" was beside my mother because whenever I was with her, my father would never touch me.  She died when I was 35, and I was devastated.  My "safe place" and my mother were both gone.  I didn't realize until years later why her death left me depressed for an entire year which almost led me to start drinking excessively.  I also didn't tell any family members about my father raping me until years later.  While I made it through the wake with my father present, when my sister called me about an anniversary mass the following year, I started crying and going into convulsions at the thought of seeing him again, so I decided not to go.  My boyfriend at the time, held me for hours as I lay in a fetal position until I stopped crying and convulsing from exhaustion.

If you don't already have a "safe place," I urge you to find or create one because it will help you in your healing process.  I also recommend you check out the You-Tube video below which features Dr. Esther M. Sternberg where she talks about how important healing spaces are and how they can help trigger the brain's healing process.  Dr. Sternberg is the author of Healing Spaces:  The Science of Place and Well-BeingShe has done extensive research on brain–immune interactions and the effects of the brain’s stress response on health. She is Research Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, Tucson.