Natalie Hartney, LPC NCC
When Feeling Unsafe is the Norm
Updated: Aug 11, 2018
Oddly enough, for many trauma survivors, living with perceived threat just feels normal. "Who needs to feel safe? I want to be ready!" When we are in the midst of real threat, this isn't an altogether bad idea. But once we find our way to safety, living in a state of perceived threat can make us feel really bad.
For some, the real threat, or danger, needn't involve them directly. Vicarious (indirect) exposure to violence or trauma sets the stage for living in perceived threat.
How can you tell if you live in a chronic state of perceived threat? For some of us, just knowing that we experienced chronic stress, or complex trauma in our past is enough to tell us that we likely live in a state of perceived threat. It is typical that our nervous system just never returned to a normal state after repeated activation.
Some health signs that may indicate that you are living under perceived threat include muscle aches, chronic pain (a number of studies show a strong correlation between fibromyalgia and trauma history), gastro-intestinal distress, and difficulty thinking.
Psychological impacts can include anxiety, frequent intrusive nightmares that leave you feeling shaken, so-called "flash bulb" memories that are confusing or distressing, failed interpersonal relationships, and even imprisonment. The real danger of not feeling safe is that we often land in very unsafe situations. This is because when we live in a chronic state of perceived threat the physiological changes impair our abilities to plan long term, communicate effectively, form healthy attachments, and problem solve.