Safety as a Measure for Healthy Living

If you read my last post, you know that I attended an international trauma conference last week in Boston, Massachusetts. It was quite humbling and illuminating to hear about the dynamic research that is going on to identify what factors contribute to trauma and how the brain reacts to traumatic events no matter what one’s age. The research focused on infants, children, adults and monkeys. Another particular population discussed was veterans.

Despite what we know, we have much more to learn

A child's environment plays a large part in psychological health
A child’s environment plays a large part in psychological health

One individual in attendance categorized the research as “dense.”  What he meant was the information was intense, revealing, compelling and packed full of incredible details. I was impressed that in spite of some of the leading minds in neuroscience putting significant grant resources to the study of trauma, we still have much to learn about how to help trauma-impacted individuals regulate.

There are so many issues that I could be discussing. 

However, as I look around me, one of the most prominent to healthy neurological development is our environment. Whether we are discussing infants, children, teenagers or adults, the measure of our ability to regulate our brains greatly depends on the environments that we are subject to in our everyday lives.  Stressful, dissonant, negative, judgmental, critical and/or violent environments are high threat and stimulate all kinds of hormonal and nervous system responses that have a negative impact on how we maintain brain regulation (being more calm and cognitive) as well as normal physical and psychological health.

Most of us recognize that eliminating stress is an impossibility because of its extent in our everyday lives.  Stress can be healthy or unhealthy, but which one depends on how it helps us grow and create resilience. However, constant doses of stress over time will create an environment of high threat and lack of safety since there appears to be no escape.  We can easily become trapped in a cage of inescapable stress reactions.

What does a persistent stressful environment indicate for our children?

When I think of constant doses of violence in so many of our homes, I realize there is no way that our children escape some level of post-traumatic stress symptoms. This is most likely to occur in a family environment in which there has been transgenerational violence where the stress of threat is constant and persistent.

However, lack of safety can also be emotionally threatening.

Today, a feeling of being unsafe can occur at schools, community groups, workplaces, in our athletic programs, early childhood centers, churches and so many other places where we go for learning, growth and support. When we understand the reality caused by this unsafe impact, it should really drive us to be vigilant about the emotional and relational environments that we create, particularly for our children.

In light of such intuitive and powerful neuroscientific research, it is significant that we all be intentional about the environments that we are creating. For me, I have to ask myself as a father, employer, community leader and influencer, “What type of environments am I creating for those within my sphere of influence?  What is our impact each day?”

Creating safe environments means that we will learn to be skilled and intentional about our emotional and relational impact.

The skills of listening, empathy, observing, creating safe boundaries, being proactive, caring, sensitive, kind, careful and calming are so key to helping those in our respective worlds deal with the stresses and conflicts of life and relationships. How we relate to each other has everything to do with safety, and safety has everything to do with a healthy functioning brain and body.

Doing so will promote around us a place of healthy, growth and create individuals who will be better able to reason, grow, produce, protect and positively influence those around them.

It is logical to think this way but sometimes very hard to achieve. It requires hard work and the intentional effort of change. This is not just opinion but validated by neuroscience that is verifiable in research that has been replicated over and over.

It is time to act on what we know in our systems and our homes. Let’s learn together and be willing to take the next steps to create a very different world for our children and those we influence.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

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