Our brains are complex and at times, they can cause us problems. Soothing safe place imagery can be a powerful tool in helping us manage our minds.
What is Soothing Safe Place Imagery and How Does It Work?
“safe space” is a concept that is often used in therapy to help people feel more comfortable and secure while discussing difficult or traumatic experiences. The idea is to create a physical and emotional environment where the person feels safe to open up and share their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or rejection.
Safe place work can involve different techniques, such as visualization, where the therapist guides the person to imagine a place where they feel safe and secure and then helps them to create an internal representation of that place that they can access whenever they need. This can be a useful tool to help people to manage anxiety and stress during therapy sessions.
Another technique is called grounding, where the therapist and client focus on the present moment and the five senses, which can help to calm the nervous system and reduce feelings of dissociation or flashbacks.
It’s important to note that safe place work should be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, in conjunction with other therapeutic techniques, such as compassion-focused therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy or trauma-focused therapy.
Safe place work is often used in therapy to help people feel calmer. I often use it with people who have been through a traumatic event that has made their world feel very unsafe. It’s also helpful for people who have a very active imagination and report creating worrying scenarios in their minds.
Our minds and bodies struggle to pull apart imagination from reality. For example, take a moment to imagine your favourite meal. Close your eyes and remember the last time it was placed in front of you. Notice the smell. How does it look? Spend 30 seconds indulging in this imagery. How do you feel? Hungry?
Now imagine you’re holding half a lemon. Imagine licking the juice. How does your body respond? It’s powerful stuff, this imagery, isn’t it?!
This simple exercise demonstrates how powerful the mind and our imagination can be. Images have so much more power than thoughts alone, so we need to use this skill to our advantage. We can create catastrophic images that fit with our worries, but we can also create havens that calm our physiology and make us feel safe, improving both our physical and psychological worlds.
You can train and tone up your imagination like a muscle so it works for you and not against you, helping you manage or soothe emotions at times of stress or difficulty. This builds inner confidence and resilience, benefiting your overall well-being.
Why Is Feeling Safe Important?
Feeling safe is a very important component of being human. If you think about it, we’re actually quite fragile. Humans should live in tight tribes or communities, feeling safe and protected with others, but this is not the world we live in today.
In the digital age, we’re connected yet disconnected. Loneliness is an epidemic. This poses a real threat to our physical and psychological well-being. Understandably, we can find ourselves feeling on edge and anxious.
Soothing safe place imagery is about creating a safe place in your imagination. Common places are beaches, tropical waterfalls, forests, clouds, beside an open fire in a cosy cottage, or the edge of a tranquil lake.
It’s recommended that you create a safe place or place of contentment that is firmly in your imagination and new to you. Sometimes we feel pulled to use a place from our childhood or our home, but past places can be tied with grief and current places can be disrupted. You only need you to have a bit of conflict with a loved one and your safe place has been spoiled.
Safe Place Imagery Practice
You may start with a safe place in mind or allow one to develop.
Step 1 – Adopt a grounded, confident, upright position and begin breathing a soothing rhythm. Adopt a slight smile, shoulders back, chest open.
Step 2 – As you feel settled in your body, allow your mind to create a safe image. You may notice a few images. There is no right or wrong. Without judgement, allow the images to flow in your mind. Notice a place taking shape for you.
Step 3 – Notice the feeling of safety in your body. Where is that feeling? Allow it to expand. You are totally safe. Your safe place is always there for you. It’s a place where you are held and supported.
Step 4 – Allow your safe place to become more vibrant. Notice the colours, shapes or sounds. Notice what you can see. Are there any smells or sensations you can feel, like the warmth of sunshine or the embrace of a warm blanket?
Step 5 – Immerse yourself in your world.
Step 6 – Begin to wiggle your fingers and toes. Notice the image fading as you return to the room while also remembering it’s always there for you. Slowly sway your body and open your eyes.
Step 7 – After your practice, spending a short time reflecting is useful. Ask yourself what did you notice? Any shifts or changes physically or emotionally? Any blocks or resistance?
I can’t decide on an image – With practice, an image will develop and become more prominent. If the imagery is difficult, try focusing more on sounds, colours or shapes.
I can’t create an image – Often, the more we try, the harder it gets. It will just take practice; think about when you most feel safe in your life and what the qualities of this place are. Focus your attention more on the feeling of safety in your body and loosely create an image; over time, the image will take shape.
I don’t like the word safe – Some people prefer to use ‘calming’, ‘soothing’, ‘relaxing’ or ‘tranquil’. Play around with words and try saying them out loud a couple of times during your practice to see if they fit.
I’ve never experienced feeling safe – I’m sorry to hear that. Feeling safe in the world is something we can cultivate with practice. Try being curious about what it would be like to feel safe. How would you feel? What would you notice? Often, the more difficult we find a practice, the more we need it and will benefit from it. Start small and give yourself time.
Remember, the more you practice using safe place imagery, the easier it will get, so it’s worth persevering. A few minutes daily will improve your well-being and increase your emotional resilience. If you found this blog post helpful and enjoyed the exercise, please share it with anyone else you think might benefit.
Links Worth Clicking
Podcast interview with Professor Paul Gilbert – Listen Here
Podcast interview with Dr Mary Welford – Listen Here
Building Self Compassion – Podcast Episode – Listen Here
What is Compassion Therapy – Listen Here