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In the exploding, imploding, lonely moments of our childhood abuse, our sense of feeling safe in the world was mortally wounded. Yet our resilient spirit helped us survive by conjuring ways we could take action to protect ourselves in the future.

These ready responses and instinctive reactions become our magical wands. We used them in all situations, regardless if they were appropriate and whether they truly served us. Like sticking our tongue out when we were bullied, they made us feel better.

To feel safe in my life, I became hypervigilant. I developed a sonar ability to track everyone within sight or sound. I believed I knew what they were thinking, feeling, and needing. And I developed another magic wand to go with this; believing I could make my life safe if I was always a good, thoughtful, and helpful girl.

These two magic wands are common to survivors. We share a long list of traits developed so we could feel in control. Though they got us from back-then to here-and-now, these coping responses were smoke screens of safety. Having authentic choices in every moment of every day is our strongest protection. It is one thing to be “good, thoughtful, and helpful” by choice and another thing entirely if I feel compelled by past beliefs to show up this way in every circumstance.

Feeling safe isn’t just about leaving our abuser behind. It’s about discovering what drives our reactions so we know if they have roots in our childhood trauma. It is digging into our past so we can be confident our current reactions are coming from empowered, self-aware choices.