NOTE: This post is meant for those who have a hard time recognizing unhelpful emotional & cognitive processes or recognizing when they’re not in ventral vagal / safe & social state.
If you’re already recognizing unhelpful emotional & cognitive processes a lot of the time, then I suggest that you do not read this and instead work on what you already know is there.

As self healers we have been battling symptoms and fears and negative predictions of the future for so long that most often we don’t even remember what it is like to live in a sense of safety. I was so used to feeling “not right” that I didn’t even notice that I was in fact full of frustration and urgency or powerlessness and defeat – depending on the day.

As I was learning about what “ventral vagal” (safe & social) safety feels like I started compiling this list for myself. It helped me to realize when I was in “ventral vagal / safe & social” state and when I wasn’t. I hope it will help you too. πŸ’›

What fight/flight/freeze/shutdown states sound likeWhat Ventral vagal / Safe & social state sounds like
fear, anxiety – predicting bad things in the future

“I will have this symptom forever”
“what if this symptom gets worse?”
calm, confidence – predicting good things in the future

“Others have recovered and so will I.”
“Symptoms wax and wane, that’s natural. If this symptom gets worse it will also get better and one day when I least expect it, it will be gone completely.”
“Everything will work out in the end.”

“I’m short on time”
“I’m falling behind”
relaxation, ease

“There is plenty of time”
“My pace of recovery is exactly right for me, for what my unique journey has to teach me”
comparing to others

“I should have felt better by now”
acceptance & confidence

“I am exactly where I am meant to be on my journey”
pressure to use the tools

“I have to use tools 50 times per day or I will never recover”
opportunity, agency, feeling empowered

“Every time I sense a symptom or an old thinking pattern I have a wonderful opportunity to teach my brain how to respond differently next time. My brain is plastic and I can teach it new tricks! That’s amazing!”
pressure + resistance to using the tools

“I have to use the tools, but I don’t want to!”
opportunity, gratitude, excitement

“I have these amazing tools that I get to use to help my nervous system regulate. I am so lucky to live in an age when all this knowledge is available. I’m excited to give them a go and experience the results!”
pressure to recover

“I must be able to work by December”
acceptance, allowing & focus on what I can control

“I can’t control my rate of recovery just like I can’t control the weather – it’s not reasonable to demand that of myself. I accept where I am today and I accept the wisdom of my mindbody in getting me to the next step of my journey. All I can do is take care of my mindbody in the best way I know how.”

“I should have done X”

“I wish I had done X, but I didn’t because I didn’t have the capacity at the time. How can I love myself and take care of my needs right now?”
self-denigration leading to feeling worthless

“I suck at this”

feeling worthy / good enough and not defined by successes and failures

“Sucking at something is the first step in being sorta good at something πŸ˜‰” – no, seriously, most of the time when we think we suck at something, we really don’t. We’re just learning or we’re only looking at the mistakes and not at the things that we got right. And even if something isn’t our forte, we’re always worthy, always good enough as a person.

“I’m too… (slow, anxious, old…)”
“I’m not as worthy because I’m unwell”
feeling worthy / good enough regardless of any attributes or symptoms

“I am good enough. I am perfect and whole just as I am.”
“I am intrinsically worthy”

“I’m too broken to recover”

“Others have recovered and I will, too!”
fighting reality

“I shouldn’t have to work on this stupid mindbody stuff!”
“Why can’t I be like everybody else who goes to the doctor and gets cured?!”

“This experience isn’t what I asked for, but it is what I got. I accept that so that I can spend less energy fighting it and more energy in getting through to the other side of it. I will make sure that I don’t just get out of this, but I will get to the other side with gifts that only hard situations can provide.”

Acceptance can be super hard – if you’re fighting reality right now, go easy on yourself.
feeling like a victim

“This bad thing is happening TO me”
seeking gifts & opportunities

“How is this happening FOR me? What gifts is it bringing? What opportunities is it creating? Nothing in life is 100% bad.”

“This is too hard!”
confidence & determination

“This is super hard, but I am strong and I will get through. I can do hard things πŸ’ͺ”

“Life is passing me by, I am missing out”

“I am exactly where I am meant to be on my unique life journey”
focus on lack

“I’m not yet there”
focus on progress

“I’m getting there”
feeling excluded (I don’t belong)feeling that I belong – my illness doesn’t define whether I belong or not
Feeling happy, joyful πŸ˜ƒ
Feeling curious or adventurous 🌊
Feeling playful, creative in flow πŸ•
Feeling awe and wonder ✨
Feeling loved, accepted, connected πŸ₯°
Feeling powerful, successful, victorious πŸ’ͺ
Feeling in control, focusing on all that I CAN do πŸ’ͺ

Note: often it’s not an easy thing to shift from “perceived danger” column to “safe & social” column. Please don’t assume that just because I wrote a “safe & social” statement it should be easy to get into that attitude. This list is more like a map in that it shows you where you are and in which direction “safe & social” might be, but it’s not a vehicle that will take you from one to the other. Often you will need to use a state shifting tool for that. Sometimes you might need to read a book or talk to a trusted friend or a coach.

Also, sometimes there are truly things that we need to change and not just repeat “everything is fine, everything is fine, everything is fine” until we turn blue. There are some good reasons for spending time in “fight or flight”. Ultimately the question is: is your current state serving you? Is it making it easier for you to deal with your situation? Is it making you more resourceful? If yes, then that’s a good state to be in right now! We are not meant to live out our whole lives in “safe & social”, sometimes other states are more useful for dealing with life, but we should be returning to that “ventral vagal” state as much as possible.

How To Recognize Unhelpful States