I recently watched a ‘horse whisper’ do a lay down with a horse. If you’ve never seen this process, it is amazing! But unlike horses, who constantly think, “Am I safe?” and look for things outside themselves to make them safe, we humans can find safety within. And when we feel that inner safety, then we can really open up to our partner and enjoy sex and our sexuality in a way that we haven’t before. Listen to this episode to see what it looks like when we don’t feel safe, what it looks like when we do, and what we can do to change it.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to be a guest speaker at a women’s retreat. As part of the retreat we were able to visit the Holmstead Ranch Resort (which is where my couples retreat will be this fall.). While there we were able to see a man named Hugh Vail do a lay down with a horse. If you have never experienced this, it is an amazing process that I would like to share with you today.
As human’s, with pre-frontal cortexes, we create stories and meaning from everything that goes on around us. This part of our brain is also where we reason, set goals, and look to the future. But along with our pre-frontal cortex, we also have a more primitive brain that is the same as all animals. This brain was designed to keep us alive and safe. It operates in the background, constantly feeding us thoughts that it believes will keep us alive and safe. A horse doesn’t have a pre-frontal cortex. It only has the part of the brain that was designed to keep it alive and safe. So a horse only ever asks itself one question: Am I safe? Everything a horse does is about keeping itself safe.
The horse we were observing was named Chief. Chief was born as a wild mustang in Northern California and was recently rescued. He was sold to owners who hired Hugh to gentle the horse. Hugh is what people often call a horse whisperer. But he says the horse whispers to him and he just listens. In years past, in order to tame a wild horse, handlers would break the horse. But Hugh prefers gentling the horse.
You see, a horse, is always looking for safety, because remember that is the only question a horse’s brain ever asks; “Am I safe?” So in order to gentle the horse, Hugh first has to catch it in a pen and put a harness on it. But the horse sees humans as a predator, so having a human in its pen automatically means it’s not safe. So Hugh had to gain its trust by watching its body language. Chief was constantly looking for safety, but he was looking for safety outside of himself. Horses instinctively know that when a predator comes, the best way to be safe is to run away. So a horse will move its feet to feel safe. A horse knows that it is safer in numbers. So we watched Chief call to other horses around to help him feel safe. And you could see Chief wrestle with feeling safe by moving his body, calling to other horses, and you could also see when he was feeling safer because of his body language. He would relax his head. He would relax his ears. He would stop moving. And as Chief felt safer, Hugh would move closer and closer until eventually he could put a harness on him.
Once Hugh put the harness on him, he moved him into a round pen where all of the women from the retreat sat around the edges. So now Chief had to deal with 23 predators instead of just the one. Chief was scared. He was literally pooping all the time, losing control of his bowels, because he was so scared. And you could constantly see him trying to work out how he could be safe. As the presentation continued, Hugh eventually tied up one of his hooves, so Chief only had 3 of his 4 legs available to stand on. He had literally lost 25% of his ability to get himself safe. And you could see how he had to continue going internal to workout his safety.
Then, Hugh tied up his other front leg. Chief had lost his ability to move. He was continually trying to get up on two legs and move to try and get safe. He was so resistant to his circumstances. And you could see by his body movements how he was so scared and yet had to work out for himself how to get safe. Eventually he just laid down and eventually he settled himself to the point where he could relax. Once he was relaxed, we were able to come and give him love and affection, one at a time, to reward him.
In our families, in our religion, in our culture, we have learned that sex isn’t safe. It isn’t safe to our bodies because we might get pregnant when we don’t want to, we might get an STI, we might be physically assaulted or raped. It isn’t safe to our souls because sex is Satan’s pathway to hell. And when we have been cultured to believe these things about sex, even if we logically understand that sex within marriage is ok, our body responds (or doesn’t respond) because that danger is felt deeply within our body.
Just like Chief, we are always looking for safety and we are looking outside of ourselves. We move. We call to others to help us feel safe. But no matter what we do, we will never feel safe until we decide that safety comes from within. We are the only ones that can create our own safety.
Inner safety must come first. When you don’t have inner safety you don’t know how to have outer safety. When we look to others to make us feel safe it’s a losing battle. No one can ever make you feel safe if you don’t feel safe in yourself. But when you feel safe in yourself, you can assess situations correctly and do what you need to do to keep yourself safe.
So let’s first talk about what it might look like if you aren’t feeling safe within…
So when Chief was not feeling safe his body went into a trauma response. In the wild, he might fight a predator with his feet or he might run away (flight). As humans, when we don’t feel safe in our body, we also go into a trauma response.
- Fight might look like fighting with our spouse, we are unkind to ourselves, attacking, criticizing
- Flight might look like coming up with excuses, walling ourselves off, checking out, being in your head, no desire, no sex
- Freeze might look like doing something we don’t want to do but just lay there and not an active participant.
- Fawn might look like neglecting your own needs, trying to make others feel good all the time, having no boundaries, no needs, no desires, entirely focused on the other person, sex is a performance
And after any of these responses, we judge ourselves. And we wonder why we don’t feel safe.
Also, what happens in the body when we are in a trauma response? What might we be feeling?
- Stomach aches
So how do we create inner safety?
You have to understand that you always have the ability to create safety within yourself. That is why, when I am coaching someone on sex, I always start with awareness around their relationship with themselves. Do they trust themselves? Can they be kind, compassionate, and understanding with themselves? Are they critical of their body and their sexual performance? Can they be ok with any of their emotions? This is what creates safety. If we can’t trust ourselves, if we can’t be open and vulnerable with ourselves, how are we ever going to be open and vulnerable with someone else? When we feel safe, then we can feel free. Free to express ourselves. Free to be authentic. Free to choose. And we can open ourselves up and share ourselves with another, be totally vulnerable, because we know that it always comes back to us. That it’s not someone else’s job to make us feel safe, to validate us. We do that for ourselves first so that we can share the most intimate parts of ourselves with someone else.
What might happen if you felt safe during sex? This is what I see from clients once they learn how to be safe with themselves.
When someone trusts themselves then they can be more open to trusting their partner. They are more discerning of who and what is truly safe or not.
- They can discern if their partner cares about their experience and their pleasure
- They can avoid manipulation and coercion
- They see when their partner is being kind, thoughtful, and respectful
Too many of us learned to self-abandon and just do whatever makes others around us happy. You learned to not trust yourself. You learned that you are not safe with yourself. But just as you learned it, you can also unlearn it. And I can show you how.
Join me in my Embrace You Elite Society, where you can learn the tools to begin creating that safety in yourself and in your sexual relationship. I’ll see you there!