My current favorite coping strategy is grounding with my senses. Touch, taste, smell, sound, sight. This technique uses personal symbols of comfort and power to help individuals come back to the present moment in times of difficulty.
Tactile sensation, also known as physical contact, textures, or “safe touch”, helps survivors come back to the or stay present by interrupting symptoms through skin-to-object touch. “Safe touch” came from my uncle and maternal grandfather. Once they died, I lost that source of comfort. Then came clothing, stuffed animals, jewelry, etc. The objects changed with time and circumstance, but the symbols behind them did not.
Safe or Not Safe?
Are all textures and objects safe to use? I honestly don’t know.
Dolphins are considered symbols of hope, compassion, safety, intelligence, etc. to most people. They scare my child parts and give them nightmares, so there are no dolphins in any of our safe spaces.
Most people think turtles are smelly and gross. All of my parts love turtles. We have small statues with different textures and photos of turtles in the safe spaces.
Jewelry is beautiful; can be expensive or cheap; offers many different textures and colors to ground the senses; and is hard to wear while maintaining invisibility. Tattoos are similar that way.
Counselors, therapists, and personal experience shows me that the best grounding techniques use are an individual’s personal symbols of comfort, safety, confidence, or hope. Or personal symbols of power. aka reminders of success and other positive experiences.
Some of my personal symbols include:
- turtles, frogs, pheonix, dragon, dogs, cats, otters, snakes
- wisdom knots, buddha, karma, qi
- natural fiber textiles and clothing with interesting patterns and textures; or synthetic fibers that are soft, silky and perfect for cuddling
- vibrant colors – orange, yellow, red, purple and brown in all shades
Secret or Obvious?
How a person uses grounding techniques in daily life depends on the individual’s needs and circumstances. Growing up, I kept most of mine secret and not too interesting so that the abusers and perpetrators let me keep them. Anything like jewelry or expensive clothes or luxurious blankets were taken away.
Other times, the hanging jewelry like necklaces and earrings, were used to hold me in place or cause pain when I tried to run or escape. Bracelets became handcuffs. Statues of my favorite animals were used to cause bruises or broken in front of me as punishment.
As I got older, I kept these personal symbols in my mind. My alters used the memories to comfort them and me at night or when we dissociated. It wasn’t until I separated from my family that I started to wear and display my personal symbols of comfort and safety and hope outside of my mind.
Then and Now
Sometimes the past is so strong and intrusive that seemingly obvious grounding options are invisible until someone from the outside suggests it again. This came in the form of a question from someone in a personal style private Facebook group. We were discussing types of fabrics and textures – how they made us feel and why we chose to wear or not wear them – when she asked me if I considered “playing with jewelry” to help with anxiety.
It was something I hadn’t thought about in a long time. The reasons why I chose not to wear jewelry came in bits and pieces throughout the year. Thanks to this group and the style challenges that introduced me to them, I started wearing jewelry again this year.
And the feel of metal in my ears or bracelets on my wrist is grounding because wearing them now means I am safe to express myself. My parts and I all worked together to make us safe. And wearing fun jewelry, playing with rings on fingers, etc. is another symbol of personal power that comes in a variety of colors, textures, sizes, and shapes.
Personal symbols of power offer many paths for successful grounding techniques, coping strategies and self care plans inside and outside of the house. I am grateful to be rediscovering ones that I had discarded as “not safe” or “out of my league”. The objects and textures can be expensive or cheap; stuff already in your house or things you buy; found pieces or gifts with special meaning attached. The safer I feel, the more I am compelled to move forward with my plans and goals with confidence.
What are your personal symbols of power? How do you keep them in your life? Would you use them for grounding as a coping strategy? How? I hope you find some and keep them close.