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Safety Cue Dependency? / SNB 135 quotes & show notes

Updated: Mar 16, 2023


What’s a cue of safety for me could actually be a cue of danger for somebody else based on the context that they went through.
“I need to feel better.” “My autonomic nervous system needs more regulation.”
Safety cues are not an antidote to make defensive feelings go away.
We build safety. We don’t just turn it on.
The process of safety - it’s more than just coping with the present moment - it’s more than just applying a cue of “safety medicine”.


  • Safety cues are what provides a neuroception of safety to our ANS

  • Different for everyone

    • Individual differences based on hx

    • But also universal similarities based on evolution


  • A safety cue will bring you to safety

  • A protective cue will keep you in defense, but bring a sense of protection


  • Do we become dependent on safety cues?

  • A safety cue of another person might be done at their expense

    • If the dysregulated person is not considerate and manipulates another to feel some safety (not safety though)

  • What about a safety cue of smelling an orange?

    • Maybe if that becomes an addiction and basic functioning is a problem

    • Like if I have to sneak off to sniff an orange during a therapy session

  • But just using safety cues to self-regulate?

    • What else would we be doing?

    • External safety cues for our senses

    • Or internal safety cues as top-down

  • The issue for me would be - are we building our self-regulation or not? Are we building our independence or not? Are we building our distress tolerance or not?

    • We all need safety cues, very normal

  • “I need to feel better” vs “My ANS needs more regulation.”

    • “I need to feel better” can turn into addiction, relief-seeking, protection-seeking

      • Medicine mindset, reliant on experts

        • “Splash water in my face to make the discomfort go away”

      • Story follow state - “I need to feel better” can be panicky

    • “My ANS needs more regulation” has an element of mindfulness, of witnessing the somatic needs, of alignment

      • It’s an accurate description of what is happening

      • But this needs safety activated already

    • Brings us back to the issue of whether or not we’re building self-regulation


  • Therapy reframe - With our clients, frame it as a process of building the capacity to self-regulate

    • Not as medicine

    • Not a pill we take to feel better

    • This is more than just coping through a moment

  • Example of panicked teen client where we used nature on screen, breath check-ins, fidgets and present-moment sensations

    • What works in the moment and what can be taken and practiced on, developed further

  • Noticing the process of accessing safety

    • Long process, not all at once

    • Often missed but noticed later on when processing in therapy

  • Teaching vs. developing vs. experiencing

    • Teach in session, experience in session, homework to develop

  • Building Safety Anchors incorporates these elements into it

    • Guidance, practice, homework, reflection, mindful noticing and experiencing


Building Safety Anchors -

Intro/Outro music & Transition Sounds by Benjo Beats -

National Suicide Prevention Hotline - 1 (800) 273-8255

National Domestic Violence Hotline -1 (800) 799-7233

LGBT Trevor Project Lifeline - 1 (866) 488-7386

National Sexual Assault Hotline - 1 (800) 656-4673

Crisis Text Line - Text “HOME” to 741741

Call 911 for emergency

This and other content produced by Justin Sunseri (“JustinLMFT”) (i.e; podcast, YouTube, Instagram, etc.) is not therapy, not intended to be therapy or be a replacement for therapy. Nothing in this creates or indicates a therapeutic relationship. Please consult with your therapist or seek for one in your area if you are experiencing mental health sx. Nothing should be construed to be specific life advice; it is for educational and entertainment purposes only.

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