From Strangers to Safety
Jenny’s experience in Forward-Facing Me
I wrote this reflection in 2018, back when Eric Gentry was a relative stranger and I was just beginning my journey with self-regulation and intentionality. Since then I’ve had the privilege to lead dozens of people through these groups, and each time the experience has been just as magical.
When I had the opportunity to participate in a small group using Eric Gentry’s FFTT model, I quickly took advantage of it. What follows are my reflections…
The small group process
Each week group we were invited to share our success and failures in living intentionally and responding to perceived threat in a relaxed body. In the first few weeks some participants (including myself!) shared generic answers, such as something they saw someone else do. I noticed how the participants who shared personal answers seemed like relatable human beings – I felt empathy and connected with them! I noticed that generic seemed to be an initial attempt to obscure fear and that at the end of their turn, I didn’t understand them any better. These observations encouraged me to take risks and be vulnerable in what I shared. I also noticed that when one participant began by sharing vulnerably, it created a beautiful cascade for others to follow.
Knowing that I was going to be sharing at the end of the week led me to pause during stressful situations and ask myself “is this moment going to be one of my successes or failures?” That momentary pause became incredibly empowering as I developed increasing confidence that I could respond to perceived threats in a relaxed body. I also found that using the worksheet to predict triggers and imagine different responses created pathways that my body was able to follow. As a side-note, I was skeptical that a video conference would be an effective way to create a healing group. I was wrong!
Best takeaways from the curriculum
To practice responding to perceived threat with something other than aggression or avoidance will bring up grief. Brute force may not be effective, but it is protective. When I respond with brute force, I still believe that I can control the situation. I might blame myself or blame others, but I don’t have to face how powerless it feels just to notice. The first week of actively doing it I l noticed so much grief, but then came peace as the weight I had been carrying for so much around me lifted.
As long as I have learned about self-regulation I had never learned about pelvic floor relaxation. I was relieved to learn I WAS NOT CRAZY for not feeling instantly calm when I tried breathing. I also had not heard of the “sniper vision” and found that helpful as well.
Revealing core beliefs
My weekly interactions with the group revealed ways in which my past painful learning history was still dictating my behavior. Most poignantly, through noticing my responses, I discovered that my past experience of chronic educational deprivation was still an unhealed wound. I entered the group discovering evidence of the wound – the great deal of time thinking about what I was going to say and how I was going to say it, the drive to prove to everyone in the group that I was the same as them, and the inescapable physical sensations. I perceived every single one of them as a threat.
As a teen and I pushed myself relentlessly, driven by the fear that someday someone was going to discover how unintelligent I was. In college I worked to prove this shame wrong by turning in the perfect work, and felt indignant that a new grading scale in my senior year ruined my perfect GPA! But until this group, I had no idea that twenty-five years later, this anxiety was still significantly affecting my social interactions. Nearly all participants had advanced degrees , and although it was a peer-support group, I was immersed amongst people who certainly did not feel like peers. But as time went by, I discovered we had more in common than differences. Trauma, as devastating as it is, is the great equalizer. I saw that people with years more education than I had the same deep fears and insecurities. I was so grateful to make this personal discovery before formally pursuing my advanced degree. Had my old mindset still been in place (I have to have fancy letters after my name to prove my value to the world) I could have chased degree after degree never knowing why I still felt so insecure. Voicing this outloud to the group on the last day brought great healing.