Why is it so hard to trust others?

So many of us have become wary of others – to the point of not trusting anyone, and even avoiding places where there are other people. This wariness or anxiety about our safety and well-being can severely limit our capacity to enjoy life, and takes its toll on our health as well.  So how do we know who, when, or how to trust?

Lion-and-zebra-drinking-waterConsider this photo of a zebra and a lion, side-by-side drinking at a waterhole. What or who is the zebra trusting that allows her to lower her head and drink water so close to a lion? (A lowered head means greater vulnerability – she will be milliseconds slower if she needs to run, and she also has less awareness of her broader environment.)

How does she know she is safe?

She is trusting her neuroception (a term coined by Dr. Stephen Porges). This is her inner surveillance system – her body’s capacity to sense subtle nuances and shifts in her environment that can detect threats or safety. Outside the realm of her conscious awareness, her nervous system is continuously evaluating risk in the environment, making judgments, and prioritizing behaviors.  As soon as the lion has a thought about eating her, she would be long gone. This is because even without moving, his body would be responding to his thought and it would be preparing ever so slightly in readiness for the attack. The zebra’s neuroception would detect such shifts and respond in accordance with appropriate survival behaviour. Consequently, she has no need to trust the lion. She trusts her own internal surveillance system.

“Our nervous system functions as a sentry by continuously evaluating risk in the environment. Through neural surveillance mechanisms (neuroception), our brain identifies features of risk or safety. Many of the features of risk and safety are not learned, but rather are hardwired into our nervous system and reflect adaptive strategies associated with our phylogenetic history.” ~ Stephen Porges

What if the lion and zebra were humans?

If the lion and the zebra were humans, the story might be a little different. The lion might be saying something like, “I’m not like all the other lions. I don’t actually like killing zebras.” Or maybe, “You are the first zebra I don’t feel like killing. Maybe we could become friends.” And perhaps the zebra has become separated from her herd, so it is enticing to have a lion as a friend, and she thinks that maybe he would protect her. After all, he said he wanted to be friends.

Zebra and lion talking2-0It sounds a little silly when presented this way, but perhaps it’s a little ‘close to home,’ because most of us have had the experience of trusting someone when we shouldn’t have.  We probably believed (or wanted to believe) what they were saying and ignored or didn’t notice our inner guidance system alerting us to be careful.

We are not zebras or are we?

It’s true that we are not zebras. And although we don’t have the same range of sight or the acute sense of smell, we still have the same nervous system responses that can detect safety or danger in our environment. According to Dr. Porges, “Even though we may not be aware of danger on a cognitive level, on a neurophysiological level, our bodies have already started a sequence of neural processes that would facilitate adaptive defense behaviors such as fight, flight, or freeze.”

Trust is an inside job

We are not meant to put our unwavering trust in others. We can’t always know their true intentions or what influences they have on them that compels them to hurt or betray us. We can however trust that little niggling feeling, or the churning in our gut, or the overall sense that something is not right, or a sense of dis-ease, or feeling unsettled – even for no apparent reason. This is our neuroception doing its job – which is to keep us safe and alive. It detects a threat in our environment that we may otherwise be oblivious to.  We need to cultivate the ability to not only listen to the messages from our bodies, but obey them.

Why do we fall for the smooth-talking lion?

When we fall for smooth-talking lions, we may not be able to distinguish what is dangerous from what is not. This is because either:

  • We override the messages our bodies are giving us with our higher thinking brains (which can get confused and/or manipulated)
  • Our bodies are not giving us accurate messages
  • We are disconnected from our bodies and don’t notice the messages

In the case of the last two, and possibly all the above points, we probably have unresolved stress, residual survival energy in our bodies, or incomplete defense responses. What this means – according to our bodies, is that ‘it’s not over.’ Our bodies simply cannot distinguish what is safe from what is not safe. They become hyper vigilant and detect danger when there isn’t any. When our bodies are reactive, our minds are searching for, and often making up reasons – which can set up a perpetual cycle of anxiety.

This state of constant (stress) arousal is uncomfortable, and even painful, so to cope, we disconnect or shift our awareness away from our bodies. While this brings temporary relief, we are not using our inbuilt surveillance system as it was designed, and instead, we are relying on our thinking brain to detect risk in our environment.   Since our thinking brain is not equipped for this task, we are easily mislead, deceived, or confused – which leads to more hyper vigilance.

Our bodies must be functioning properly – as they were designed

Since we are in physical form, we will always be exposed to risk. Thankfully, however, our bodies are sufficiently equipped with all the mechanisms required to keep us safe. We cannot trust others or our environment without enlisting the input from our bodies. When they are functioning properly (i.e. our nervous system is regulated), our bodies will never mislead us. Our task is to listen to and cooperate with our bodies. They will reward us with a sense of peace, comfort and well-being, as well as alert us to potential danger.

How do we help our bodies to function properly?

Here are 8 immediate things we can do to support our bodies:

  1. Eat healthy food and drink plenty of pure clean water – this reduces the toxic load on our bodies and helps them function better
  2. Minimise exposure to any media that involves violence – this avoids unnecessary stress responses
  3. Choose uplifting stories to read and movies to watch – this encourages the opposite of the stress response (the calming / relaxation response)
  4. Practice mindfulness / present moment awareness – this develops greater ability to notice our biological responses moment-to-moment so that we can take corrective action
  5. Chose to focus on what is working, peaceful, kind … What we focus on we amplify – this helps us to train our minds to stay with thoughts that produce the calming/ relaxation response
  6. Notice emotions as they arise – name them, feel them, and allow them to dissolve in their own time – this supports the body to clear uncomfortable energies of various emotions
  7. Move – the body needs regular movement – this helps shift our state and release stress-related energy
  8. Spend time in nature – our nervous systems will feel re-charged by the resonance of nature – this helps to reset the nervous system and bring it back into equilibrium
  9. Educate yourself – learn how your body responds to stress so that you can work with and support your biology. Here are some resources:
  • Waking the Tiger, by Dr. Peter Levine
  • In an Unspoken Voice, by Dr. Peter Levine
  • Healing Trauma, by Dr. Peter Levine
  • When the Body Says No, by Dr. Gabor Mate
  • The Body Keeps the Score, by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk

When your body needs more support

When your body is holding high levels of stress, unresolved emotions / stories, events and trauma, you may need additional support to clear discordant energies and restore equilibrium. It is helpful to have someone with a regulated nervous system (our nervous systems synchronise with each other – the less coherent system entrains with the more coherent system) who can skillfully and gently guide you to stay within your nervous system’s capacity while increasing your resilience.

Consider booking a session with a Somatic Experiencing® practitioner. (Somatic Experiencing® is a modality developed by Dr. Peter Levine.) As you clear these discordant energies, you will become more resilient, learn skills to clear these energies on your own, and develop a relationship with your body that you can rely on to keep you safe.

Resilience Program for Animal Advocates

April 1, 2017  10:00am – 12:30 pm

Restore your resilience with the support of horses

Healing with AnjiiAnimal activists are always at risk of vicarious trauma. This is the type of trauma one experiences when exposed to violence or the suffering of others. It is characterized by a profound sense of helplessness, and for animal activists it is usually underpinned by the difficult emotions of anger and guilt. Unless it is ‘processed,’ it accumulates, and can have a devastating affect over time on one’s well-being that may show up as burnout, depression, anxiety, illness (mental and/or physical), and disease.

Since all traumas – whether physical, mental, or emotional – happen in the body, they need to be released from the body. This is why distracting ourselves, or reasoning, analysing, or even emotional ‘outbursts’ of tears or anger do not clear the residual, cumulative effect of trauma.

We can learn how to clear our traumas so that we can remain focused, healthy, and resilient

Based on the life work of Dr. Peter Levine, through his observations of animals in the wild, we can learn to allow and support our bodies to release the effects of trauma. In our program, the horses instinctively support the needs of our nervous systems to safely release the residual energies of trauma.

In this program you will:Reflection

  • Learn how vicarious trauma affects your body
  • Learn skills to process difficult experiences
  • Experience the therapeutic healing of the horses
  • Experience a sense of well-being

Date: April 1, 2017
Time: 10:00am – 12:30 pm
Location:  231 Grossmans Road, Torquay, Victoria
Vegan morning tea provided
Cost: $20 pp

Download flyer
Resilience Program for Animal Advocates Flyer

Numbers are limited to ensure your safety and optimum learning experience.  The program will be conducted outdoors, and in the event of extreme weather conditions it may need to be rescheduled – your contact details are essential.  Payment can be made on the day.

This program is now full – if you wish to be included on a waiting list or get notified when the next program will be offered, please complete the form below.

Registration can be made completing the following form:

On receipt of your registration we will forward information to help you prepare for the program.  Payment can be made on the day.  If you are unable to attend after we have received your registration, please let us know so we can allocate your space.

Surviving your stressful family holidays

christmas-holiday-stressDo you dread the holidays and all the pressure?  Do you get a little tightening in your gut or throat, or maybe your heart beats a little faster at the thought of spending Christmas or the holidays with your family?

Here are some tips to help you survive and maybe even relax into the holiday spirit a bit more.

  1. Don’t make value judgments – accept yourself and others just as you are.   It feels liberating!   After all, we are just doing the best we can with what we know.  Unspoken thoughts can be just as damaging as thoughts spoken out loud.  So, when a judgment pops into your mind, notice it, and choose a ‘corrective’ thought.  For example, if you have a thought that your brother is selfish, correct that thought with another, kinder thought.  It could be something like, “sometimes he doesn’t seem to notice the impact he has on others.”  When you stop judging others you will feel better, and they will feel better.  Also, you cannot expect others to stop judging you if you are judging them.
  2. Accept that everything we do (and say) is a strategy to find relief from discomfort – No matter how critical others are, or how demanding, or difficult in any way, know that all of this is somehow a way for them to find relief from their discomfort – caused by perhaps fear, challenges, stress, anxiety, illness, etc. that result from unresolved life experiences.  We all have them.
  3. Don’t take it personally – If you feel you are the ‘target’ or that others are fussing over you and limiting your space and choices for example, know that they are acting on their beliefs and how they ‘do’ their world.  In fact it has very little to do with you.
  4. Drop all expectations except for one – Remember that everyone is dealing with their ‘stuff’ in whatever way they know how.  Because you are not them, you can’t know what is best for them or how they should respond to any situation.  Therefore don’t expect them to act in any particular way.  You can however expect that they might not reciprocate.  They still may have expectations of you!  (That is okay – refer to points 1-3!)  When you let go of expectations you’ll be more likely to maintain your balance.
  5. Look for what is working or what is pleasant, especially the small stuff –  For example, notice the decorations on the table, or the colourful shoes your auntie is wearing and how she is enjoying them, or the efforts others have made to come to the gathering (such as long travel, or getting a dog-sitter, or juggling other commitments).  Make this a habit, and see if you can train yourself to notice what is working.  You will literally feel better and others with feel better just being around you.
  6. Be kind and patient – Look for ways to be kind.  No matter how others behave, or what they say, or how they treat you, remember they are seeking relief from their discomfort. When you are kind, you are giving them some relief.  With relief, they have more capacity to be kind in return.  It might take a little while for them to register your kindness, so be patient.  Everyone wins!
  7. Be of service – Offer to help clear the table or wash the dishes, or play with the children.  There are many benefits when you are ‘serving others.’  Firstly it is a distraction for you and gets you out of the ‘line of fire.’  Secondly, you are putting kindness into action and others will appreciate that.  Thirdly, and most importantly, you feel better about you.  In some, maybe small way, you made a difference to another person.
  8. Practice self care – If you start feeling uncomfortable or anxious or unsafe, take an appropriate and considerate action to bring relief.  For example take a short walk – even if it is only to the toilet and on the way, notice what is working or pleasant (maybe the cushions on the sofa match the painting on the wall, or you notice the leaves on the trees outside dancing in the sunlight, or the scented soap in the bathroom…)  Treat yourself the same way you aim to treat others – be kind, patient, non-judgmental, helpful, and look for what’s working.

If you can’t possibly practice all these tips, just pick one, or two.  Even just one will make a difference.  Here is a summary of the survival tips.

holiday-survival-tips-0You can download this checklist and keep it as a handy reminder: holiday-survival-tips

From all of us at SEhorse, we wish you a peaceful, safe, and joy-filled Christmas and holidays.

What clients say


img_6868Laurel – I come from a dysfunctional family, suffered a brain injury 25 years ago, and left an abusive relationship of 20 years.

For over two decades I have seen numerous mental health professionals such as psychologists, neuro-psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, and social workers.

I attended a couple of group programs and a few private sessions, and in less than 6 months Cindy and the horses have changed my life!  I have learned strategies to manage my life which have enabled me to better cope with every day stresses, and has also had a beneficial impact on my 2 children.

I have learned ways to manage my emotions which has enabled me to initially reduce, and finally eliminate all medications.

I have gone from living in the extremes of overwhelm and depression and having nervous breakdowns every 3 months, to living a calmer life, by listening to my body.   I can now better manage my whole life in a more grounded manner.

Cindy is one of the very few, best, and skillful workers I have ever encountered.  The work she does I believe, can cure the world of all its trauma and pain.  I recommend her and her horses with my highest regard and from my entire heart and soul!  ~ Laurel

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Kim – I can’t thank yoimg_6699u and your wonderful horses enough. After being diagnosed first with depression, then bipolar, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder, I thought my life was over.  I am a wife and mother of three and most of my children’s lives have been overshadowed by my illnesses.

Then I found you. I cannot emphasize enough the improvement I have seen in myself, and others have seen it too.  For over 25 years I have been under the care of five different psychiatrists – all concentrating on my mind and treating the symptoms rather than letting me feel them. Your gentle and compassionate approach is a welcome change from the conventional approach which only concentrates on the mind, and I immediately began to feel better.

We are more than our heads.  Our emotions, good, bad and ugly are held in our bodies. We have butterflies in our stomach, a broken heart, a tightness in our chest. Slowly and gently you have helped me release a lot of my past hurts and anger, and helped me understand myself better.

I was unable to go to the supermarket on my own, but last week on Wednesday 29th of June, after only 10 sessions with you, I went out and shopped on my own. This morning Sunday 3rd of July I went to church on my own.  This is the first time in over a year.  I even had conversations with people I hadn’t seen for a long time and it felt great!

Thank you doesn’t seem enough!  Slowly my life is coming back to me.

Cindy, you and your horses are amazing.

Thank you again, Kim

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DSC00624.JPGKay – I have been busy packing the house this month to get ready to go off grid which prompted me to reflect on my last couple of years.  Once again I realized how empowering the equine program has been for me.  The experience continued to guide me long after finishing the program.  I am actually scared to think how things would have turned out if I didn’t do the program.  It was eye opening, and certainly was the beginning of my real life journey.  All the positive things, opportunities, and achievements that have fallen in front of me in the last few years was thanks to you and your horses’ guidance.  Thank you,  Kay