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To Be Curious, You Must Feel Safe . . . Whether a Horse or a Human

Much of what I learn about neuroscience and trauma recovery I get to see for real with my horses. After all, horses and humans have similar mammalian nervous systems. So here is what I know about curiosity – You can’t be curious unless you feel safe. Curiosity is one of the eight C’s of ‘Self-Energy’ that Internal Family Systems uses as a gauge of someone being fully present and in the moment. (The other traits are: connection, calmness, creativity, clarity, courage, confidence and compassion.) If some of these traits are present when I am having a session with my client, I know that their system has not been taken over by one of their ‘protector parts’ (see my blog entry for a explanation of Internal Family Systems). Being present and in the moment allows the space for exploration of body sensations, feelings, movements, images.

This video of Faraona in the barn shows her natural curiosity. It also shows what happens when her system goes into sympathetic nervous system arousal. Because she has already determined that the space is safe for her and she knows that I am there to support her, when something potentially threatening happens, she can still think and figure a way out of the situation. We see this when she gets the lead rope trapped under a foot. She can then re-settle her nervous system by gently chewing or by coming over to me if she is more aroused. I can co-regulate her nervous system if I am calm, self-aware and fully present. Connection helps her to calm and gives her confidence to keep exploring.

I think these concepts also apply to children at play. When they feel safe, they can explore and learn. But they also need a caregiver present to whom they can run for reassurance when needed. Every time they stimulate their nervous system and are then able to calm themselves, they are building nervous system capacity and resilience. Whether human or horse.

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