According to this expert, these “trauma-informed love languages” can lead to deeper connections.

For those who have experienced trauma or other painful experiences in their life, safety with others is one of the keys to feeling more human.

However, these experiences can often make it difficult to communicate with our loved ones, which can make it difficult to feel safe in the first place.

So how can we reconnect and establish that sense of security?

One way is through the Routes of Safety model. It’s a tool created by Jake Ernst, MSW, RSW, a Toronto-based psychotherapist. It’s a polyvagal-based model, meaning it addresses the state of our nervous system as a key part of our mental health.

In acknowledging safety as an essential part of intimacy, and in examining how our environment affects our sense of safety, Ernst believes we can deepen our connections with others.

He created the Routes of Safety model to help others understand how we get to and access safety.

There are eight different Routes of Safety, with three overarching categories (or pathways) that can help us understand the needs of ourselves and others.

To understand your own route of safety, begin by asking yourself:

  • Where do I seek refuge?
  • What makes me feel safe and secure?
Inner Guidanceself-resourced, meaning it’s accessed primarily within oneselfself-reflective tools like journaling and meditation, having a spiritual practice, taking a moment to get in touch with one’s intuition
Sensory Experiencesself-resourcedengaging the senses, like lighting a candle, using a weighted blanket, basking in the sunlight, being in nature
Private Retreatself-resourced“alone time” is key: making art, watching a movie alone under a blanket, daydreaming, reading (especially in “protected” spaces, like locked door, closed curtains, lights off, etc.)
Quality Relationshipssocially sourced, meaning it depends on connecting with othershaving needs met by another person, experiencing repair after conflict, intimate touch, caring relationships (including pets!)
Closeness and Proximitysocially sourcedreceiving or giving a hug, being by yourself but with help available if needed, doing activities you enjoy with another person, having friends who will reach out to you first
Common Humanitysocially sourcedbeing heard and seen, knowing you aren’t being judged, laughing with others, having hard emotions validated, having your boundaries respected
Protective Measuresaction-oriented, meaning it comes from tangible action and changesomeone defending you or defending yourself, being physically protected, being self-sufficient, accessing justice after harm
Structure and Certaintyaction-orientedhaving a consistent routine, having agency or a sense of mastery in one’s life, having financial security, developing a solution to a problem, making a schedule or plan to follow, predictability

These are unpacked in more detail in Ernst’s Instagram post.

Inner Guidance, Sensory Experiences, and Private Retreat all depend on internal capacity, and one’s ability to feel safer by their own devices.

Quality Relationships, Closeness and Proximity, and Common Humanity often depend on others. They activate the parts of the brain that require social satisfaction to feel safe.

Protective Measures, as well as Structure and Certainty, are about what one can control externally, creating predictability and a sense of security through exercising choice.

“[But] I find that love is a pretty abstract topic, and I feel that safety is a little bit more concrete,” Ernst adds.

By understanding your own Routes of Safety, you can begin to understand how you seek refuge. When you compare that with the methods of those you are close with, you can understand their behavior from a different perspective.

Ernst gives the example of storming out: “[With] storming out, we can do a really big trauma-informed reframe… We can really see it’s not so much about the other person, but more about the other person needing a private retreat.”

By reframing the action of storming out as a seeking safety, blame and intention are decentralized.

Another example that might be familiar to parents: Children often have yet to develop ways to communicate their needs, so they may act in ways where parents feel targeted or disrespected.

“I often reframe behavior as communication,” Ernst explains. “So, opposed to labeling defiance or talking back as being bratty, I often reframe it as them advocating for their needs.”

When it comes to intimacy involving sex, we can use the Routes of Safety model to navigate consent, especially with those who have experienced sexual trauma.

Security is paramount in these interactions. Opening a dialogue about how your partner accesses safety can allow you to understand how to make them feel safe in this vulnerable space. It can help avoid potential triggers.

Discussing pathways to safety before sex may direct partners toward proper aid in the case of a negative reaction. After all, you don’t want to wrap your arms around a partner who requires Private Retreat.

In kink and BDSM settings, Routes of Safety can be important in negotiating scenes, as well as ensuring effective aftercare.

This model is useful in polyamorous relationships, too, where you’re attending to the needs of multiple people.

If partner A requires Structure and Certainty, you can create a shared calendar to merge schedules. If partner B requires Common Humanity, it’s important for you to be vulnerable and patient with them, for they will extend you the same courtesy.

And if you require Protective Measures to feel safe, you can assert to your partners that you require radical honesty and clear autonomy.

How does this apply in situations where safety is less available? After all, safety isn’t a guarantee.

The key is understanding that we may not always find the ways to feel safest, but we can find ways to feel safer.

In situations when our usual routes are less available (such as stay-at-home orders or when threats are present in the home), we may look to routes that are accessed internally: Inner Guidance and Sensory Retreat.

Even if they’re not your first choice, they may still aid in garnering a sense of stability.

There are still other ways to communicate, mend relationships, and become closer with your loved ones.

Luckily, this communication tool is so dynamic; Routes of Safety are fluid. You’re likely to have more than one, and they may not always stay the same.

Knowing how you and your loved ones find refuge is the easiest way to foster deeper trust and security. And anything that brings you closer to that is worth a million.

Gabrielle Smith is a Brooklyn-based poet and writer. She writes about love/sex, mental illness, and intersectionality. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram.