Safety is something that is at the forefront of our minds a lot of the time. Whether it’s looking both ways before crossing the street, parking in a lighted area, or buying a concealed weapon for your house. We hate being caught off guard. However our emotional safety is important as well. Working in mental health “not feeling safe” a way that a lot of people express the fact that they are not in a good emotional space and they’re afraid that they may do something impulsive. Rarely do people get to feeling this way without some type of cause. It could be stress in their relationship, work, or even something in their childhood that happened and they are just now remembering. They are vulnerable and they’re reaching out for help. Emotional safety can be defined differently by different people. You’ll notice that when someone feels emotionally safe they are much more likely to open up and being genuine with themselves and others. They are also more likely to show vulnerability. This is why many times you don’t know who someone really is until you’ve known them for a few years and they feel comfortable with you. Feeling emotionally safe can sometimes be harder with those you’re close to than with perfect strangers. Think of programs like Alcoholics Anonymous where people incredible vulnerable about their addictions and struggles but still get to remain somewhat anonymous. That being said, I have so much respect for people who can be vulnerable about their struggles and experiences in a group of people that they know. Because they are really putting themselves out there in the hope that their vulnerability will inspire and motivate others. In some ways I feel that writing a book where you’re vulnerable and speaking in a group of people with that same level of vulnerability is something totally different. As a therapist, I know that vulnerability is one of the best emotions in the therapy room, but there has to be a high level of emotional safety and if one person is vulnerable and the other person isn’t supportive or doesn’t care, the session quickly becomes counterproductive with both people leaving feeling hurt and upset at the other. This is why the emotional safety of both individuals has to be a priority.
Like millions of people everywhere, I own a car. I know people who have names for their main mode of transportation. They baby their cars and have them washed and detailed on a weekly basis. I’m not one of those people. Ever since I can remember, I’ve hated car washes. I can remember my parents singing to me to keep me from crying when I was little. While I don’t cry hysterically as my car is being doused in soap in water, I do sing at the top of my lungs to distract myself from the fact that I am trapped in a moving vehicle in less than ideal conditions. And just in case you’re wondering, this post does not end with some profound thoughts or wisdom related to car washes and daily life. No, I have not figured out why I don’t like car washes. It’s probably attached to some bad experience hidden in my subconscious. I endure them when I must and consequently my car is currently in need of a good washing. Basically my point in saying all that is to say this: being comfortable and being safe are two different things. As a therapist, I’m pushing people out of their comfort zones and challenging them to change their behaviors and thought patterns. That’s uncomfortable. But simultaneously, I’m also creating a safe space for them to be themselves and to not be judged for their weaknesses while they are figuring out the next step. That’s safety. While I am extremely uncomfortable being trapped in a car with water and soap splashing everywhere, I’m still (relatively) safe. Plus, the end product is a cleaner looking car. Similar to the way that being emotionally vulnerable ( a.k.a. uncomfortable) can have good results.