Life in the Recovery Room

How to heal, grow, and prosper in challenging times.

Emotional Safety: What Does It Really Mean?

June is National Safety Month, and it's all about you!

Deep-rooted fears have a lasting effect on our lives.
I am enamored by this quote from the author, Anais Nin, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are”.  Truer words were never spoken when it comes to embracing our own emotional safety as caregivers, the topic for this month’s self care offering.                                         

Most of us have known the feeling of being safe on the lap of a loved one when we were children.  Feel-good places and the feelings that accompany them may become imprinted on our hearts and in our memories.  Sometimes the memories fade but the feeling remains and then, sometimes those feelings are betrayed by life circumstances as we grow up. 

We may feel safe in the arms of a lover until they cheat.  Then all bets are off.  Disappointments, being bullied, divorce, unrequited love, death, and even leaving the “safety” of small town America for the big city can have a negative effect on our sense of safety.  And of course, the irony is that we may have felt very safe and coddled by the very person we are caring for today. Yes, even the best of the many soft places on which we learned to fall can become danger zones when we have not learned or been taught to value or develop our own emotional safety. That is especially true for family caregivers

Emotional safety comes from within us.  It is the “knowing” of what we’re feeling; the ability to be able to identify our feelings and then take the ultimate risk of feeling them. Granted, in the presence of war, childhood neglect, trauma, and abuse of all kinds, we may never have known the feeling of being safe at all.   It may be absolutely foreign to us.  And so we may believe that safety is a dream that will never come true.

Sometimes people react very differently to the same circumstances.  Have you ever heard siblings speak of their home life and wonder how they could have grown up in the same house?  Some of us shut down, trust no one and live in the illusion that self-reliance is safety personified.  Actually, this defense mechanism may be necessary for survival in certain cases.  For some there are times when, a false comfort zone is better than none. No doubt each and every caregiver can relate to this notion.

I think that almost all of us are in need of healing on one or more levels.  My experience, as both a doctor and patient, is that healing leads to transformation.  I believe strongly that once we are aware, we are no longer naïve.  Shining light in the shadows is a scary proposition.  Understanding that being vulnerable to “feeling your feelings” is both the good and bad news may still be a difficult pill to swallow.

Emotional safety is a combination of willingness, courage and action.  I believe that you’re worth it.  Do you?

Remember that the safety of all things around us begins with creating the emotional safety within ourselves. Happy National Safety Month!

James Huysman, PsyD, LCSW, is a leading authority on caregiver burnout, compassion fatigue and related addictions. Aside from his blog here, he writes a behavioral health column for Florida MD.

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