Feeling safe in relationships, most especially in intimate relationships, is essential. If you don’t feel safe and are always walking on eggshells, not only are you always anxious, but it can back up on you—you periodically get resentful and blow up—or you adopt the martyr role and eventually burn out. More importantly, you are never getting what you truly need—never have a place where you can be yourself, give up that anxiety or those masks that you wear and lean into a relationship where you feel cared for and loved, and accepted.
But what actually creates that sense of safety varies from person to person. What we need most often reflects what we didn't get in our childhoods, the wounds that still remain. Here are some of the common, often interrelated, needs:
If you grew up in a family where anger was constant, where you felt always criticized, where parents or others were volatile, where you felt micromanaged, you may be wired to be anxious around such strong emotions and become hypervigilant. You might have learned to "be good" or to shut down to avoid feeling attacked, and these ways of coping can continue into adulthood. Most sadly, if you are still spending much of your energy building a life that keeps others at bay, you may never have an opportunity to discover who you truly are.
Feeling heard rather than feeling dismissed or invisible
This obviously can go along with the first—angry blow-back makes you feel unheard—but this sense of invisibility can arise even when that was not the case. Maybe your parents didn’t push back or control, but instead, they were preoccupied with themselves, or neglectful. You felt that what you said, what you felt, what you needed didn't matter. Your voice and opinions were never listened to, you were insignificant, and again you likely either got good, got angry, or gave up and shut down. As an adult, your sense of safety takes the form of feeling heard, being considered and valued rather than dismissed.
Having others you can depend on
If you grew up in a family where your parents or important others could never be counted on to follow through—maybe because of mental health problems, because of addictions, or other issues that left them scattered or unreliable—you learn that you can’t lean into others and depend on and trust them to give you what you need. The outcome may be that you come to overly depend on someone who seems to be able to be a caregiver, or more likely you develop a self-sufficient stance—there is me, and there’s me, and I take care of me; you never lean because you are afraid that if you do, you will fall down.
Working together as a team
Where unreliability is about others letting you down, this is about seeing others living in their own silos, being excessively independent and unconnected. Here you may have had parents who had little connection with each other and essentially lived parallel lives or parents who believed in creating children who were self-sufficient. What often remains is less a life of anxiety and more one of loneliness and isolation. The need as an adult is to have the opportunity to feel that you don't have to do everything on your own, to find that people are willing to help, and in your intimate relationships that you are connected, that you share the same vision, that you are working together towards the same goals.
Having someone able to take charge
If you grew up in a chaotic family where no one was really in charge, where the kids often had to fend for themselves, you may have a hunger for having a strong partner who can take over, who is equal to you in your ability to run the show and handle difficult situations. Safety for you comes through that reliability, that teamwork, that sense that someone has your back.
Time to get what you need: So what is it that you need most to feel safe, to stop feeling afraid, to feel that you can let down your guard and lean into your relationship? Can you override those little-kid fears, and do now what you understandably couldn't do with your parents—speak up and say what you need, stop being the martyr, stop walking on eggshells, stop taking what you get? You can, even if you need to take baby steps, even if you need support. What do you have to lose? If not now, when?
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