A sense of safety in a relationship is the foundation that creates the ability to connect, to be intimate, to relax into the sense of oneness that a mutual affinity and healthy attachment can foster. This experience of oneness is our birthright, and to have a sense of what serve as portals to this feeling of deep connection has me place “safety” at the top of the list. Creating safety for another is born from functionality, and functionality is born from a maturity in the people involved in relating. So it is safe to say that any energy put into developing aspects of ourselves that warrant attention to development (aka maturing) is worth its weight in gold—for the personal peace that it provides, but also for the deep intimacy that it makes available in our relationships.
The connection that safety fosters, as I define it, is the experience of the divine—or the direct sensual, physical, emotional, intellectual, and energetic experience of god. The more we grow in maturity, the more functional our relationships are; therefore, the more we’ll be able to have the experience of “touching god”—with ourselves and with each other—while in human form. Outside of cultivating our growth and maturity, we simply don’t have as much access to relational versions of these experiences of god. And that creates a tragic missing-out in life … because we were born and built physiologically, biochemically, and neurobiologically to connect!
Also, what a sense of safety offers so beautifully is a regulation of the nervous system. So many of us have traumas that are begging to be healed, and specifically healed in relationship. One of the goals of trauma recovery work is the moving toward our area of resilience, where we are neither too activated (over-aroused) nor too “deadened” or flat (under-aroused). Somewhere hovering right in the middle where we are both able to come down from the red zone (to regulate), and come up and out from the freezing or numbing (healthfully re-activate or re-enliven from the collapse or depression we find ourselves in for having been in the red for too long, where we often go after too much time in chronic stress or arousal): This is the zone many of us seek as the ideal goal to dwell in.
There is no better starting point for this journey than to find ourselves in an environment across from someone with whom we feel safe. The following are qualities to foster or cultivate toward this end of creating deep safety for someone with whom we are in relationship. So many of these qualities intermingle with each other when they are working on all cylinders. The more often we exhibit and evidence these behaviors, the more safety we create for another, and the more opportunity we have to experience healing and light, together.
- Predictability – our fight or flight or freeze vigilance can rest when we know what to expect.
- Warmth – consistent warmth fosters a strong bond, as opposed to just glimpses of warmth mixed with coldness.
- Non-judgment – it doesn’t mean we don’t have a take on something, it just means we let someone share their humanity, and many aspects and parts of who they are with us (although not of the destructive acting-out variety, of course).
- Discernment – especially around our ability to separate behavior from the core of who they are (i.e., some behaviors simply might not work, but who they ARE is loved.)
- Empathy – the ability to feel into the emotions someone else is experiencing.
- Moderation – this quality springs forth very naturally as we mature. It also happens to create a sense of solidity and safety with people, as bouncing between extremes can feel emotionally and physically dangerous and draining.
- Kind but firm boundaries – the ability to set kind limits fosters a sense of containment and organization for someone. This limits the chaos—which can be terrifying—and brings in the assurance of parameters that help someone be vulnerable. It also models the agency born from when someone has enough self-knowledge to know what their limits actually are. Boundaries are in place, ideally, around our thoughts, feelings, body, and sexuality. When functional, these boundaries also are in place around that which is within us as well, and what we choose or choose not to do behaviorally, with what we say, or how we act, etc.
- Consciousness – a commitment to cultivating a sense of spirit fosters other qualities like: faith, trust, abundance, well-timed surrender (aka knowing when to keep at something, and knowing when to let go, etc). It also connotes a humility and open-heartedness, which invites a softening in most people. For those of us who were in charge of “holding the consciousness in the room” as our role in a family system, this can be particularly relieving as well—knowing we are not alone and someone else is holding up the light along with us.
- Track-ability – the muscle that allows us to follow what someone is saying, and mirror it back accurately to the person across from us—so they feel seen and heard and understood (aka loved). It also helps someone feel less alone in their own perceptions.
- Validation – this follows the ability to track someone, and is a generous offering that allows the person across from you to feel supported, accepted, and recognized. This process of validation in no way requires the “offerer” to agree with what is said—just to offer up the fact that what is being shared makes sense. This creates a particular kind of safety that is a true balm for those of us who have been across from some crazy-making people in our past.
- Awareness – there is a sense of trust that is fostered when in the presence of someone who is committed to awareness or mindfulness, whether it be of subtleties in emotion, or environment, or gestures, or sensations within the body. They don’t miss much—both in themselves and in you—and can allow the part of us that is “on guard” to drop our arms, so to speak, in that it is not “all up to us” to hold the awareness for both people.
- Reliability and accountability – separately and together, they create trust and foster respect and fondness toward the person offering them. This elicits an appreciation for the follow-through of accountability and reliance, as it is very relaxing to the nervous system.
- Attunement – having this kind of energetic and emotional connection with another can create a sense of being known, loved and “looked out for,” which offers great peace.
- Presence – offering your full presence to another is bringing your FULL being to your listening or beholding. It also happens to be, in my opinion, the most deeply loving act out there.
- Sensitivity – being delicate, thoughtful and considerate in our interactions—even if we don’t always get it “right”—implies that we have a deep care for another person. And it shows them that their well-being is very important to us.
- Humor – lord knows the chuckle or the laugh has to be considerately placed, but when offered as a cosmic giggle—in the “isn’t-it-hard-to-be-human-sometimes” kind of way, when the epicenter of the experience is entering into its denouement phase—it is precious. And there are times when humor can soften the intensity of even the most harrowing of blows.
- Integrity – knowing the person across from you has a value system that you relate to, and that they measure their movements against it as they go through life, allows you to trust their choices, including the ones that involve you.
- Wisdom – with guidance, affirmation, and limit-setting being some of the most important things to offer a young growing child, it would make sense that wise guidance would be something that could allow those of us being supported at any age or stage of life to relax into knowing that across from us we have someone connected to a deep wisdom, should we need feedback about any blind spots or support in any form.
- Protectiveness – knowing someone has an undercurrent of contained momma bear energy or paternal protectiveness gives us a sense that we are safe physically as well as emotionally, and can heal many number of wounds around having been neglected or abandoned in our past. Protectiveness is not someone who goes off the rails and over-reacts on our behalf, however. An important distinction to make. Discernment would allow the “volume” of the protection needed, case by case, to be assessed, as well as what form the protection would ideally take.
- Social and emotional intelligence and grace (aka good manners) – knowing someone has this political and social consideration, and can maneuver within different or challenging interactions, lets us know that we don’t have to be the one to course correct, oversee, do damage control, or clean up messes. This allows us to rest into the security of knowing there is someone next to us who can be trusted in the driver’s seat in those moments when we might need to be in the passenger seat.
- A lack of resistance to feeling feelings – nothing will stop a sense of safety more quickly in its tracks than someone not allowing or having an aversion to certain feelings. Popular ones that people run from are: anger, sadness, grief, depression, fear, anxiety, even exuberant joy, among others. Allowing space for someone to feel these feelings all the way through sends a message of profound compassion and deep wisdom, and welcomes a true inquiry and investigation as a team. There is nothing more healing than that, especially with those feelings we were told as children—or as adults!—that we simply “aren’t allowed to feel.”
- Spaciousness – that there is room for all parts of your humanity to be (again, not “acted-out ” but rather, space held for them). That none are excluded in the exchange: practical, emotional, physical/somatic (of the non-sexual or no-touch variety, and only when appropriate and on your terms), spiritual, intellectual, and sexual—and all when appropriate. Where there is room for all parts of your humanity to be supported and the sense of your whole self being safe, including the boundaries and pacing you have around each.
- Curiosity/gentle inquiry – this quality of “noticing,” and even deeper still, the capacity to gently peek under the hood, when given the green light, to get to the core hurt or core truth in the deepest part of the person’s heart across from you. Not fueled by any other agenda than exploring and finding any truth that can deepen the bond between you and the other person, or the agenda of facilitating the bond the person across from you has with their own selves. This is a very generous offering. And in certain contexts, when this exchange is mutual, can yield sweet awakenings to self.
- Consistency in all the above – all of the above don’t register or count for much if they are evidenced only intermittently, or only once, and then dropped. The ongoing evidencing of the above qualities allows for a real “dropping in” for the receiver, where the business of true healing and love can begin in earnest.
May we both receive and offer these above qualities in our lives more and more every day. May these qualities serve as a beacon and a guiding force on our journey toward safety, connection, healing, and calm for and from each other. And in so doing, may they inspire in others what is possible beyond what we may have experienced in the past.