Are we "together together"? Emotional Safety
Hello Beautiful People!!!
"Your flaws are perfect for the heart that's meant to love you"-Trent Shelton
To love and be loved. Love, acceptance, respect, to be desired, security, passion, are all things we may want in a relationship. There are certainly others and each person has specific desires. What I want to focus on here is the aspect of emotional safety in relationships. How we feel in terms of safety may have more than a thousand factors from our history with parents, childhood friends, social construct, attachment style, heartbreak, and the influence of movies and books or our belief system narratives. It doesn’t matter the source, we can notice their manifestations in our own actions and in-actions if we are aware.
Aside from the basic survival instincts in our biology that generate fears, we develop another layer of emotional safety or insecurity in our social relationships. Two major belief system factors are the fear of being alone, and criticism from our partner. In my experience, we women are more alert to the issue of being alone, while men more fear criticism from their partner. While being “alone” might trigger associated hurtful emotions of feeling rejected or not wanted, it is also influenced by the biological history of humans surviving better in community tribes than on our own in the wild. In any case, to feel secure we will have to overcome these historical patterns in our beliefs and nervous system either way. In short, there are multiple factors as to why we might feel unsafe in our relationship, and what we need to work through to create a feeling of safety.
One challenge is that the feeling of “safe” is sometimes generated from opposing dynamics, and this can create conflict.
First, let’s understand some of the aspects that create a feeling of safety in a relationship. A man’s unconditional acceptance of a woman means that there is no judgment and criticism. She can communicate honestly, be herself, and feel emotionally safe. There are also physical and financial factors that can appeal to a woman’s sense of safety. Sometimes a woman will trade one of these comforts for another in her relationship. Sometimes her history with men, or because of experiences growing up, she will develop a belief system that inhibits her from feeling really safe. Putting that aside here, for now, let’s talk about the relationship dynamic itself.
A confident man creates a feeling of trust with a woman.
A woman will feel emotionally safe with a man who is emotionally available, honest, trustworthy, and authentic. These are emotional character strengths she can respect and admire in a man. A man of character and emotional depth is a man who knows who he is and likes himself. His love for himself is so strong he does not need to gain the acceptance of others by trying to be something he is not. His strength is not physical so much as it is in the clarity of his mind and emotions. These are character strengths that a woman not only admires but feels safe with. He is not a weak man that will bend to the whims of other people. He doesn’t have buried emotional wounds that vent repressed emotions, or a fragile ego that feels attacked when he is asked questions. She can trust him to be who he is. I describe this kind of man as being in his emotional integrity.
A woman feels safe if she believes the relationship is going somewhere.
A different factor for women that creates safety is her trust that the relationship is solid and will work out. It is wasteful to invest her time with someone that may be gone soon. You want to know if your prospective partner has the capacity and willingness to match you for a deeper emotional commitment.
There is also the fear that if after getting emotionally invested in a man there will be a break-up. It makes sense for us to wonder where the relationship is going. Sometimes a woman wants to be “safe” from the potential pain of a broken heart. She wants to avoid the emotions associated with being alone. This kind of safety is really about protecting herself from the painful emotions that come from a break-up and being alone. When a man is distant emotionally or physically from her, it may bring up feelings of loneliness, or fear of a break-up.
The desire for closeness is from our emotional integrity but can also be from fear
A woman’s desire to be in close companionship with a partner can come from her emotional integrity. The desire to spend time with a partner to have fun and create together can be completely authentic. When in her emotional integrity the sense of safety she feels is normal because together they are a stronger force than if she were alone. She is out of her emotional integrity when her motivation for time together is for protection from fears of being alone.
A woman in her emotional integrity is free to ask for what she wants, and that includes spending time with her partner.
Giving up limiting fear-based beliefs
It only looks impossible if we limit our options to the impulsive strategies of control. If we are to find happiness in our relationships it will require dissolving the beliefs and assumptions that create painful fears and controlling behaviors. We will have to seek an emotional solution beyond what the mind offers as safety from fear. What if there was another way?
In a conscious relationship, where both partners are committed to growing out of their childhood beliefs and past relationship baggage you have other options. It involves the bold, and liberating act of sharing with your emotions and thoughts in a way that is without judgment of yourself, or them. Making a full disclosure puts your fears and thought out there in front of your partner and will feel vulnerable. It will also be liberating from the effort you spend hiding them and compensating for them. To do this you will need to set up a safe communication practice and trust. You will need to meet each other in a way that is accepting of this process of emptying out your baggage, not in an effort to control your partner, but so that you can unburden and free yourself from it. The purpose of this honest communication is to help identify and break the beliefs and emotions trapping you in drama or better yet, trauma.
Great Love in Relationship is present when there is no fear.
The fears of being alone are coupled with assumptions and other associated beliefs. Those beliefs usually involve not being good enough, unworthy, self-rejection, and other people rejecting us. This is the painful emotion that people are seeking protection and safety from. These beliefs are lies that we carry in our relationship baggage. There have been many times when we have been alone and been happy. We have just learned to associate being alone with lonely, and then with misery. When core beliefs of self-rejection are dissolved there is no longer fear of being alone and there is ample room for self-acceptance and self-love. Changing beliefs also eliminates the need and behavior of being controlling to your partner. Great Love thrives in the absence of fear.
When our body and mind experience safety, our social engagement system enables us to collaborate, listen, empathize, and connect, as well as be creative, innovative, and bold in our thinking and ideas. This has positive benefits for our relationships as well as our lives in general. Some people get turned off by the idea of prioritizing safety in their relationship because they equate a “safe” relationship with a “boring” one, but it turns out that the secure relationship we all long for is cultivated best when we feel safe.
When you don’t feel safe in a relationship, your focus shifts from connection to protection.
Instead of turning towards your partner, you’re turning inward or turning away in an attempt to avoid a sense of increasing danger.
And relationship safety is often misunderstood. We tend to oversimplify the state; believing that as long as physical threats are not present, there is no reason to not feel safe (yet there are many ways that we can feel emotionally unsafe in relationships). Additionally, we often dismiss or misinterpret feeling a lack of safety in a relationship. We may chalk it up to our own insecurities or blame it on anxiety arising from within.
You also may be unintentionally behaving in a way that lessens your partner’s sense of safety in the relationship. And so that disconnect or tension that you may sense could be their attempt to protect themselves.
What does a relationship void of emotional safety look like?
Not knowing what to expect from day to day or moment to moment.
A hesitancy to initiate affection or intimacy because of a pattern of rejection.
Biting your tongue out of a fear of the repercussions of speaking your truth.
Your emotions being mocked or dismissed.
Always being asked to change your appearance or demeanor in order to be accepted.
A feeling of walking on eggshells because of repeated emotional outbursts or unexpected and over-the-top reactions.
Intimacy and connection are used as both reward and punishment – if you’re “good,” you get attention and if you’re “bad,” it’s withheld.
A feeling that you have to put on a front or hide certain aspects of yourself in order to avoid rejection or ridicule.
Your partner frequently threatens to leave or divorce.
What Characteristics Make People Feel Safe in a Relationship?
Your partner doesn’t hit you, hold you down or use their body to intimidate you. You don’t expect a physical altercation and you don’t flinch when they reach towards you. If you are hurt or ill, they will attend to your physical needs. If you reach towards them, they accept your touch. Any physical rejection is done with kindness and not blame or shame and sexual activities are never forced or coerced.
You generally know what to expect from your partner and your relationship. Their actions and reactions are familiar and somewhat predictable. Additionally, except in extreme cases, emotional responses are not over-the-top and are appropriate for the situation.
You feel like you can be you. The real you. You don’t feel like you have to hide or pretend in order to be accepted. You can speak the hard truths without fear of overreaction or detonation. You also trust that your partner is revealing their true nature and that they are not holding back anything of importance. An authentic relationship is not always happy, but it’s also not hiding anything.
You can be weak without fear of being taken advantage of. You can reveal your fears and insecurities without ridicule or emotional blackmail. You feel like it’s okay to not be okay and that a temporary state will not become a permanent point of contention.
You feel listened to. Valued and valuable. Your partner doesn’t try to change you or frequently compare you to others. Criticisms are aimed at your behaviors rather than at your core self. They accept you as you are, not as they want you to be. Any requests or encouragement towards change is both fair and approached with your wellbeing in mind.
The Link Between Relationship Safety and Anxiety or Insecurity
Our primary relationships often set the tone for the rest of our experiences. We expect to be able to come home and relax our guard, to be authentic without the risk of excess judgment or the fear of being taken advantage of. To be our best, we need our relationships to be our stable ground from which we grow into the rest of our lives.
And so when the home is more unpredictable wobble board than the sanctuary, the effects extend outwards. Much like an infant with an insecure attachment to a parent shows less confidence in exploring the world, an adult that doesn’t feel safe in their primary relationship may hesitate to take risks or be prone to excess worry.
Of course, not all anxiety or insecurity is relationship-based. Yet if your symptoms increase when you’re around your partner or are primarily present at home, this may the root cause of your stress. Also, pay attention to a lasting sense of “walking on eggshells.” This feeling is common during times of stress or transition, but if it continues, it indicates that you are afraid of triggering a reaction.
Often people are surprised when they feel calmer and more confident when a significant relationship ends. But it’s not surprising at all when they never felt safe within that relationship.
How Past Betrayal and/or Abandonment Impact Relationship Safety
Part of the trauma of both betrayal and abandonment is that they destroy any sense of safety. And those effects are lasting, even following you into a new relationship. This is especially true if you felt safe and secure until the moment you realized that the firm ground was instead an illusion crafted to keep you unsuspecting.
A sense of safety is related to trust, yet it is also its own domain. Trust comes down to believing that your partner’s actions align with their words. Safety also relies on a sense of consistency and acceptance. And both obviously suffer after betrayal or rejection.
If you have experienced this kind of relationship trauma, it will be some time before you feel steady again, no matter how secure your footing. Part of the healing process is learning what is a true danger and what is merely a malfunctioning alarm.
The Limitations of a Safe Relationship
There is no such thing as a fail-proof relationship. It is impossible to be involved with another person and never feel hurt or disappointed. Feeling safe in a relationship does not mean that your emotions will never be bruised. Instead, it comes down to trusting that your partner will never internally seek to harm you and if they do misstep, they will take responsibility for their part in the transgression.
The Powerful Benefits of Feeling Safe in a Relationship
Safety is a primary need. Without a sense of safety, much of your energy is extended towards being ready to run, hide, or fight if needed. And when that need is met, your energy is freed towards growth and you feel securely anchored enough to take risks in other areas.
When at their best, our relationships give us both the firm ground on which to stand and the encouragement to extend beyond our perceived limitations.