Feeling physically and emotionally safe is a fundamental human need.
Physical safety is self-explanatory, while emotional safety refers to us feeling emotionally secure, accepted, supported, and free from emotional harm in our relationships and interactions. To keep us safe, our brains are wired such that we have fight/flight/freeze mechanisms that react to perceived danger. Ironically, when these mechanisms kick in, we feel anything but safe.
Despite our innate longing for emotional safety, we also often unwittingly create a false sense of security by resorting to avoidance, withdrawal, or aggression when we feel emotionally threatened. This article aims to shed light on this paradox and explore healthier ways to foster genuine emotional safety.
The Mask of Avoidance
When faced with emotional vulnerability, we often resort to avoidance as a protective mechanism. It can manifest in various ways, such as steering clear of difficult conversations, burying emotions deep within, or distracting ourselves through excessive work, hobbies, or substance use. While avoidance may provide temporary relief, it gives us a false of safety. It hampers genuine emotional connection with others and with ourselves. It perpetuates a cycle of unresolved emotions and prevents us from developing the tools to address and navigate challenging situations without compromising ourselves and our loved ones.
The Shield of Withdrawal
Withdrawal is another common response when we feel emotionally unsafe. It involves emotionally and physically disengaging from relationships, often as a means of self-protection. We may become distant, emotionally unavailable, or isolate ourselves altogether. By withdrawing from hurt or potential hurt, it also hinders communication and intimacy. Relationships suffer, as partners or friends struggle to understand the underlying reasons for the withdrawal, leading to further disconnection.
The Sword of Aggression
In certain circumstances, we adopt aggression as a way to establish a false sense of emotional safety. By becoming the aggressor, we try to regain a sense of control and power, masking our own vulnerability. Aggression can manifest as verbal attacks, gaslighting, manipulation, or even physical violence. While it may momentarily intimidate others, it erodes trust, damages relationships, and perpetuates a cycle of emotional harm. Ultimately, aggression is a misguided attempt to create an illusion of safety that only exacerbates emotional insecurity.
Unveiling Genuine Emotional Safety
Being emotionally safe does not mean being in a state where there are no elements of fear because ultimately, our protective mechanisms will always be on alert, scanning for potential dangers and threats. It is about being scared, angry, and sad, and be okay with that. It is about being openly vulnerable, raw with emotions, and being fiercely human.
True emotional safety requires vulnerability, empathy, and a commitment to open and honest communication. While avoidance, withdrawal, and aggression may offer temporary respite from emotional discomfort, they perpetuate a false sense of security and hinder genuine connection and growth. If we can’t accept nor trust ourselves, it is a tough way to live.