Safety is a fundamental human necessity. A biological imperative. Any living organism that doesn’t feel safe is liable to act on survival instinct and impulsive reflexes. When people feel safe, they act like people; when they don’t feel safe, they act like animals. Makes sense, yeah?
Ok, so why are so many people out here acting like wildebeests? Does no one feel safe? The fuck is going on?
In The Beginning
As a newborn, I imagine it’s pretty easy to feel unsafe. You’re an immobile, defenseless, non-communicative, little larva. If your parents simply did nothing, it would’ve literally been fatal. Kinda terrifying when you think about it.
The task of parenting is to consistently provide you with a sense of safety, regulate your nervous system, and help you orient to a world you will eventually be able to create your own safety in. Parents feed, clean, comfort, and nurture you so you get a felt sense that the world is safe. Relationships are safe. Having needs is safe. Being yourself is safe.
It’s important to have this baseline experience because eventually you gotta go out into the world and discover how all that shit might not necessarily be true. There are many unsafe people, places, and things out there. But if you’ve been helped to cultivate a safe space within yourself, you’ll be equipped to face the world for a few reasons…
When You Are Well-Equipped
Firstly, you’ll have a point of reference to compare your new experiences to. This will allow you to identify potentially unsafe situations. If you grew up in an abusive home, you might stroll right into an abusive relationship and not even notice the flaming red flags. However, if you believe that safety is the natural order of things, you’ll be less likely to tolerate dysfunctional bullshit, hostility, and aggression.
Secondly, if properly protected by a nurturing attachment figure, you’ll have some idea of how to create this sense of safety for yourself. It will have been demonstrated and modeled for you time and time again. So you will have the knowledge and skills to self-soothe and protect yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.
Thirdly, you’ll have a home base within yourself that you know you can always return to. Your own personal reserve of safe feelings, thoughts, memories, and experiences. This is the heart of self-regulation, something that cannot be transmitted by dysregulated parents.
When You Are Ill-Equipped
The uncomfortable truth, however, is that people are riddled with unresolved trauma, dysfunction, disease, fear, addictions, codependency, self-loathing, resentment, delusion, and all kinds of pathological shit. And you know what they do? They procreate.
So most people don’t grow up with two emotionally attuned, healthy, mature caregivers. Certainly not ideal, but that’s just show business, baby. And when safety isn’t provided to you for whatever reason, you’ll instinctively go looking for it in any one of innumerable ways.
Looking For Safety In All The Wrong Places
What do codependency, hypervigilance, people-pleasing, perfectionism, dissociation, substance and process addiction, sex and love addiction, anxious and avoidant attachment have in common? They’re all maladaptive behavior patterns (trauma responses) whose primary objective is to create a sense of safety.
Let that sizzle in your skillet for a mo.
Control freaks, junkies, narcissists, bleeding hearts — no matter what brand of dysfunction — they are all people who find some element of the human experience utterly intolerable. So they adapt. And the irony is that we tend to blame, shame, and judge people whose unconscious survival strategies differ from our own unconscious survival strategies. Haha, what a silly game!
Where To Find Safety
The truth is, safety isn’t something you find, it’s something you create. And how you do that is entirely up to you.
If you do nothing, the human organism is hardwired to pick some version of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn, and you’ll definitely end up with one of those. This typically happens automatically because a stress response isn’t a conscious decision. It just happens.
But you can also decide to switch up your coping mechanisms anytime you want. I’m gonna be a perfectionist, a workaholic, a hermit, or an elitist. I won’t need anything from anyone. I’ll never be vulnerable again. Dysfunction has more flavors than Baskin-Robbins, so you’ve got plenty of options.
If you want to heal and become whole, however, there’s a process for that.
Human maturation, in many ways, is a chronological process. When something prevents us from hitting developmental milestones, it arrests our development and we remain psychologically stuck there until we get what we need (see Dr. Bruce Perry, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog for more on this).
At the beginning of this article, I described the task of parenting and the results of a job well done. If you did not have this experience growing up (and many people did not), then your wounded child is just tapping its foot and waiting for someone to show up and finish the fucking job.
That someone is you.
Now, I certainly don’t mean to say that you have to figure this whole thing out by yourself. God, no. That’s the quickest route to self-sabotage there is. But with the support of a trustworthy guide (therapist, coach, mentor) and a healing community (not just your random ass high school chums and dysfunctional family members), you can become the nurturing and competent parent you always needed.
This is what the term “re-parenting” means. It’s when you release toxic shame and negative thinking, overturn your limiting core beliefs, and learn to nurture, love, support, and create safety for yourself. It’s literally becoming your own healthy parent figure.
When you feel safe, seen, soothed, and secure — confident in your ability to navigate life with integrity — you won’t need to kick any bad habits or work on any character defects. All your dysfunctional coping strategies will become unnecessary, and in time, just atrophy and fall off.
Easier said than done, obviously. But if you learn to set healthy boundaries with yourself and others, hone your skill for getting your needs met in healthy ways, and cultivate authentic connections with safe and trustworthy people, you’ll be well on your way to creating a peaceful and safe life for yourself.
And when you feel safe, you don’t have to do lizard brain shit anymore.
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