We all need to feel safe, and throughout our lives, there are a variety of places that could be considered as such. Feeling safe affects our wellbeing at every level, from the primal, to the emotional, to the intellectual. For many of us, we don’t often have the opportunity to release our protective barriers, or to relax our emotional suppression; to wear our vulnerability on our sleeves. How often do we truly offer, without condition, to be and to hold that sacred safe space for another?
As a shy kid, and a very observant one, I witnessed the frequent ridicule and shaming of the kids in school that were awkward, a little different, free-spirited, sensitive, or otherwise dared to step outside the bounds of “normal” — an idea that no one really knew anything about, but the group could somehow intuit and thus fashion into a psychological weapon. Interestingly, it was similar for those who were intelligent, well-read, or excelled in brainy subjects. To stand out or to be exceptional in any way, meant to be taking a great risk. Unconscious, predatory group dynamics would take over from there, and if you couldn’t stand up for yourself — if you couldn’t just brush it off, or fall in line — happy misery and confusion, to you.
Kids are cruel, but that’s normal right? I can appreciate that an essential aspect of growing up is learning how to handle all kinds of situations that life throws at us. I would argue, however, that many of us aren’t given the best tools with which to weather the inevitable storms. So, we bow to the pressures, shut down our eccentricities, and force ourselves to conform — at the cost of things that not until years later will we realize we’d risked or repressed.
There are so many false dichotomies in the public school sphere that are rather ridiculous to me, now — all of which were exacerbated by the raging hormones and utter mélange of emotional instability introduced biochemically in the adolescent phase of life. To put it lightly, I didn’t often feel at all safe — safe to be the real me — but I could pretend to. I found ways to remain under the radar, or to blend and fit in. At the time, I certainly didn’t realize I was doing it. I tried dating, but was incredibly awkward and insecure with girls; if I fell, I fell hard! I loved sports, and I was good at them, so that was an easy way to make friends and feel safe. It was completely alright to scores goals, win tournaments, or go for the cup.
In music classes, I would quietly play just well enough not to get noticed, even though my spirit had all sorts of flourishes and ideas that were screaming for expression (even with that damn clarinet; there were already two drummers and a keyboardist). I did let slip some creative nuances once or twice — to the surprising delight of my music teacher — but I nearly imploded into a self-generated singularity when he noticed. Elsewhere, there were usually a few people who were as smart, or worked just a bit harder than me, so I didn’t have to worry about being at the top of the class — a horrible, self-sabotage pattern that would stay with me well into adulthood; the practice of “good enough” would become a constant, unconscious barrier from achieving anything masterfully, or wanting to genuinely get noticed for what I did put out into the world.
Later in life, I grew to really appreciate those who had purposely created safe spaces for the likes of me — those creative, introverted, sensitive, curious, artistic and desperate for ways and means of self-expression — without a lot of external disruption or coercion.
Community theater is one example, which I found to be surprisingly enjoyable. The environment fostered in these creative places is typically very open, supportive and inclusive — and can offer someone opportunities to discover, pickup or develop skills in areas relevant to life outside, in the real world. I highly recommend it, whether you want to be an actor or not. There are many important jobs off-stage, too. I came to it later in life than most. Happily, what I had witnessed was that a lot of children, youth, and adults of all ages had found (and had come to depend upon) somewhere safe to just be themselves — and that is such a critical thing for all of us to have and enjoy.
It’s a precious, powerful thing, this feeling of safety. Once we’re out of the womb, we desire it within all of our relationships. We suffer greatly in search of it, as well, unable perhaps to voice, or to even understand the specific needs that are only ever adequately met through those who can speak our unique languages of love. We often forget just how dramatically we can affect those who come across our path in this life. We aren’t readily aware of someone’s desperate need for any kind of connection within which to normalize and feel human again — and some may indeed find it quite difficult to ask for help. We are all, of course, responsible for defining healthy boundaries and, if necessary, to remove ourselves from unhealthy or dangerous circumstances. Nevertheless, it can’t hurt to be a little more kind, considerate and compassionate in general.
Our corporate, competitive culture has destroyed the nuances and capabilities of feeling anything even remotely regarded as safe. We’re trained to always be on our guard, to hide our true feelings, to sell and promote, convince and cajole; to notice and discern means and methods of gaining advantage. Fierce individualism (among other things) has produced a reality where we’re strangers even to our closest neighbors; lock your doors and windows, and turn on the iPhone-friendly spy-cams! The entire “self-help” era has been in direct response to generations-old maligned energies of business and the academe.
So, here we are, alive in an age of tremendous systemic collapse; ecological, economic, political and social uncertainty, emotional and spiritual recapitulation, and sexual reconciliation. There are innumerable reasons to feel quite unsafe.
Be real. Be patient with yourself, and be communicative and collaborative with your fellow citizens of Earth. This grand theater has a role for us all.