What It Means to Feel Safe..

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid

When we hear the word safe, most of us automatically think about the absence of harm or danger. If that is where your mind went, you would not be wrong. Depending on where you live, work or your everyday environment, the need to feel physically safe can be a pressing need and reality. However, physical safety is but one dimension of safety and does not replace the need we all have to feel emotionally or psychologically safe. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (A theory used to explain human motivation), the need to feel safe is one of the most basic human needs. And this need for safety and security must be satisfied before we can focus on other higher order needs for growth and development. The longer the need is unmet, the stronger it becomes, but when the need is met, the hunger /desire goes away.

Having established that we all have a need to feel safe, it is also important to recognize that when people do not feel physically or psychologically safe at work or at home, you will not get the best of them. When we talk about feeling physically safe, we are talking about being in an environment that is free from threats of violence, hazards and anything that can present harm or danger to us as individuals. And while physical safety can be obvious, psychological safety is hidden and more complex to observe. Psychological safety focuses on the emotional and behavioral well-being of individuals in relationships. Because psychological safety is interpersonal, it requires that people feel comfortable expressing themselves around others without fear or risks.

Two Teddy Bears Hugging
Two Teddy Bears Hugging

The Importance of Feeling Safe

Whether it’s at home or at work, feeling safe is also about creating a trusting environment with supportive relationships where people are not distracted by concerns about whether they are valued, or feel threatened that something good in their life will disappear at any moment. In the world of work, psychological safety is key part of working well as a part of a team. When psychological safety exists within a team, team members will openly share their ideas without fear of judgment, feel safer to fail or make a mistake and be their authentic selves without any risk to their jobs. On the other hand, when people on a work team do not feel safe, communication suffers, trust is low, productivity suffers, and the team will not function effectively.

On the personal side, when and where psychological or emotional safety is lacking, this can negatively impact an individual’s mental health and overall well-being.  In that, people who feel unsafe are less likely to express their feelings and thoughts openly because of fear of rejection and are more likely to suffer from increased levels of stress and anxiety. They might also shut down or rely on passive aggressive behaviors to express their feelings. So, when and where people do not feel safe to be themselves and express their feelings and thoughts without being labeled or rejected, this can escalate into toxic communication patterns and relationships.

So, when do you feel most unsafe?

Is it when the zeros in your bank account starts to dwindle?

Is it when you are home alone or walking down a dark street?

Is it when you are experiencing conflict with a supervisor or coworker on the job?

Is it when you’re in danger of losing a loved one or when your relationship with your partner has broken down?

How to Foster Psychological Safety

For me, the need to feel emotionally or psychologically safe probably dates back to difficult early childhood experiences. And today, feeling safe has become a crucial ingredient for me to have lasting, meaningful and successful personal and professional relationships. So, when I join a new team or establish a new personal relationship, I usually communicate my need for frequent, open, and honest communication and feedback to build and maintain healthy relationships and to minimize conflict. On the professional side, the preference for quality communication is due to the fact that I dislike not having information I need to do my job well and my fear that not having information relevant to my role will make me look incompetent and not function effectively. The same is true on the personal side as well. I have found that the absence of open and honest communication creates conflict, reduces trust and forces people to rely on assumptions, wrongly judge and label other people’s action and behaviors. I find all of this to be unproductive, emotionally draining and a big contributor to toxic relationships that are not good for my peace of mind.

So, how do we foster safety in our personal and professional relationships? There is no simple answer to this question. We all deserve to feel safe. The things that trigger you and cause you to feel unsafe might be different from mine and will require different responses. To better understand your triggers, think about a time when you felt safe or unsafe and identify what was happening in that particular situation and how it made you feel. Doing so will help you develop greater self-awareness and improve your ability to avoid the triggers and manage your responses when psychological safety is lacking. Here are a few additional tips for you to consider:

  • Build trust by providing clear, consistent, and transparent information.
  • Work as team to make decisions towards a common goal.
  • Show respect by recognizing and understanding perspectives that differ from your own.
  • Practice resiliency by learning lessons from tough situations and choose to hope and heal.

None of these tips guarantee that we will always feel safe. Being safe is not about never taking risk, never being challenged by new perspectives or never being uncomfortable. Being safe is about feeling secure, feeling protected and feeling you can be responsive―no matter the environment or situation. But we cannot do it alone. We all need people to help us feel safe. So, surround yourself with people that will help you feel safer than not.

Until next time, Remember It’sALearningLife!

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