My therapist recently told me that it is not within my power to make other people feel safe and that safety is something we must each create for ourselves. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, lately, especially as it relates to some of my destructive patterns within relationships.
Studies have shown that our feelings of safety are developed when we are very young. If parents manage to create a safe environment for their children and maintain a proper bond with them, those children will eventually come to view the world as a safe place and relate to it as such. (In psychological circles, this is defined as Secure Attachment.) This feeling of safety becomes a core part of who that person is just as solidly as a shell is part of a turtle.
But if we do not have that—if our child selves are not bonded with our caregivers or kept safe by the people who are supposed to keep us safe—we never develop this core sense of safety. As adults, biologically driven by the need to feel safe, we spend our lives searching for it, trying on this relationship and that relationship, this environment and that environment, this new thing and that new thing, all in an effort to find safety in the same way a shell-less turtle might try to squeeze himself into a conch shell. But the thing about turtles is that they don’t belong in conch shells. Turtles belong in turtle shells, and turtle shells are grown, not found.
And this is where things get hard. Because whenever I experience pain or fear or any emotions I deem negative, those feelings hit my soft turtle parts where I’m lacking a protective safe place. My response to this is most often to reach out to those closest to me, begging them to change their actions, meet my needs, do this, do that, go here, don’t go there, say it this way, do it that way, in short: FIX IT. But the thing is: everything anyone does to “fix it” is like squeezing a turtle into a conch shell. It might give me the illusion of safety, but in the end it just won’t work. There are always parts left uncovered, and no matter how many shells are found and no matter how many ways they are configured, nothing—not one single thing anyone ever does—will ever work. Because at the end of the day, the only safe place that will ever truly protect me is the one I create myself.
And this is work that only I can do. This is work that is done through allowing myself exposure to the things that scare and cause me pain, dealing with my own emotions, learning how to self-regulate, creating personal boundaries, developing healthy coping skills, learning effective ways to communicate, etc. And as I do each of these things, moment by moment, day by day, I grow a little bit of shell. And then a little more. Until one day, I have a safe place that I can take with me anywhere I go that will give me the security I want so much, no matter what life brings my way.
Others may be able to help with this process, and support should certainly be sought along the way, but ultimately only I can create my own safe place.
This is my work.