What Would It Be Like If You Felt Safe?
Updated: May 3, 2020
I watched a man and woman practicing martial arts at the dojo the other day. The man, slightly bigger and surely stronger than the woman, blocked her punch, then maneuvered in close enough to throw her to the floor. The technique concluded with him delivering a series of mock strikes to her face as if to break the nose or render her unconscious.
What struck me about this pair was not the proficiency of their skills, but the trust they demonstrated. As the man swept her leg and dropped her onto her back, she had no fear, and in fact almost looked bored at times. Once she began commenting on his accuracy and continued talking, making a suggestion as to how he might better control her body, even as she fell. And when he delivered the final strikes that came within millimeters of her eyes and nose, she just waited, confident she'd be ok.
As they switched and she then began to throw him to the floor with the same confidence she'd demonstrated before, it occurred to me how safe she felt. As they moved through these well-practiced and choreographed movements, sometimes hitting each other in the throat or perhaps the solar plexus, neither were afraid. They knew they were safe. I watched things go a little wrong, sometimes missing the targets, or hitting a little too hard, only to laugh it off and keep going.
"What would it be like," I wondered, "if we went through life like that, knowing we are safe? That no matter what we are going to be ok?" I think of this a lot as I work with my patients. So much of the anxiety they suffer comes from a place of believing they are 'not safe.' Not safe physically, emotionally, or even spiritually at times, and it generates a tremendous amount of fear.
So what would it be like to believe you are safe? Not safe in terms of promising nothing bad will ever happen - no one can promise that. And in fact working so hard to ensure this is part of what creates such fear. It's the notion that we must see every angle, anticipate for every possibility, and have a plan to protect ourselves at all times that keeps us awake at night.
When we hold the belief that 'bad things happening' is intolerable or too painful to manage, we seek to minimize risk by attempting to control all the variables. For example, I need you to like me so you will accept me. I must keep you close because I believe abandonment creates a loneliness I simply can not bear. I fear I would be crushed by the pain of it and might not find my way out. When this is how I feel about relationships, I work very hard to make sure you like me. I worry about what clothes I wear and how you perceive me. I pre-plan all my conversations to make sure I say the right things and do not offend. I replay old conversations too, analyzing everything to understand what I did wrong, vowing never to do it again.
I am hypervigilant to your every mood, checking first to see where you're at emotionally before I can let my guard down. Most times I am too afraid to tell you 'no' or express how I feel because you might not agree. When I struggle to be honest about my needs and feelings, I sometimes try to manipulate you into doing what I need, and rarely have the confidence to just ask for it. Because in the end I fear you will abandon me in some way, and I might not survive that. And so the cycle of trying to get you to like or love me circles on and on.
What if though, I knew that no matter what I'd be ok - how would that change things? If I trusted that even in the worst-case scenario I'm still 'good', would I still feel the need to plan for every outcome? If I believed that although it would be painful to be alone I'd survive it, would it change the amount of fear I feel or my ability to be honest? If I recognized I am a good person and still have worth and value regardless of the situation, does it affect my confidence in different situations? Would it change how I talk and interact with you? Would it change what I think about as I get ready in the morning or as I fall asleep at night?
The woman in the dojo trusted that she was safe. She knew that even as he threw her to the floor she was going to get up and walk away. What if you trusted in that too? Trusted that no matter what comes your way, you will be ok; you will live, you will love, you will laugh and find peace again, and that in the end, all will be well. What would that be like?