How Can We Feel Safe in This World?

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Each of us learned strategies as children that help us feel safe and comfortable. I learned to avoid in my family. My role was peacekeeper, soother, distracter, chameleon. I would do anything to keep things from overheating.

Maybe this resonates with you because you do the same thing. Or maybe you think of another family member as you read this.  Many families have a peacekeeper. When this is your role, you become adept at sensing heated emotion and have likely developed many strategies to diffuse other people’s high emotion so you’re more comfortable. Peacekeepers like me are struggling these days.  Conflict is inescapable. How many of you weeded your social media feeds so you mostly see content that is agreeable to you? This is because conflict is uncomfortable for people like us.

While I thrive in keeping the heat down, others thrive in stoking the coals. They get the same sense of OK-ness from jabbing or challenging I get from calming things down. In their childhoods, these behaviors were reinforced, just as my peacekeeping was reinforced. They are both strategies we use to feel safe.

When I help to reduce people’s tension, the world seems safer for me. For others stirring things up and getting noticed for it makes their world seems safer. It seems kind of crazy that such wildly different behaviors can produce the same outcome, but they do.

Maybe what divides us today is that some of us feel safe with calm and some of us feel safe with turmoil. I am a turmoil avoider. I am a rule follower. Others feel strong when protesting or disregarding the rules. These coping strategies are learned early in our lives in our families. Did following the rules in your family bring you a sense of belonging, or did challenging the rules get you the attention you needed?

The world is a difficult place now. These two very different ways of managing our needs are at war. For me, the world feels dangerous. Some days, my angst feels overwhelming. I work hard to be in the moment, but it is transient, and then I am back to worrying about the future or ruminating about how we got here. I have noticed that my angst is worst when my mind is not engaged in something that demands my attention.  I am grateful for my work. It absorbs me, restores me, and provides me with a sense of efficacy. I can help people to feel better. It reminds me that I do matter and that my view of the world is important and helpful.

What soothes you? What lets you know you matter? What distracts you from the contentious chaos of our society? Hopefully, you have cultivated new safe ways during the pandemic to fill the “invisible bucket in your heart,” in the words of my kindergarten-age grandson. Perhaps laughing at a funny meme, or hearing a favorite song deepens your breathing. If you are struggling to access these moments, your body is probably in hyper-alert mode and could use help settling down. Try this: put your right hand in your left armpit with your palm over your heart.  Now take your left hand and reach across and hold your right upper arm.  It is like you are giving yourself a hug. Now squeeze for few seconds, taking a deep breath, and release. Notice your calmer body. Tell yourself you are okay.

Fill your buckets!! Don’t overlook your needs during these difficult times. Calm your bodies and help yourself feel safe in the moment. It will help you get through these challenging times.

3 Responses

  1. Laurie Elery Anderson

    Enjoyed this very much. It seems I am a lot like you as I always followed the rules, did well in school, always wanting to please my parents, and always try to avoid conflicts and still do to this day. Unfortunately, my parents marriage was not a real happy one and they divorced my senior year (he passed in 1989). My dad was a hard working, self-employed landscaper, who was also an alcoholic. He worked very hard to provide for 5 kids but was not always in the moment. My mom was a former teacher but did not work until after they divorced. She was very supportive as a band booster, chaperone on field trips and Brownie/Girl Scout activities. I used to cry myself to sleep when they would argue/fight as my dad could be mean. He took a belt to my brother when he snuck out a bedroom window in high school. He also could not control my older troubled sister (now deceased) and threw his dinner on the floor one night. These incidences scared me and I always wanted to keep peace.

    I avoid conflicts as much as possible. And in today’s world, that does mean deleting FB friends who are throwing their hate out there, all while claiming to be Christians. Today’s toxic environment is only because of one terrible person who somehow became President 5 years ago. People now feel emboldened to spew their hate, ignorance and intolerance. My own brother defriended me a few years ago and rarely see him. He told us he wants nothing to do with us liberals and cannot stand to be around us. How very sad is that?! But that is where we are I guess….

  2. Connie

    So, true, Ellen. I have stopped following many friends on fb who are loud in their opinions whether they are like minded or opposite of mine. I still maintain the friendship. I don’t need to see the trash talk. They also seem to have this obsessive need to repeat it over & over & over. I think, “okay, I Know your opinion, I am smart, I get it, you don’t have to keep repeating yourself. I got it the first time”. It seems that the turmoil makers have this trait.
    I got the best advice from a psychiatrist I worked with in the 80’s in a pain management center. He declared that the “P” word was not to be used in the clinic. We all knew that if you we weren’t in pain, you wouldn’t be there. I have carried that advice through my work & home life. It helps, I redirect the topic(I’m a peacemaker, too) when around those who stir up issues. Works about 90% of the time.

    Thanks for you insightful blog!❤

  3. Linda Rosenbaum

    I really enjoyed reading this. We all have such different coping mechanisms. Our eldest son seems to thrive under stress and pressure. I guess that helps him with being a terrific attorney.
    I am a people pleasure. A peace maker. I do think I need to work on this. It is very exhausting.
    Thank you, Ellen!