In my blog post Vulnerable Vs. Needy – A Fine Line, I explored how vulnerable it is to share our wants and needs, knowing that the person we expose ourselves to might choose not to honor that want and need. (File under “fear of rejection.”)
In this blog post, I want to dive deeper into this issue and discuss something that’s totally up for me – the issue of safety.
What Makes A Relationship Safe?
In many past relationships, I’ve felt unsafe. What do I mean by that? I’ve been in a physically abusive relationship before, so obviously, that’s an extreme feeling of unsafety. But there’s a more subtle, and in many ways more emotionally damaging, kind of unsafety that’s about not feeling safe to be vulnerable. In those relationships, I couldn’t trust someone to hold my vulnerability without lashing out in hostile, unconscious ways or betraying that vulnerability.
In those relationships, when I opened my heart, it got trampled on. And when I asked to have a need met, it went unmet – time and time again until, as Brené Brown teaches, there were no marbles left in the trust jar.
That’s when I decided that safety was tantamount, that trust was key, and that, at least in my close relationships, I’d choose safety over risk or adventure any day.
So how does safety relate to vulnerability and need? I’ve come to realize that I feel safe when I come to trust that someone will make every effort to meet my needs when I’m brave enough and vulnerable enough to express them. When I feel safe in a relationship, I can give someone a whole lot of space without interpreting that space as distancing or threatening to the relationship. But if – over and over – I express needs that don’t get met, I start feeling unsafe and that leads me to feel insecure and then – lo and behold – I start acting needy.
Security From Within
It makes me wonder where that comes from. I’d like to think that I can always find my center when I ground into my Inner Pilot Light and find security from within. If I’m able to do this, I should be able to avoid getting clingy if someone chooses to meet their own need for space before meeting my need to connect.
Yet, I’m not always so good at that.
So I think I have a tendency to enter into relationships that feel safe, but perhaps I do this at the expense of adventure and risk. Perhaps if I could boost my own internal sense of worthiness and loveability, I’d find it easier to grant people space, even when I’m feeling insecure, especially when I sense that the space they need is not even ABOUT me, that they’re needing space because of their own personal needs, which should always supercede mine.
Permission To Break Your Heart
In my professional life, I definitely haven’t been playing it very safe. If I’d been playing it safe, I’d still be practicing medicine in San Diego, churning through 40 patients a day in exchange for the security of a stable paycheck and a guarantee of lifetime employment.
But in my personal life, I think I’ve tended more towards playing it safe, veering away from relationships that don’t leave me feeling completely secure. Perhaps it’s because the stakes are higher. If I fail to play it safe professionally, it’s really only financial security – and a bit of pride – that I risk. But in my personal life, if I fail to play it safe, it’s my heart.
I’ve written a lot about giving people and animals permission to break your heart (you can read about it here and here and here). Keeping your heart open when it feels threatened feels very unsafe, which is why so many of us armor up when we feel insecure in a relationship. Keeping your heart undefended is the ultimate risk. It’s also the ultimate adventure.
Adventure Vs. Safety
In the past year, I’ve experimented with this new way of being, with resisting the urge to keep myself emotionally safe, either by resisting relationships that leave me feeling insecure, or by refusing to put up vulnerability armor when I’m hurt, or by making myself vulnerable about my wants and needs when I have no guarantee that my needs will be met. This new way of being has opened me to a great deal of adventure and richness in my emotional life.
But it’s come at a price – the cost of safety.
I think it’s worth the risk. After all, I’m taking risks in my professional life that have completely paid off. Why shouldn’t I stop letting fear rule my relationships in the same way I’ve stopped letting fear run my business?
But jeez. Easier said than done. I said to a friend today, “This whole advanced living thing is not for the faint of heart.” Since she’s trying to abide by the same fear-busting principles, she just nodded, knowingly.
Are You Willing To Take Emotional Risks In Relationships?
Tell us your stories about how you play it safe or take risks. Share your wisdom.
Pushing the envelope… again,