emotional safety. what it is and how to find it.

I facilitated an interesting session this week that has me thinking about emotional safety.  I think we as a human race can get stuck in an ugly place with this concept.  I’ve read posts that talk about students requiring special rooms on college campuses (ok, that was a spoof, but not far from reality) safe words and edited content.  We’ve gone far beyond banning books to banning concepts.  We don’t know how to handle conflicting viewponts so we avoid, blame, and sue.

What exactly is emotional safety?  And more importantly, how do we achieve it?  Emotional safety is self trust.  When we are able to trust our instincts and given space to grow and learn from mistakes, then we are able to develop trust in our gut.  We can be aware of our emotions and feel free to share them with others.  Emotional safety is not the absence of uncomfortability, embarassment or fear.  It is being able to hold and experience all of those “yucky” emotions in an allowing space.

How do we achieve that?  Sometimes achievement can be difficult in a walking-on-eggshells society where we don’t know who might be offended if we share our opinion or try something different.  We have so many rules and expectations that must be met NOW.  We’ve put these standards in place so as not to offend anyone and in the end we end up feeling so confused and fearful we don’t even know what bathroom to go in.

The group I worked with this week truly opened my eyes to the gravity and importance of emotional safety.  They identified their anxiety and linked it directly to the fact that they are so used to functioning in a world full of rules that when they were placed in a situation where they had none they didn’t know what to do and they freaked out. They lacked self trust.  They relied so much on  being given the answers (or being corrected)that they didnt initially think to look inside themselves for the answers (they had them).  The horses helped them move from a place of emotional insecurity to one of increased group and self trust as the session progressed.  They gained individual insights, growth, and learning.

The larger metaphor can be applied to so many areas of our society from education to parenting to public bathroom disputes to foreign relations.  We must find a balance, a sense that we can be safe being ourselves.  We need to interact with each other in a way that encourages individuality, but more importantly, development of emotional safety fom within.  Allowing ourselves to experiment, make mistakes, trust our gut, be present and grow in wisdom.  Developing emotional safety in children will leave us with a next generation of adults that excel not only in school, but in life.  Developing it within ouselves and our work place teams will open new doors to creativity and invention.  Developing emotional safety in our culture will create an environment of acceptance and peace

How do we make such a change? Change starts fom within.  Start to be kinder and softer on yourself.  Spend more time being in the moment and less time worrying.  Reconnect with your gut and trust yourself.  This takes work, effort and focus.  Build outward.  Approach others with compassion and softness, allowing them the opportunity trust themselves, to think critically and grow.  Apply an environment of true emotional safety to work teams and small group policies.  Build it into the framework of your organization and it will spread.

The horses model this so well.  Every horse has a place in the herd and they lift each other up rather than build walls and write rules to tear each other down.  In the pasture there is only one unwritten rule.  Respect.  Respect for self and respect for the herd.


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