It can be difficult to motivate ourselves to hit the pause button on a fast-paced life in order to feel feelings and wonder what they are telling us about what we need. It can prove especially hard to prioritize this intentional pause for emotions if the feelings are ones we associate with discomfort. But what if we have someone to go to this hard place with us?
We are hard-wired to connect and bond emotionally to one another. Literally, our brain and nervous system—even our skin!—are designed to receive relational inputs in order to survive, be soothed in times of difficulty and ultimately thrive into our most healed, whole and emotionally healthy being. This means the health of our relationships matter. It is in our best interest to be intentional about who we get close to and spend significant time with. It’s wise to pick safe people and be a safe person for others.
Who is a safe person, we may wonder? According to Dr. Henry Cloud, creator of Boundaries.me, a relationship with a safe person provides you the following things:
1. A safe person helps you become the best person you were created to be.
2. A safe person helps you become more connected with other safe people.
3. A safe person helps your spiritual growth and development.
In real life, this is what a safe relationship should feel like:
- A mutual experience of understanding and empathy for one another and expressions that reflect emotion and care.
- A mutual respect and validation of one another’s feelings, needs and ideas, not demanding or expecting that one way is the right way or only way.
- A mutual encouragement of one another’s personal growth, freedom and connection to others.
- Both recognize their individual faults or contributions to relational ruptures, taking responsibility and seeking repair.
- Both work to earn trust, allowing it to grow and solidify from consistent experiences over time.
- Both relate to one another as equals, never operating from a one-up position or one-down position.
- Safe people speak the truth in a loving way that believes the best in the other, confronting as needed, as truth is equally esteemed.
- Safe relationships are life-giving, help sustain emotional equilibrium, and members give equal effort. We find we are better with these safe people in our life instead of wishing that person were not in our life.
“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not.” Shared the late actor Robin Williams. “The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone.”
When we are in relationships with unsafe people or people who cannot or do not attune themselves to our emotional experience, we feel alone even in their midst. This is disappointing!
I certainly understand how scary it can be to let someone in when you’ve been terribly hurt by another. Often it seems easier to go-it-alone, growing broad shoulders that can carry any load independently. Or we may go the other direction: we might let someone in out of sheer loneliness, not out of genuine love or respect for that person. It is all too easy to look to external means—seeking surrogate emotional soothing in substances, pornography, shopping, eating, or working long and hard to distract ourselves—especially when it seems all too hard to grow into a safe and authentic relationship with another. But relationship and connection is really what we need and crave at our deepest level—being seen, felt, known, valued and loved.
Keep looking. Keep risking. Keep inviting. Keep pursuing healing to become your best and safest version of yourself—and if necessary, look for relationships where the getting-together-piece is already done for you: a counseling relationship, a life-coach, a group, a club, a class, etc. Show up honestly as you are so you know you are loved and accepted for who you truly are.
If you have a pet, remember to draw on their companionship and affection, especially when you are lonely. If you are a spiritual person, remember to draw close to what offers you love and acceptance, purpose and meaning. And be sure to remember the life in the great outdoors—oh, how time outside can fill us!
Most of all, don’t forget YOU. If you are disconnected from yourself, that can be some of the most painful loneliness there is. Get to know yourself. How has your story shaped what is important to you? What do you find fulfilling? What do you not enjoy? Learn to be aware of sensations in your body and aware of what they are telling you. Check in and notice where your emotions land. What do you need? Who do you need? Embrace self-compassion and accept your humanity. Actively love yourself so others can follow your lead.
When the time is right and the people are right, you will find yourself developing safe emotional bonds with others. Don’t give up. There are good people out there.