Do You Come From an “Unsafe Home”?
(Four ways to help you feel safe in the world)
You can check my article published on Brainz Magazine: https://www.brainzmagazine.com/post/do-you-come-from-an-unsafe-home-four-ways-to-help-you-feel-safe-in-the-world
In my last article “Do you Feel a Lack of Safety in the World? - Understanding What is Emotional and Psychological Safety”, I explained in detail what emotional unsafety is, the symptoms of feeling unsafe, why it matters, and what it really feels like to feel safe. I would like to use this article to further explain the impact unsafety has on us and some specific and practical ways to become safer.
Why do some people feel safer than others?
It is my observation that people who are more likely to feel safe in the world tend to come from families in which they feel safe, understood, seen and supported by their parents. In other words, they come from a safe home. A safe home refers to safe relationship between family members. Safe relationships mean that the interaction between members is characterised by respect, acceptance, good boundaries and authentic expression. That is to say that you can be yourself without needing to put on a mask in these relationships.
Psychologist Donald Winnicott is known for his emphasis on “holding environment” and “good enough mother”. He emphasises the importance and influence of a maternal environment on the formation of an infant’s personality and temperament. I resonate with this view, although I think both parents play a vital role in providing a safe and nurturing environment. We should not ignore the role of fathers and assume that parenting is only the responsibility of mothers.
Clients come to my counselling room for a variety of different reasons. For example, depression, anxiety, family conflict, intimate relationship challenges, eating problems, lack of confidence, and so on, but they share a common trait: a lack of safety in the world. It is not uncommon that they might come from an unsafe home. Lack of safety is baked into them, which leads to a lack of safety and trust in many aspects of their adult’s lives for a long time.
What are the signs of an “unsafe home”?
An unsafe home does not allow you to talk, feel and trust:
In these unsafe homes, children are not allowed to talk about real family problems and there is an element of denial of the neglect, abuse or mental illness. Children are not allowed to feel and express their feelings. If they do, the parents will dismiss, deny and invalidate their feelings, so children often feel further confused and fall into self-doubt after seeking parental confirmation. In these unsafe homes, children are not able to develop a sense of trust, they tend to either feel very anxious or become numb, they do not know which brick will fall and when or where because unsafe homes tend to be very unpredictable and chaotic.
How does an “unsafe home” and its associated sense of unsafety affect you in your adult life?
Coming from an unsafe home environment can have a bigger impact on a person’s adult life than you can imagine. Some people who come from unsafe homes, simply do not know that they feel unsafe or that their relationship is harmful, because unsafety has become the most familiar feeling and a daily part of their lives.
The effects of growing up in an unsafe home
Since parents are not dependable, children coming from unsafe homes do not experience their parents as reliable and trustworthy. In the worst scenario, they experience abandonment and betrayal in their relationship with their parents, which leads them to having a difficulty trusting others later in their adult lives.
Their inner compass for safety could get very damaged, so they find it hard to discern which people and circumstances are safe and which are not. They might unconsciously expose themselves to unsafe environments and people, and fail to protect themselves when they can, just like what their parents did.
The result of distrust is the need to learn to be self-sufficient. I have a client who tells me that she feels good about being self-sufficient and she is proud of herself. I am also proud of her, but there was a sadness and bitterness behind this pride. I know her independence had been shaped in part by a childhood experience in which she had no one to rely on. She had no other choice but to be self-sufficient, even to this day.
Due to unsafe experiences in interactions with primary caretakers, normally with parents, fear of intimacy often occurs with people who come from unsafe homes. It is not that they do not want to be closer to other people. On the contrary, due to the lack of support and safety in childhood, they desperately want and need love. However, they are afraid that once they open their hearts and fully let someone in, they will be met with neglect, betrayal, abandonment and all kinds of hurt they have experienced before.
At the end of the day, an unsafe relationship with parents leads to issues of trust, which leads to the fear of being close and intimate with others.
If you grew up in an unsafe home, this would set you up for fight or flight response in your Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) because of a perceived danger or threat. An overactive SNS can cause many health problems, which leads to more stress on the emotions.
Four ways to meet your safety needs in the world
One of the best techniques that therapists use to reduce the stress of unsafety is safe space visualisation. I use it in my practice to help clients soothe their anxiety and fear by imagining a peaceful, safe place where they can truly relax.
Traumatic experience affects not only our minds but also our bodies — the energy of the trauma-induced unsafety is all stored in the body. Therefore, talking about safety issues can only help you so far, to a degree of cognitive understanding, but it will not put your body at ease. It is very important to connect with our sensory body while working with issues of safety. I use polyvagal exercises to help clients turn off fight or flight response in the sympathetic nervous system to release the sense of unsafety in the body.
As I mentioned earlier, people from unsafe homes tend to solve problems on their own and be self-sufficient. But for healing to happen, it is important to re-develop safe relationships with others. Therefore, finding a ‘safe person’ - someone who makes you feel safe to restore your trust and healthy dependence, is the key to healing.
Last but not least, having a safe space in therapy that allows you to express who you truly are can be immensely helpful in restoring a sense of safety. Winnicott once said one of the primary purposes of the therapist is to provide a “holding environment” for the client in order for that the client to begin to meet previously neglected needs and let their true self emerge.
If you want to heal your sense of unsafety because you come from an unsafe home, I am more than willing to help you become safely embodied and feel safe again in the world. Here is how you can contact me via my email: email@example.com
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