Safety, without a doubt, is the most significant factor in a person’s psychological condition. While food, shelter and protection are all important aspects of a safe environment, emotional safety, is equally, if not more important. Let’s look first at how a sense of feeling safe in developed and then examine the ramifications of the lack of safety in adulthood.
Prior to birth, we were in the safest environment known–the womb of our mother. During nine months in this non-threatening space, we were able to feel safe and secure and not have to face any external stresses. The importance of this safety and attachment has not been lost on those professionals involved in the birthing process and today new born infants are immediately placed on their mother’s chest to reconnect with the heart beat that was familiar to them in the womb. Attachment is recognized as one of the key elements in the development of a psychologically secure individual.
As infants, we began our developmental journey passing through the stages of attachment, exploration, identity and competence. As we navigated from attachment to exploration, we left the knee of our primary caretaker to explore the world. Yet, we needed to know that this caretaker would be available when we didn’t feel safe and needed to return to them to regain a feeling of safety.
Take a minute– return to your childhood and try to remember the times when you felt most safe. Perhaps, it was when a parent read you a bedtime story. Or when you took a long walk with a friend and became totally immersed in the moment, not worrying about anything else in the world. What about the time your parents supported you in your dreams and ambition to ride a two wheel bicycle? Whatever memory is conjured up for you, the feeling of safety is beyond description and allowed your being to experience the ability to put all of your energy and consciousness into the moment at hand. Today, people try to regain this level of safety by studying Mindfulness and other techniques to allow being in the moment.
Now think back to times when you were frightened or threatened and felt unsafe. Perhaps, it was your first day of school or when your parents left you with a babysitter for the first time. This act elicits feeling of abandonment or rupture in connection which can be the most terrifying experiences.
These feelings surrounding safety and unsafety are carried from childhood through the passage to adulthood. When we are uncertain about the reliability of other people, an alarm goes off in our psyches stimulating the brain to react in similar ways to the way it did in childhood.