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September 18, 2022

Safety Is An Inside Job.

Today the word “safety” is used as a signpost everywhere, from airports to community gatherings. What are we claiming when we declare a space “safe”? Safety as a concept is subjective. Broadly, the definition of safety is being ‘free from harm or hurt.’ It’s a personal felt experience, mutable, and can change over time. We can feel safe with someone one minute, and with a word, action, or sensation, we may not the next.

The declaration of a space being safe has little to do with actually feeling safe. 

My 88-year-old Aunt, Marge; a social worker with a Masters in Childhood Development, believes: “If you want to be safe, then you should agree with people.” Marge recalls her mother insisting she attend college to develop her own opinions. Yet when asked her opinion about a suit her mother was admiring, Marge expressed dislike, so her mother blew up at her. Subsequently, Marge developed the practice of agreeing to keep herself safe from explosive arguments.

Who decides when we are safe?

For some, it begins when well-meaning people give unsolicited opinions that direct and redirect the storytellers’ emotions, thoughts, and feelings. These interruptions add layers of conscious and unconscious tensions and trauma to our bodies and affect our ability to find and define our sense of self. Moving outward to the macro, the concept of safety in our society is force-fed to us. Instead of teaching us through trial and error, society categorically declares things as safe or unsafe and right or wrong. We’ve made it the job of our healthcare and law enforcement systems, for example, to dictate to us when we are safe. This rule-following and established hierarchy inherently stunt our natural curiosity and ability to self-govern.

Safety is a paradox.

For most of my fifty years, I lived as though I was fine after being molested as a pre-schooler by my teacher because I wasn’t physically “hurt,” and, as hard as it is for many to hear and understand, these repeated acts felt neither dirty nor wrong, it felt good. Society at large tried to convince me I was broken. That was not my story as I felt it. But because those with influence projected their belief system on me, it sent me out into the world not trusting myself.

I was not yet aware of how the body stores experiences as alchemical layers. I didn’t feel secure with my conscious thoughts, so I didn’t listen to them, which confused my felt body’s intelligence. Paradoxically, I was living a fully expressed life in my physical body. I had no idea there was a proverbial elephant hidden and inaccessible in the room of my own body.

Discovering Personal Safety.

Polarity Therapy gave way to fortifying what I believed to be true and right for me. During class, I offered to be the demo for an energy-alignment exercise. When the teacher placed their hands on me, my body immediately became agitated and overwhelmed with feelings and emotions. When asked what I was experiencing, I couldn’t resource cognitive thoughts; I could only move their hand on my body with mine. My body was convulsing, and it felt like the floor was opening up beneath me. It felt like, after decades – my body was releasing what I had unconsciously stored. This release carried a soundwave that permeated the classroom and those in it for the entire day.

While recovering in nature, it finally came into my conscious awareness that all the people close to me in my life had been taking from me without asking. 

Please don’t tell me what is safe.

It was never about sex. Sex was the salacious thing people would grab onto without asking me first about what this experience meant to me. The unknown trauma was about the subtle and obvious ways people take from us without first receiving consent. The result of that “taking” was systemic disorientation that conditioned me to simply say “Yes.” And the release during that demonstration was a lifetime culmination of suppressing my innate instincts. Since that eye-opening realization, my old feel-good-focused and be-nice way of relating are over. In its place is a guardian, an all-seeing wise woman whose trust must be earned.

I now know what safety is for me.

There is no such thing as “safe.” I embrace uncertainty as a power tool that holistically, dynamically, and symbolically gives movement to life as it expands and contracts. I’ve done the hard work of reestablishing coherence between my mental, emotional, and physical bodies, enabling my nervous system to communicate clear response cues, and now I listen. This was my answer, however, others may have different ones: that’s the point of safety. Safety is up to us, it shouldn’t be constrained by those with power, those with authority because, in the end, only you can rule you.

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Shannon McLaren  |  Contribution: 2,900