Kids say the darnedest things!
“Remember when the doctor gave you those drugs that made us all happier?”
One of my daughters shared this as we laughed together about the journey our household went through during her teenaged years. Mental health is an open topic in our family, so humour can easily come with the territory. This was not always the case, as you can imagine with the above statement. Even though we (meaning ‘I’) used terms like ‘destigmatize’ and ‘normalize’ around the subject of mental health, there were plenty of times where it was not treated this way at home.
Outside the home, in ministry, with ‘other people’, those terms were normal. Creating a safe space was important to me then, and it still is. So hearing, then understanding, the fact that this idea of safety was not true to everyone was a tough one to process. The idea of safety is not only in the hands of the person who perceives themselves as a safe space; it is set by those who are to feel safe.
A while before I truly took on the task of working through the barriers in my own mental health, I asked my then wife to fill out a personality quiz. It was one we used for couples as part of premarriage counselling, and they would fill out one for themselves, and then how they saw the other person. I thought it would be fun if we did the same.
I was shocked. It was not funny. It was a little heartbreaking.
“You asked me how I see you. You are serious. You are happy and jovial with other people, not when you’re at home.”
Safety is an idea, a space, a place, a practice. When we create a safe space, it means in all aspects of existence. The most common way to measure safety is in trust, which means consistency in actions as well. But it is more than consistency, because if you poke a bear in the wild, there is a good chance you will be attacked. Consistently. So while consistency is a piece of it, there is more.
A person is safe when they consistently feel they will not be harmed.
Not that a person will NOT be harmed, but it is the feeling that they will be not harmed. Big difference. That means you and I feel safe when we believe that the other person or people in our circles cares about our well-being, and would not intentionally cause harm. When we feel safe, we take risks to further ourselves. If we do not feel safe, we take shelter and try to step in line, or not noticed at all.
So to recap, my safety list for person and space is this:
- Are you consistent?
- Can I be myself in this place?
- Can I trust you with my risks?
Are you safe to others?