We Can’t Feel Safe All The Time

by Thaddeus Camlin, Psy.D.


Feeling safe is a monumental component of mental health and well-being.  However, a focus on feeling safe all the time is a setup for failure because it is impossible to feel safe all the time.  Furthermore, feeling safe all the time would be detrimental in some ways.  Feeling safe is closely related to feeling comfortable, and there are clearly established health benefits that come from pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone.  Not to mention, there’s that pesky little truth buried in almost all absolute thinking – most absolutes contain fatal fissures at their core.  Efforts to ensure that people feel safe to be themselves, and safe to simply exist, is inarguably an important aspect of a healthy society that encourages individual differences and the beauty inherent in diversity.  It is also paramount that we recognize that we will not always feel safe, and that in general resilience and empowerment are built by surviving the dangers of adversity and coming out the other side stronger and more confident. 


Life will dish out more than enough adversity and fear, no need to seek out extra.  However, the reality is that we will feel unsafe, and if we do not believe in our own ability to absorb the pain and heartache and trauma that can come from threats to our safety then the lasting impact of adversity may be prolonged.  We are in control of our attitude, our interpretations of events, and our actions.  Focusing on what is within our control is the recipe for empowerment.  When we feel empowered, we feel confident that even when we endure hateful treatment, hardships, oppression, judgment, bias, etc., we will make it through, grow stronger because of it, and use our struggles to enact positive change.  


One could argue that a hyper-focus on feeling safe all the time is avoidance on steroids.  Recently, we discussed the pitfalls of powerless language like being ‘triggered,’ just like we cannot avoid all triggers we cannot avoid experiencing threats to our safety.  It sounds utopic if everyone in the world spoke in kind and considerate language to everyone all the time, but humans are not perfect.  Continuing to encourage people towards kindness and consideration of others is undoubtedly a worthwhile endeavor, but so long as humans are involved we won’t achieve perfection so it is also critical that we maintain a focus on what we can control, our own attitudes and responses.  If we think to ourselves that we “can’t handle” an off-color, tone-deaf remark, or someone from a more experienced generation resisting the ever-increasing number of gender options on facebook, we set ourselves up for additional heartache.  


In self-empowering addiction treatment the statement “I can’t drink” is frequently challenged because the vast majority of people are capable of swallowing liquid. We don’t get credit for not doing things we can’t do.  People who can drink and do not drink deserve credit for making a difficult change.  We can handle feeling unsafe, and acknowledging our own resilience does not excuse another’s ignorance.  It is also important to keep in mind that what is ‘woke’ to one may be ignorant to another, and part of embracing diversity is embracing differing opinions while fighting against discriminating actions. The experience of and openness to differing opinions helps all of us grow and work together more effectively. Continuing to redirect our focus to what is ultimately and completely within our control, namely our response to what happens around us, helps us cope with feeling unsafe effectively, cope with urges effectively, and cope with life effectively.