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Emotional Safety

Author: Bluedeacon

Filed in: relationships, health and safety



One of the elements of a good relationship that many people either overlook or are unaware of, is emotional safety, what it entails, and how to create it. My hope here is to explore first what it is within a 'normal vanilla' relationship, and then to expand that to some possibilities within a bdsm relationship.

First off, what is an emotional safety? Emotional safety gives one a feeling of warmth, joy, expansion, relaxation, the ability to breathe freely, a sense of connection, and a sense of peace. It is an environment which promotes healing and growth, and allows people to feel more deeply and openly. In other words, a person feels wanted, welcome, like s/he can just 'be' and be accepted, like you are loved, like you are 'home'. Before a person can get emotional safety, that person must also be able to give it - it becomes a two way street of openness, vulnerablity and acceptance; driven by authenticity, intimacy, and meaningfulness; and providing a connection to one's self, others, and the divine. It is a connection of hearts.

Common feelings within emotional safety might be: "My stomach relaxes (no knots)", "I can let go", "I feel a sense of trust" , "I feel welcome", "I know I won't be judged", and "I feel like I'm valued, of relevance".

Now, realistically, even in the best relationships, we can't be emotionally safe all the time. There will be breakdowns, people hurt each other unintentionally, and we don't mindread. Love is not enough, alone - to feel loved and *lovable* we need to be emotionally safe.. We need to be able to forgive ourselves and each other, to communicate that hurt honestly, learn from it and move on.

Barriers to emotional safety comprise many things, from fear, to bad communication, to bad intentions, to name a few. Amongst these, is being judgemental about the other person - that person then feels that s/he can not open up or be him/herself. Being closed up - for instance, going silent and refusing to discuss what's hurting, assuming the other person should know, hurts both. Not listening, or acting like what the other person has to say or feel is without value or relevance, in attitude or action. Most of the time, the bottom line is fear - fear of rejection, of domination against your will, of abandonment, of losing ourselves or the other - when this happens we often will do anything but behave in a way that creates emotional safety. We abandon ourselves and become reactive - getting angry, complying, withdrawing, resisting, blaming, defending, explaining, attacking, and so on. We avoid conflict.

Common responses and sensations to an emotionally unsafe relationship are as follows. Physical sensations : 'a knot in my stomach', 'tension in my jaw (or a nervous tic)', 'adrenaline rush', 'can't let down or relax', and 'tension in hands/holding on'. Emotional responses: 'alone', 'hopeless', 'trapped', and 'hyper-vigilant'. Thoughts: 'Head working overtime (can't sleep)' , 'wondering when the other shoe will drop', 'wanting to hide', and 'wanting to disappear'.

So, how do we create that safety? What does it entail? There are many factors involved, but there are five that seem to be particularly important.

Pacing - is important to creating trust and safety. We need to be able to create a space for ourselves and for our partner to feel safe in, and we need to allow for each's unique pace of engaging and relating, for it to happen.

Creating space - means welcoming *all* parts of a person, known and unknown, comfortable and unconfortable, known and unknown. You may need to be able to allow your partner to take space - to slow down, go inside, allow for emotional and psychological sensations, and know that you will hold them respectfully and nonjudgementally in time and space as your partner does so. Don't use anything revealed - information, fears, or vulnerabilities - against the other person; reveal your own fears, insecurites, flaws, and weaknesses. Acknowledge, accept, and make room for feelings to be felt, and if necessary, to be expressed. Show compassion and caring in your strength.

Accountability - means that our words need to be in line with our actions. In other words, walk the talk. It also means being attentive to other's needs and to the impact of our behavior on another. Tell the truth consistently and compassionately.

Appropriate boundaries - essential for safety. These need to be defined by each person, particularly touch. Clear boundaries help create a 'safe container' or holding environment for inner work- limits need to be set, and respected.

Presence - means offering your full attention to another while being grounded in yourself, holding no agenda. Presence offers a sense of welcoming, allowing, and non-judgemental acceptance. Allow for regular quality time to appreciate one another, share your deepest thoughts and feelings, and genuinely listen to your partner's thoughts and feelings. This creates vulnerability, and vulnerability creates safety.

Touch is an important part of safety. For some, such as those who have been physically or sexually abused, it may be safer at first to *not* be touched, or to have permission asked to be touched. Many times, however, touch is necessary for emotional safety, and deep healing and understanding. The physical sensation of another person holding us can be very powerful, creating a safety for us to feel and experience what we cannot access by words alone. Holding and being held being held create a real physical container or space which allows us to let down our defenses and feel the experiences of the moment, to be able to feel and express. It reaches an area within us that comes from infancy, and is precognitive and preverbal. It can be a way to say, hello, or I'm here, now, I'll protect you. Safe touch is powerful both in offering important developmental experience and in helping heal from trauma, including abuse of touch.

Authenticity is also important. Honest and authentic communication is critical to developing and maintaining healthy relationships. You must be open to hearing feedback, both positive and negative, acknowledging that another's perspective may be different from yours. You need to feel free to be open and honest as well, to feel that you are not judged but that all of you is accepted. Don't judge others, be open to feedback, communicate. The ability to say no connects you with your own authentic power so you only do things that support you. This allows you to be honest and open, to connect to others with your heart, and to choose only emotionally safe relationships. Remember that you and your partner are on the same team - see your partner as wanting to feel more in love with you, and remember that you want to feel more in love, too.

Ask for help from your partner, and at times from friends. It's easy to forget that God, the divine, the universe, or however you see the Higher Power(s), comes through people to help us. It's great to look for love and help from a non-human source, or from directly within ourselves, but it's also important to go to our loved ones and let them know of our needs, our pain, our fears. To do so is to empower them to help, and create more safety for everyone.

Top ten ways to create emotional safety (for vanillas, anyway):

1. Listen without interrupting - hear what is really being said, and what is not being said, watch for obvious body language.

2.Give your partner space to have feelings. Accept who s/he is, remember why you were drawn together to begin with.

3. Define, establish and maintain your own boundaries and limits very clearly.

4. When there is a conflict, attack the problem and not your partner. Be aware of judgements and criticisms.

5. Do not back your partner into a corner with threats and ultimatums. They eventually backfire.

6. Be 100% responsible for your own behaviors and hold your partner accountable for theirs - don't play the blame game.

7. Communicate your feelings in a thoughtful and responsible way. Don't use feelings to control. (doesn't this go against internal enslavement, in a way?)

8. Follow through with what you say you will do - honor your agreements, so that your partner does not feel rejected.

9.Remember, there is power in forgiveness, both forgiving ourselves and others. There is also great strength in touch.

10. The most powerful resource for emotional safety is unconditional love - may you be blessed to both give and receive it.

Most people feel safe around someone who is very accepting, caring, and compassionate. The problem is, we all have bad days, and may be irritable and grumpy - so what do we do then, when the other person's caring and acceptance go away? We need to also find that safety within ourselves, and strive to become that person, especially with ourselves, who is consistently accepting, caring, and compassionate. We need to be strong enough within to not take another's bad day personally. We need to be centered enough to stand up for ourselves when another is angry or blaming. We need to be powerful enough to remain open hearted in the face of fear or conflict.

How do we remain connected, open hearted, and nonreactive in the face of fear and conflict? We need to practice staying in touch with a source of spiritual guidance in our times of peace, so that we can turn to it when we are having trouble. When our ego - our wounded 'self' - is activated by fear and conflict, we must be able to turn to a source of spiritual power for the strength not to react within our learned defenses. The more we practice staying connected to that spiritual source, the more we create inner and relational safety; the safer we feel, the freer we are to share our joy and pain with each other, which leads to connection and intimacy. Without daily practice of strengthening our spiritual connection, you may find it difficult to maintain intimacy in the face of the many conflicts that occur in committed relationships.

One person stated "Safety is the most important thing we strive for. When children feel safe, they are free to grow." Although this person was talking about physical safety, the same applies to our inner growth. When the child within feels safe, we are free to open our hearts to the deepest feelings, spiritual lessons, and truths.

Some suggestions and thoughts on how this fits wiitwd:

Emotional safety within a bdsm relationship varies. Often, granting our power and freedom to another's authority may make us feel safer - being bound, for instance: the bonds themselves may feel like an extension of our dominant's loving embrace, and free us from what holds us back, to be what we will. A cage, or being restricted to being inside the residence, may make a submissive feel safe and protected from the mean, cruel world; the same may be said for allowing another to take responsibility for, and control of, ourselves, with the result of shifted and 'limited' responsibilities - the sub's world at once shrinks, and yet becomes more complex - their responsibility may be limited directly to just following and pleasing the dominant and stop there (like a child) and yet the practice of doing so, of putting another before yourself and anticipating, can be more complex.

The dominant may take on moneyhandling and decisionmaking overall, may directly express likes and dislikes, and expect them to be followed; this creates safety for the dominant, in that the dom/me is getting needs met in the specific way needed, by controlling, and by taking care of the sub; and safety for the sub, in being protected from the outside world, or in knowing that what you are doing is pleasing to the other, is exactly what the other wants, without guessing, in being 'taken care of'. Knowing that you will not be held responsible for that which is beyond your control, and knowing that what's expected remains constant makes for safety, while on the other hand there is safety in being punished when things are in your control and you screw up - it tells the sub that the dom/me *is* paying attention, and that s/he *does* care. For each, being held as a sub or slave, or being allowed to hold such where both are willing participants, says that the other cares, that you are valued.

In play, it's important to be able to know when your partner is emotionally/ mentally ready and able to play, and to be able to anticipate possible outcomes of the play. If your partner is depressed or or distressed, for instance, it *may* be more appropriate to comfort them with love and affection than to expect them to be played with. It's important for each person to know that they can feel freely, and be accepted, to know that they can work thtough fears safely, such as fears of rejection, exposing their sex secrets, or being hurt. Erase the fears with your loving actions and acceptance.

Take the time to show love and affection throughout the scene. Talk and caress - you can capture someone and show physical force, and still squeeze in pets, and ask if they are okay. Telling them that you love them during play is important, and after play, cuddle and tell them how much you appreciate what they do for you, and how grateful you are.

Remember to communicate and negotiate wisely. Ask questions and observe a person before playing, if an unknown. How do they treat themselves? How do they treat others? Are they compassionate, patient, loving, and sensible?

With all these things in mind, we are on our way to creating emotional safety in our relationships.

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