Safe and Sound

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When we think of the idea of “safety”, we often think of our physical safety. There are safety goggles, safety belts, workplace safety, and safety pins, which are designed to keep us protected from physical harm.

But there is also emotional safety, which relates to our health and wellness just as much as physical safety does.

According to clinical professor of psychiatry Dr. Dan Siegel, we all have a basic need to feel “safe, seen, soothed, and secure.” There are so many situations in relationships, at work, at school, and in the community where we may not feel a true sense of emotional or physical safety. If you live or work in an environment where you don’t feel safe, it can affect you emotionally, intellectually, physically, and even spiritually.

There are many ways, conscious or unconscious, that we try to protect ourselves from physical or psychological threats. Some ways we work to make ourselves feel safe, strong, and connected to others are healthy, such as eating nutritious food, being physically active, playing music, bonding with family and friends, “pet therapy”, prayer and service to others, and practicing mindfulness meditation and movement arts like dance, yoga, and Tai Chi. Some ways that we try to make ourselves feel safe are not as healthy, such as using behaviors or substances to provide a sense of comfort and protection in a stressful environment or situation. There are often natural, adaptive, protective, and even unconscious reasons for why we started to act, feel, and think in those less healthy ways. So, acceptance and compassion for ourselves and others as a “work in progress” is important, while also realizing that, with the right knowledge and support, we can feel safe to try making healthy changes. Advances in neuroscience, with research by Dr. Shauna Shapiro, Dr. Dan Siegel, Dr. Kristin Neff, Dr. Rick Hanson, and many others, show that you can actually change your brain function and structure for the better, just by how you think. These changes in your brain then improve how you think, feel, and act, at all levels, mind, body, and spirit. But you have to let go of shame and judgement as you do the work of transforming your life, focusing instead on positive attitudes of acceptance, hope, genuine love, kindness and compassion, in order to change your brain in a healthy way.

Everyone needs kindness and compassion when trying something new, when making difficult changes or decisions, and when dealing with loss, trauma, failure, and disappointment. With support from health and wellness professionals that address the mind, body, and spirit, you can begin to naturally let go of emotional and physical pain, continue to grow healthy and strong, and learn to feel truly safe.

 

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The best is yet to come

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Here’s a chart that I came up with recently, about expectations about a future event and then how rewarding the event actually ends up being.  The chart shows the potential emotions a person can feel with the various levels of reward (on the vertical axis) and levels of expectation (on the horizontal axis).  For example, if you have high expectations that a future event will be very rewarding to you and it’s not, you will be disappointed.  It is possible that you will be less satisfied in that situation than with any other combination of reward level and expectation level.

Although I believe in having a positive outlook on the future overall, I also think that there needs to be a balance with how low or high our expectations are about any one future event.  Thinking that the best is yet to come and having a sense of hope for the future in general is good.  But expecting too much from any one experience can lead to disappointment.  Like when you have heard great things about a new restaurant and your meal turns out to be just average, you are often more dissatisfied than if you had no, or low, expectations about the food.

So, maybe we need to try to find a balance between feeling good about life overall, but not having overly high expectations about a particular event, person, thing, or place.

Accepting – low expectation and low reward. If you keep your expectations low about a potential reward and do not receive it at all or do not receive it at the level that feels rewarding, you can feel a sense of acceptance.

Elated –low expectation and high reward. This usually will mean that you will be at a higher level of satisfaction than any other of the options. You will be more likely to be pleasantly surprised and feel more gratitude when you kept your expectations low or weren’t even anticipating a reward at all.

Satisfied – high expectation and high reward. If you have high expectations and receive a high reward, you may feel satisfied, but not at the “Elated” level.

Disappointed – high expectation and low reward. This will be the least satisfying situation and may even result in feelings of loss or failure because you fully expected the reward and did not receive it at all or did not receive it at the level you wanted.