On Safety

The above list of basic human needs is based on the work by Marshall Rosenberg and the Center for Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and is is neither exhaustive nor definitive. (c) 2005 by Center for Nonviolent Communication
Website: www.cnvc.org Email: cnvc@cnvc.org

My husband and I are currently taking a local Communication Class based largely on NVC. It’s a 5-week class series and we have one more class left to go. I’ve been appreciating our instructor and our small group of folks in the class. The tools of NVC are allowing me to stretch myself in new directions. As I explained to my sangha recently during a Dharma sharing circle, in large part, I took the class because communication is a huge part of life, and a lot of the time I’m not very good at it.

I’m someone who is actively invested in ongoing skill building and personal growth work. I love being a perpetual student when it comes to anything that I think will help me to stretch and grow and learn ways to be more skillful. There is always more work I can do and it’s important to me to stay committed to doing my work.

The foundational elements of NVC are based on our feelings and needs. What are we feeling? What is the need associated with that feeling? We have feelings that are associated with when our needs are being met (ex: warm, safe, calm, friendly, curious) and feelings associated with when our needs are not being met (ex: angry, impatient, numb, confused, stressed out).

With our focus on feelings and needs, what’s most active and alive for me since starting this class, is centered around my need for safety. To be clear: I’m not speaking about my physical safety, I’m speaking about emotional/connective safety. I’ve been experiencing a range of disharmony in a few of my friendships for a long time now and since taking this class, I’m now identifying my spectrum of uneasy feelings with my need for safety not being met in these relationships (some of which I am still involved with and some of them I am not).

The topic of safety is new for me to resonate with, as I’ve never considered myself unsafe before, likely because I’ve largely associated feelings of being unsafe with either a sense of physical or locational fear or forms of abuse: verbal, mental, physical, sexual. Prior to this class, I held a limited definition and understanding of safety. But I firmly believe there is a spectrum for everything and I realize now, safety is no different. My own lack of feeling safe in a few of my personal friendships, active and in the past, is on the very low end of the safety spectrum, and I think it’s important to recognize and speak to that.

I’ve been doing some self-guided writing prompts in my journal around the topic of safety. I wrote about the qualities that I value and look for in others and I listed the people in my life that I trust the most and then asked myself questions to penetrate more deeply into those relationships, such as: why do I trust this person; what do they do that makes me feel safe with them?

Some of my free-flow journal writing on what friendship safety means to me:

  • I can show up just as I am without someone wanting/trying to fix or correct or educate me on what they think I should do; someone whose first go-to isn’t to give me advice
  • I can trust someone to hold what I share in confidence (when necessary)
  • I can count on someone not over-inflating/over-reacting/dramatizing a situation or feeling; someone who is well grounded, stable, and has a strong sense of emotional understanding & maturity
  • someone who can listen without negatively judging and can also verbally engage meaningfully and constructively based on mutual understanding
  • someone who doesn’t commonly interrupt me/talk over me/not allow space and time for me to speak; someone who doesn’t hold me hostage by talking the majority of the time or take advantage of the fact that I am a good listener
  • someone I have a strong compatibility with; we have shared values, shared emotional strategies, shared ways of engaging with self and others

Trust is a big one for me (and all of us; it’s a basic human need; a common one for all of us) when it comes to friendships. And I’m realizing more and more how difficult it is for me to trust people, in part based on people in the past not being trustworthy. In the past, I’ve jumped into trusting people right away, only to discover later that I misjudged their abilities to: listen, communicate well, hold confidences, and have a certain amount of social awareness and emotional stability.

I could go on but I think I’ll call it a day here. What can I say? I’m a work in progress (aren’t we all?). And I’m grateful that I have the ability to be engaged in doing the work, however slowly.



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