Ask Sarah – Emotional Safety

Dear Sarah,

What does it MEAN to feel “safe?”
A lot of women use that phrase, but I’m never quite sure what they mean?

Fantastic question!  Talking about this kind of stuff is my jam – I love it.
I’d love to teach mini-classes on this kind of thing…with games, object lessons, etc… but I digress.

First, a quick caveat – Emotional safety has very little to do with physical safety.  Although – especially as it concerns sexual intimacy, there DOES need to be a baseline of love and CARE so that anything rough or agressive is viewed through that lens and is only received as passionate, not angry or sadistic.

But, if we ASSUME that both people in a relationship TRUST the other one with their physical safety and care – that the other person has no desire to harm or shame them… then we can move on from the physical piece and move to the greater element of emotional safety.

This – the idea of emotional “Safety” – has (unfortunately) become a trendy term in therapeutic circles and so it’s overused…  like – way overused.
Sort of like the word “co-dependent” that people throw around – half the time, incorrectly.  Ugh…
But the core idea of emotional/relational safety is so good and so beautiful, that despite the overuse of the phrase, it’s essential to dig into and understand if you’re going to be a great partner.
To be “safe” involves three things:
1.  safety is being loved,
2.  safety is being known (vulnerable) and accepted, and
3.  safety is believing that your partner perceives you as his/her only ‘object of affection’ – aka ‘belonging’

I’ll work my way backwards through the pieces of safety, from my way of thinking (and that’s all this is…Sarah’s thoughts…).

Beliefs / Belonging:
A woman wants to feel like she is the ONLY person being shown affection/attention by her lover.  If a man DOES only love/desire one woman – that’s half the battle…,  the secondary piece is her actually BELIEVING that.  Sometimes a man can do everything in his power to convince a woman that she’s the only one, but because of her own insecurities and doubts (ultimately based in fear), she can’t let herself believe she’s worthy of that love.
But, if a woman is relationally healthy and believes a man wants only her – that belief gives her the freedom to rest in her worthiness of love and affection – and enjoy it.

(and yes…this goes both ways…same for men as it is for women).(side note here… I think that ultimately, the greatest obstacle in man/woman relationships isn’t ‘lack of communication’ or ‘unwillingness to compromise,’ but is all about WHAT WE BELIEVE about ourselves and what we BELIEVE about the other person.  Perception is everything.  If I perceive that a man truly loves me – for me – flaws and fat and all – then I  have NO room for fear or other damaging forces.)Known & Accepted:
This is huge.  Not everyone wants this, when you get right down to it.  But, those of us who search for GREAT love – we don’t just want to be accepted – we want the double-edged-amazing sword of knowing/loving.
I want to be KNOWN – understood, “gotten”… and this is more than just knowing my story or my information (Sarah was “Student of the Year” in 3rd grade and has had 6 pets…blah blah blah…) – that stuff is important as you get to know someone, but truly knowing me means understanding the way I work – my strengths, my way of processing things, my areas of woudedness, the totality of me.  And when someone KNOWS me….and STILL decides that I’m worthy of full acceptance?  Well, that’s everything.  That’s what sets the great love stories apart from the sea of mediocrity.
To be known – is to be laid open.



Stripped down and shown for who you are – metaphorical stretch marks and all.


And if people will live their lives as vulnerable creatures – being AUTHENTIC instead of numbing the painful parts of their lives (which in turn, numbs the joy and elation of things like big love), they’ll get the overwhelming gift of being known and accepted.  They’ll also get the excruciating pain from those who DON’T accept them.  So – it’s a huge risk …for a huge reward.  But aren’t those the very best kinds of rewards?
For me personally, I’ve decided to live my life in a somewhat counter-cultural authenticity – that means I’m transparent, open, honest, genuine…   I’m me.
But, I open myself up to a LOT of judgment, and…the pain of when people DON’T like what they see.
Still……it’s worth it for when people see the TRUE SARAH…and decide I’m worthy of their love.
This is a cool video on vulnerability…I REALLY encourage you to take a couple minutes to watch it.
From around 9:20 all the way to the end…she gets into stuff that I feel like screaming “AMEN!” to…in my own life.  It’s GOOD stuff…seriously.  I love this excerpt.


Being loved in that REAL way – the way where someone has deemed you SO worthy of his love, that he’s made the conscious CHOICE and COMMITMENT to die to himself and put you in a place of greater importance (and of course, this works best when it’s mutual…she dies to herself and puts you above her) – is the ultimate sweet spot of safety.

True love is a DECISION for SACRIFICE.  If someone chooses to sacrifice his own pride or comfort to love you… that’s the real deal.

A couple important take-aways:
1.  When emotional safety is NOT present, you breed an environment of distrust.  This begins by not giving someone the benefit of the doubt, but evolves into a deep-seated resentment and cynicism.
example:  Guy says something careless to his wife, trying to make a joke, but accidentally hurting her feelings.

If there’s emotional safety, she has the space to say, “ouch!  I know you didn’t mean it, but that hit a nerve babe.”

If there’s NOT emotional safety, she assumes his intentions were to wound her, and it doubley hurt – one by the comment and moreso (two) that he would de-value her enough to WANT to hurt her at some level.  (And honestly, if there’s not a foundation of safety, she might be right!)

And once you start assigning cruel motives…you’re on a slippery path to bitterness and ultimately, apathy.


2.  Unlike our modern Oprah culture of ‘make things happen on your own’ – you make your own universe….you create your own happiness….,
the idea of emotional safety is, by its very nature – relationally based.  It’s DEpendent on someone else.

YOUR safety DEPENDS on the other person’s willingness to offer it to you.

That’s where that vulnerability/risk come in.  If I open myself up – I lay myself bare for someone that I think I could love…and who I hope could love me… he may.  And he may not.  And if he accepts me, flaws and all – then I get to live in the great freedom and joy of that safety.  But, he might not…he might say – “I don’t like you naked”…and that’s the worst pain.  This is why rejection hurts the most when someone knows you the most…because they’re virtually saying, “I see the real you.  And I refuse to accept/love that.”

So – emotional safety is dependent on another person.  And post-modern Americans don’t like that.  We want to make things happen ourselves.  But, the nature of this is that we offer it to one another.  I can give YOU a place of emotional safety.  YOU can give ME the same.  And so on.

3.  How do you let someone KNOW that you know them and accept them and love them?  Well…..that’s the stuff of another post.  For now, suffice it to say that you have to tell/show them… but that can be fun.  🙂

So – for my part – I try my hardest to live in a way that is SO real that others around me feel welcome to be THEIR real selves… and be known and accepted.  This is really hard.  It’s hard because being vulnerable hurts.  It’s like exposing your naked body to the elements.

But, when it works……….oh, the unspeakable joy.


If you want to love BIG, you need a place where you can love in safety, which means you’ll have the freedom to love the BEST.

So… grab a banana nut muffin*, and think about letting people in – even more – to the real you… and in doing so, opening yourself up to great things.

* (that was a test to see if you watched the video).


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