4 Things to Know About Emotional Safety

Create the connection you crave in your closest relationships.
By Mitchell Qualls
March 31, 2021

What is emotional safety?

Emotional safety. Does that sound like a lofty concept? Let’s break it down. Emotional is defined as relating to one’s feelings. Safety means keeping yourself or others free from harm. So, put them together, and what does emotional safety mean? When you’re emotionally safe, you’ve removed yourself as a barrier to others freely being themselves. Recent neurobiology research by Dr. Stephen Porges reveals that emotional safety is one of the most important aspects of connection in a relationship.

Here are some things to know about emotional safety.

Emotional safety comes from within. It starts with you. It consists of identifying your feelings and being able to feel them. 

Emotional safety means revealing your true self to another person. It is expressing who you are, including your hurts, fears, and dreams. It’s expressing yourself authentically, sharing dissatisfaction, fears, and insecurities, and having a conversation without it blowing up into an argument. It’s sharing without fear of shaming, yelling, or rejection.

We all need at least one person with whom we can be ourselves.

Ideally, marriage is a safe space for you and your spouse to reveal your true selves. Parenthood allows you to create a safe environment for your children to grow and learn who they are as individuals. And friendship is a space where you can be the most real you.

Why does emotional safety matter?

Emotional safety is essential in any relationship, whether romantic, family, friends, or co-workers.

When we trust that someone else can see, hear, and understand us, we relax more with them. We open up about who we are and feel connected. Emotional safety is reciprocal. When we are safe for someone else, we deepen our relationship.

When you feel emotionally safe, you are more likely to be your best self and contribute to your greatest ability. You are free to dream, collaborate, create, share, and express yourself. When we open up and do this in a safe environment, we invite others to do the same. 

In relationships, we need to feel safe before we can be vulnerable. Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” Safety creates a foundation for intimacy and closeness.

How do you build & keep emotional safety?

Now, we have a good idea of what emotional safety is. We can examine our relationships and see where it exists. But, how do we build it if it doesn’t exist? 

The foundation is trust. We can’t feel safe with someone if we don’t trust them. Building emotional safety requires building and keeping trust. Trust is a two-way street. It’s built with honesty, credibility, communication, and authenticity.

Another important piece of emotional safety is recognizing what not to do in relationships. We may not be aware of the subtle ways we cause harm with sarcasm, blaming, or shaming others. Instead, traits like respect, kindness, and appreciation foster safety.

Here are some actions you can take to maintain emotional safety:

  • Be consistent. Be there for your spouse, child, friend, or co-worker. When you are consistently present, others see you as reliable and trustworthy.
  • Listen actively. Listen to learn, not to respond. I often struggle with this. We have to slow down and listen.
  • Be curious, not judgmental. Be interested in what the other person is interested in. Ask questions. 
  • Lead with empathy and compassion. Feel what they feel and genuinely care about who they are and what they believe.

What happens if emotional safety isn’t there?

A lack of emotional safety leads to disconnection. Disconnection is a massive threat to a relationship. When we feel disconnected, we begin to feel lonely and distant, and the relationship can start to crumble.

If you feel disconnected from someone, try to find out what’s going on. It could be you. It could be them. If you can, talk about it and make a plan to rebuild your connection.  

Take steps today to create emotional safety in at least one of your relationships. Start by seeing if you’re in tune with your own emotions. If you are, make sure you’re maintaining it well. We all need emotional safety in our relationships.

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