Emotionally Safe Spaces

Hayat Shawwa, LCSW

Emotional safety. It’s what we are all looking for, and too often fail to find. In a world where we are constantly surrounded by so many people, it’s ironic that it’s become so hard to find. It’s often what brings people to therapy.

The truth of the matter is, not everyone in our lives, friends and family included, are emotionally safe spaces for us. There is some level of judgment, invalidation, lack of understanding, or dismissiveness we feel from them when we open up about our most vulnerable thoughts, feelings, insecurities, and fears. But that’s okay, not everyone we know can realistically be an emotionally safe person for us. It’s our job to identify the small handful or few people that are and it’s also okay for us to set respectful boundaries around the people who don’t feel emotionally safe.

When working with my clients on identifying emotionally safe people in their lives, I like to make them stop and think if they’re emotionally safe for the people in their lives as well. So what makes a person emotionally safe? I’m glad you asked!

  1. Try to move from reactive listening to active listening. Don’t listen to respond, listen to understand. Active listening means validating what the person is saying; validating the importance of it in their lives.
  2. Learn others’ boundaries and accept them without judgment; it’s okay to have different boundaries than others. You can disagree with a boundary and still respect it. Boundaries can be physical, emotional, sexual, or financial. (*parents: kids need and deserve boundaries too!)
  3. Practice transparency. Feeling like people are hiding something creates distrust and while you don’t have to share every deep secret, general openness about your thoughts and feelings can build trust and healthy communication. You can’t expect transparency if you don’t give it.
  4. Validate feelings even when you don’t agree with them. While our feelings may not reveal any truth, feelings are never wrong.
  5. The common theme here- it’s okay to disagree. You can validate, normalize and move away from judgment without agreeing with someone- easier said than done, I know! This is challenging but with self-awareness and practice, it can be done.

So think about the relationships in your life that you value the most, and think to yourself, do I find emotional safety within those relationships and can I provide emotional safety to them as well? Show grace and patience with those people as we can’t always be that safe space for others 100% of the time. It’s okay to take time out to be an emotionally safe space for ourselves.

Hayat is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She earned her Bachelor’s of Arts in Psychology and her Master’s of Social Work at North Carolina State University in 2012 and 2017 respectively. Hayat served as a School Social Worker in the public education system for 5 years where she worked with high school students removing barriers in the classroom, much of that work being focused on student mental health. She also simultaneously worked at a residential substance abuse treatment facility working with young adults (18-30 yrs.) in recovery. Read More

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