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  • Writer's pictureMelissa

The Unsafety of Safety

I haven’t written in so long because… I think I’m almost afraid to put my feelings into writing.

I don’t want to have proof that I’m feeling safer in this office, a safety I feel in my gut, one that I’ve never experienced before.

Because there are parts fighting that feeling of safety, refusing to let me feel safe. Refusing to let me lean in or connect or trust a human being to not hurt me.

You see, in my previous therapy, there were times I thought I felt safe, but I think I created that safety in my mind.

I think I forced the feeling of safety by bringing intellectual proof as to why I should feel safe.

This is safe, I kept telling myself. You are just filtering the experience through your traumatized system. Maybe she’s not expressing support, but it’s there. Maybe the boundaries feel uncaring, but behind the necessary distance is a caring human with a beating heart who knows just how hard this is.

I read into the relationship in the way I needed to see the relationship, because I needed that safety. 

I needed to believe that the person I’m baring my soul to, the person who gets a glimpse of my most delicate vulnerabilities, is one who can hold it, care about it, one who is rooting for me.

The vagueness with which she operated helped my agenda. I read in it what I needed. I forced myself to find what I needed.

I held onto crumbs of support and realness as proof that she’s there for me, holding space for me, a witness to this painful existence.

Growing up in a culture of deprivation does that to a person. You never expect abundance. You don’t think you deserve it. You feel indebted for every crumb another offers and bowl over in gratitude.

But the doubts were always there. There was always a battle raging in my mind, questions posed in the room, confusion aired out right here in these posts. What is this relationship? I wondered, dissected. I grappled to define therapy and understand what is meant to happen.

What is therapy? I asked.

What is therapy? she asked me.

I tried to accept that it’s a process that I just need to trust.

But my body never relaxed its vigil.

My therapist chalked it up to defenses. I admonished myself that it was time to retire them.

But it wasn’t.

Because I never felt safe on a somatic level.

The body knows. 

The defenses were there for a reason.

And so my body and brain clashed.

And I got hurt. In a way that sometimes I’m still reeling from.

Not because my previous therapist was mean. Or wrong. Or malicious. Or judgmental.

But because she could not receive the material I brought in.She could not meet me where I was, and instead made me meet her where she expected our work to be.

The intentions were pure, altruistic, even. The results were hurtful. Traumatic. It reinforced the issues I had come to heal. It sparked all my insecurities. It proved to me that I had been right all along to believe there wasn’t healing for someone like me.It reinforced that I was not worthy of anyone’s realness. That anyone who is in contact with me must do so with the greatest means of protection so they do not get sullied by the wrongness that is me.

Eventually  the holes in the safety net I had constructed out of pure desperation widened and the bottom fell out..

Painfully, tediously, I disentangled myself, smarting from the hurt and struggling to part with the bit that I had.

Now, in a new space, things feel different. 

I feel it on a body level. This is what safety feels like, something in me whispers.

I know I’m being met where I am. There’s no agenda, just me, however I show up.

I know, because there’s no vagueness, no second-guessing what was said or alluded to. There’s directness, reassurance, simple transparency. 

There’s an actual real human being sitting across me, holding space for my material. Not in a Teflon-coated way, but in an actual immersive way. Not a poker face chiseled into neutrality, but an approachable, open curiosity.

I feel my feelings, my words, my angst, being absorbed, filtered, filling up the space between us.

And yet I stay distant.

Too many parts of me are afraid to trust. Too many parts insist on holding the promise never to fall for the pretense of safety again.

I use all my tricks. One week I dissociate. And there, it’s okay. We sit with the dissociation with mild curiosity, but more importantly, welcoming patience.

Another week my anxiety flares up. My eyes are darting, my body jerking. I need to escape. Nobody is in a rush to fix it. The discomfort is glaring, but it’s given space. It’s honored for showing up.

I’m a mess sometimes, yes, and my parts are showing, but the real delicate pieces remain behind bars.

Under it all, my deepest vulnerabilities stay hidden. 

I’m determined to stay as close to the surface as possible. 

I swat away any stirrings of trust that whispers in my heart; I extinguish the glimmers of connection before it can raise the temperature in my frozen heart. 

I’m not going to need anyone again, I vow.

I am not going to let anyone see the kind of longing hidden inside my soul.

We are not going there again. I am not letting this be anything other than a formal relationship.

And yet, I wonder how long it’s possible to stay on safe shores when the space is safe.

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Leah Schiffer
Leah Schiffer
Dec 19, 2023

What an eloquent and moving piece. I relate to so much of it.

To the 'intellectual proof' I use to fantasise my hopes into reality. The way we deprived folk 'feel indebted for every crumb another offers and bowl over in gratitude.'

And that deep feeling of complete and fatal 'wrongness'.

Ah, it is so very comforting to feel less alone in all of this.

But the of tentative hope you talk about seems promising. May it only grow❤️!

Dec 20, 2023
Replying to

Leah, thank you so much for reading and commenting!

Thank you for chiming in that you also feel this way. Like we don't deserve anything and are so wrong, so we need to appreciate people just for not spitting in our faces.

Amen, and thank you!

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