On "feeling unsafe"

Sometimes, people in power use “feeling safe” in a manipulative way. They shift the conversation away from whether or not you actually are safe, and into a conversation about your feelings. Sometimes people in power who do this have a kind affect and seem to really care about helping you to feel better. This can make it hard to know in your own mind what the problem actually is, and hard to keep hold of your understanding that something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

It helps to keep in mind that these things are different:

  • Feeling unsafe in reaction to something even though you actually are safe
  • Seeing something as evidence that you are actually unsafe
  • People in power will often try to confuse you about which thing you are experiencing, but it’s important to stay mindful of the difference.

It’s also possible to have a feeling that you are unsafe, and not be sure whether it’s reasonable or not:

  • It’s important to take that feeling seriously
  • And to think through what it means, and whether there might be a real danger
  • Sometimes when you feel unsafe it will be an irrational reaction, but don’t be quick to dismiss it as one
  • If you think it’s an irrational reaction, make sure you have a concrete reason for thinking that it’s irrational and that things are actually ok

People can feel unsafe around someone for all kinds of reasons other than being unsafe:

  • Being bigoted against another group (eg: racist fear of black people)
  • Being triggered by something (eg: feeling afraid because seeing men wear hats is triggering)
  • Forgetting to take medication and having strange reactions to things as a result 
  • Taking a new medication with unexpected side effects that complicate your ability to perceive things accurately  
  • Misunderstanding something someone did or said (eg: taking something literally that was not intended literally)
  • Hallucinations
  • Being exhausted
  • When it’s this kind of thing, sometimes the external situation still needs to be addressed, but often it can be dealt with by processing things yourself 

But sometimes the problem is that you’re *actually not safe*, and sometimes this is in ways that it’s hard for other people to see, eg:

  • If you are being pressured to share private information with people who can’t be trusted to keep things confidential
  • If you are being pressured to use a ramp that is too steep to be safe, or allow people to carry you into an inaccessible building
  • If people around you are bigoted against you in subtle, but constantly corrosive ways
  • If people are intentionally triggering you in order to confuse and disorient you into doing what they want
  • If you’re being triggered in a way that makes it impossible for you to understand what is going on well enough to keep yourself safe, even if no one is doing it on purpose
  • If there is no food available that you can safely eat for an extended period
  • If you are experiencing executive functioning problems in ways that make it hard or impossible for you to do things that are necessary for survival, and no one is willing to help you
  • If you’re spending a lot of time in a environment is physically overloading in painful ways
  • If you have medical problems and doctors refuse to communicate in a way you can understand, or if you only have access to them in an environment that prevents you from communicating
  • and any number of other things

All of these things are the kind of thing that apparently well-meaning people will often try to address by trying to get you to process your feelings so that you will feel safe. That’s a dangerous reaction, and it’s important to notice when people are doing it, and to learn how to insist that they address the actual safety issue.

Sometimes the feeling is the problem.

Sometimes the problem is that you’re *actually not safe*.

If someone’s trying to manage your feelings rather than the actual threat to your safety, it’s important to remember that they’re doing a bad thing. And that it’s ok to want to actually *be* safe, even if all they want to do is make you *feel* safe. 

Cooperation with feelings derails is one of the hardest anti-skills to unlearn. But it’s also really, really important.