How to Feel Safe

In infancy, the feeling of being safe and nourished – not just with food but with love and care – comes from the instant availability of mommy and her breast.

As a child grows, he learns to transfer this feeling of safety onto additional objects – a toy, a favorite blanket, etc – that he drags everywhere. This allows him to spend more time not being clamped to mommy’s body and still feeling safe.

Gradually, the child learns to achieve the feeling of being safe and nourished without either mommy or the transitional object (the toy or the blankie). The source of the feelings of safety and love moves inside. This is a gigantically important moment in human development when a child learns to self-soothe. It’s a foundation of human freedom and agency. “I still need mommy but if necessary, I can take care of myself” is how an independent, healthy human is formed. Adulthood comes when you figure out that you don’t need mommy. And maturity is when you realize that mommy needs you now and it’s not a terrifying thought.

So what does this all mean? It means nobody can make you feel safe or valuable. These feelings can only come from inside of you. If you still seek safety from a transitional object (for many people it’s food), this means you are still stuck in that toddler stage where you were supposed to start learning to self-soothe without an external object. If you still need big, all-knowing, all-powerful and ever-loving adults to “keep you safe,” things are even worse. You are stuck in the infant stage, still terrified that mommy’s breast is not coming and eternally angry that it can no longer feed your adult needs.

We don’t breast-feed 15-year-olds, do we? Neither do we say “here, hold your plushie” to 20-year-olds without mental deficiencies. We don’t do it because it doesn’t work. They are past the age where the breast and the plushie can nourish physically or emotionally. An adult is capable of making himself a sandwich and we expect him to do that. Similarly, he can make himself feel safe. We can’t make a safe space for adults because that space can only be located inside themselves.

8 thoughts on “How to Feel Safe

  1. I recently read a book ‘Running on Empty’. Yes, it’s a self help book so ignore my recommendation if you loathe these. But it has a couple of really good chapters on self-soothing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Everybody should learn a couple of self-soothing mechanisms. Especially when the alternative is trying to extort others into soothing you, as often happens these days. “I feel unsafe!” It should be shameful for an adult to day something like this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s interesting. None of my kids used transitional objects. I expected it. We made sure they had a selection of more-or-less appropriate soft toys just in case. Nope. They have a toy sheep that they’ve each played with in turn, but never hauled around like a security object. Now I wonder if that was because I didn’t wean them until after their 2nd birthdays.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If they aren’t over-attached to the plushie, that’s actually a good sign. It means the process is going smoothly. Over-attachment can be a sign that they had to let go of mommy a little too early. Not a big deal and easily correctable but if by 5-6 they are still over-attached to the object, it might be something to look into. The course of the pregnancy and birth also have a big impact. A human personality begins to form from the moment of conception, as I’m sure you know. By the time of birth, there are already quite formed personalities there. As my analyst said, the biggest mistake a parent can make is not to understand that the little human that comes out of the mother’s body already has a personality. It’s still going to be molded and changed but the core is already there. Moms of several children know that even during pregnancy the babies behave in very different ways. You have a different relationship with them even in utero. My son in utero loved it when I lied down to rest. My daughter hated it and always wanted me to be on the move. It’s fascinating stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very insightful and on-point.

    This constant infantilization in the US culture in the name of political correctness, is at complete odds with the fierce sense of individuality that Americans proclaim (at least that is the impression I had coming from India, which has a society built around family as a unit instead of an individual).

    I have never fully understood this contradiction…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “If you still need big, all-knowing, all-powerful and ever-loving adults to “keep you safe,” things are even worse.”

    Wait, there’s a solution. It’s a time-tested human coping mechanism. You fill that need by imagining that all-knowing, all-powerful and ever-loving parent.

    Like

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