Danielle talks about our core desired feelings, and asserts that all of our behavior, conscious or not, is in search of feeling these feelings. It’s embarassing, maybe, that it’s taken me 35.5 years to figure this out, but I am certain that one of my core desired feelings, probably the primary one, is safety.

This is one of those places where the rational and logical people in my life roll their eyes. I know. I’m one of the safest people in the world. How can I possibly not know – not feel – it!? I don’t know. But I do know this realm, this space of most devoutly desired feelings and deepest, most primal anxieties, is not a place where reason and logic rule. I have struggled my whole life with feeling unsafe. There. I said it.

There are many layers of this unsafety (and it’s actually not the same as my deep and toxic insecurity, either, a topic for another post). I have terrifying fears about financial safety that, while not tethered to reality, have their claws deep into my psyche. I worry that there will not be enough. I worry constantly about not being able to pay basic bills, not having a roof over my head, losing everything. This turns into enormous pressure on myself to earn money. It has also created a completely irrational panic about all things money-related, which, combined with my deep resistance to ever talking about the topic at all, makes money into a powderkeg of a subject, one that I both fear and avoid.

I also worry about the safety of my physical self. I’ve always worried about it: perhaps this is hypochondria, perhaps it is a psychosomatic way of handling my anxieties about my spirit in the world. I wait, day in and day out, for the other medical shoe to drop. My daughter’s mononeucleosis diagnosis this week felt like a manifestation of this deep sense of being at risk: I spent two terrifying hours imagining very bleak news (with reason, given what the doctors said and did) and wondering if I had, with my incessant worrying and fearing, somehow brought this onto her. The actual news that she had mono felt like a radiant relief after what I had imagined and blamed myself for creating.

Perhaps most vitally, though, I want to be safe from myself. I want to be clearly seen for who and what I am – something that I have truly felt so rarely in my life – but also loved in spite of it. I know I misbehave, I know I am far too emotional, reactive, insecure. I want to be kept safe from those monsters running in my head: I want someone to wrap their arms around me and tell me that I am safe from my own rampaging emotions.

Someone told me recently that there is no meaning without safety. I’ve been mulling over the comment, turning it over, and finding myself nodding. Yes. Given my preoccupation with the search for meaning in my small little life, this is a vital truth, not a mere nuance or turn of phrase. And it must explain why for me there is such frantic fear around not being safe. In those rare moments where I have felt safe enough to relax my white-knuckle grasp one very single little thing, I’ve been able to see and experience meaning. To relax into my life, to live it rather than hold it in my panicky, breathless, fearful grasp.

I want to feel safe. What will it take? How do I build a life around those people, places, and experiences that provide that? How do I not transmit this irrational but deeply destabilizing fear to my children? How do I learn to control my own reactivity so that more people might be willing to be here, so that I can trust that they will keep me safe? I don’t know the answers. I’m only barely seeing the questions shimmering up through the morass of roiling thoughts in my head. I turn back to Rilke, and commit yet again, as another day turns towards morning, to living the questions.

25 thoughts on “Safe”

  1. So thoughtful and so beautifully considered, Lindsey.

    These same issues have been much on my mind lately. For me this search for safety – or the finding of it – connects to the question of faith, and the reserve of it into which we tap – consciously or unconsciously – when feeling threatened. (The very topic I am thinking about for my upcoming post for you.)

    “I turn back to Rilke, and commit yet again, as another day turns towards morning, to living the questions.” Gorgeous. I look forward to joining you on the journey of living the questions.

  2. Beautiful, honest post. Lack of feeling safe comes from believing safety can be achieved through solidifying life into known patterns of support and supply. When we live by this belief we can never feel safe because life is a continuously moving process. To feel safe, we must accept the impermanence of living. We must acknowledge that life is not solid ground, but a fluid ocean. The skills for living on solid ground don’t work for living in a watery world. It’s not about finding a rock where we can stand. It’s about swimming in the currents. Getting to know them and delighting in their creative surprises.

  3. Where to enter in to all of this, Lindsey? Maybe by at least acknowledging that (again) your words speak profoundly to my heart, my own experiences – both past and present, my own desires. Thank you.

    One other thing: I want to be able to somehow convince you that all you feel, all you ask, all you desire IS safe. Safe to feel. Safe to ask. Safe to desire. All of it matters. And whether or not there is an “answer” matters less than knowing safe spaces in which you can ask and ask and ask again.

    Maybe there is no meaning in safety (though I’m not so sure); but perhaps there is safety in meaning – or our pursuit of it. Your questions mean much. They invite much. They reveal much. And that means much. There’s safety in there somewhere. I’m sure of it.

    And nothing in me wants to roll my eyes.

  4. Feeling safe means different things to different people. I remember people that I was overreacting after Columbine in 1999 when I would, even in my small rural community, ask neighbors how their guns were stored before allowing my children to play at their homes. No one around here asks things like that. I wanted my children to be safe, though.

    And what is safe changes as our lives and our worlds change – which almost a constant change.

    You have me thinking now, and that is good. Thanks, Lindsey.

  5. From a different perspective, and much life lived, I suggest this: Dear, gifted, beautiful Lindsey, there is no safety. Perhaps in finally realizing that, in knowing there are small measures of feeling safe, there is freedom to risk what feels unsafe, though it may be no more so than just getting through a given day.

  6. Beautifully written.

    As someone whose family moved 19 times in her first 18 years, I certainly understand. As someone who never lived in one place longer than five years until this house with my partner, I understand.

    As someone raised in a family where I thought my mother’s life or my dog’s life could be taken by my father…

    Safety has been such a driving force in my life, that I have refused for most of it to take the good risks, to exhibit courage in the healthy ways.

    Not any more.

    For ME, I finally figured out that feeling unsafe was leftover from that horrific past, that it was indicative of my living there. I am safe NOW. In this exact moment, all is well.

  7. What an open, honest post. This totally spoke to me also.

    I have always been in constant fear. Needing to be “safe” from myself.

    The voices in my head that tell me I’m not good enough. That I have to settle. That I need to find a rock to stand on as Anthony points out in comments.

    Fear of not being good enough, fear of being left behind and alone, fear of taking chances etc.

    I too am asking questions of myself. Trying not to listen to those voices. And again, as Anthony says: “To feel safe, we must accept the impermanence of living”.

    This is what I am striving to do with my life now too. It has taken me a little longer than you, though 😉

    Blogging certainly helps. It helps me to read my own words of encouragement.

    The biggest help so far is reading the blogs of others though – to know that I am not alone in my quest. That is what is making me feel safer.

    Thanks for this post Lindsey.

  8. I read this and I damn near choked on my Diet Coke. How is it, that all of these years, I haven’t felt safe from myself…and yet not had the introspection enough to realize it?

    Well, crap? Now what do I do?

    You always make me think. Wow.

  9. Living the questions is the hardest work there is some days. Having a child prompted me to move away from my own fears, my sense of the world being an unsafe place. I have worked SO HARD for the last 2.5 years and I am a different person. I now go to trust, safety and abundance where I used to live in fear and lack. Most days anyway. I am far from perfect. It IS possible. Your bravery in examining your self and sharing it with the world shows that you have the strength to both live in the questions and find the answers (which of course lead to more questions!). Beautiful post.

  10. Living life until the questions are answered, yes, Rilke is so right in that.

    In the personal turmoil that has been my life these past weeks, I can only say that safety is a lovely thing. But not always the place to grow, to become, to evolve.

  11. I resonate to what Christine says about fear relating to the past—viewing anxiety as the largely unmetabolized painful past projected into the future. While those who say that we cannot be truly safe (at least in body) seem to be right, our subjective experience can be worked with, embracing the questions, finding community, authentic connection and fellowship in our common love and dread (particularly as we transcend ourselves in the context of loving, and fearing for, our children).

    While I appreciate the biological basis of fear and its implications for survival, sometimes I just want to live life like a Dodo bird warmly welcoming the Conquistadors.

  12. What a raw and haunting post. For me, you raise an important question, namely what is the difference between feeling and being? The older we get, the more experiences we have, the more readily apparent it becomes that pure safety is unachievable, but is *feeling* safe something we can manage? If so, how? I love how you tie up this honest post by vowing to live the questions. In my estimation, that’s what the good life is all about. Please know that I am along for the ride, however bumpy it might be.

  13. Whoa. Again.

    Articulating these words (poetic to the core) must feel like a risk in and of itself. The fact that you continue to test your own boundaries (I am imagining) by sharing what you feel so very deeply is mind-bogglingly (sp?) wondrous. I may be imagining this too, but I somehow envision writing feeling like a safe haven for you. Bravo, bravo, bravo for what you’ve created and are creating.

    My struggle is with wanting to trust with willful abandon…to feel free in that generosity of spirit. To trust myself and to trust others. I also reckon “trust” is a close cousin to “safety”.

    Am working on finding my own haven too.

    Thank you, as ever.

  14. Oh the courage you showed here, Lindsey! Even though the topic is fear – your post made my heart open – the freshness, life and vulnerability in your writing is SO beautiful.

    I’m at the other end of parenting

    (my youngest is planning to leave the nest to do an intern thing in D.C. Could we find a city with a higher murder rate than the one we currently live near – which is Philly? oh sure, D.C. – well then, that’ll do)

    but I “get” the fears around children – and fear in general – and the tightness that makes mono a relief. I think that doing what you’ve done here – sharing your heart on this – is probably the 2nd most helpful thing you can do for yourself (the first being – allowing the feelings into consciousness, which you obviously did before writing this).

    Hurrah for you for being so brave and beautiful – and for us for being allowed “in” through your posts. Prayers and gentle healing thoughts for your daughter – and for you as you comfort/heal/love her through.

  15. This post is so moving.

    Your life is SO not small. It’s as grand as anyone else’s.

    And you show with every post how incredibly brave you are, despite feeling anything but sometimes.

    You really are an artist with words. Thanks so much for sharing them with us. I am so grateful for your many seeds of wisdom.

  16. I also never feel completely safe. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m never 100% honest with myself in how I feel. I feel like I may be “found out” at any moment. That the real me will become clear to all of the people who I count on to keep me safe and when they discover this “real me” they will no longer want to stick around… I am also a hypochondriac of the worst kind and never feel safe with my health. I fear the worst, always.
    I also believe that feeling lonely is the equivalent to feeling unsafe. Because at least for me, being alone is to not be wrapped in the safety of others. You are not alone in how you feel. Not alone at all.

    Thanks for these words that resonated with me. xo

  17. I am ten years older than you, and I was exactly the same way as you are at your current age. A whole realm of anxieties. I took me until almost forty to get a handle on it and find that inner peace, the ability to let go of the things I had no control over and to try to stop fighting and controling every thing else in my life. All I can say is that when you reach is, it is such a relief!

  18. All of us desires safety. But the reality of life requires us to move out of safety and experience the uncertain. If we keep on holding safety, it will not benefit us in the end because we refuse to face our fears. 🙂

  19. If there is “no meaning without safety” that would mean millions of people hang in the balance, no? How many of us feel safe? Truly safe? And what about the difference between FEELING safe and BEING safe. I think as with many other states of being, our soul just has to catch up with the present moment and settle into it. And THEN there is no whole issue of expectations. Don’t expectations add tremendously to–are possibly responsible for–the feelings we need to feel and the feelings we want to feel.

    It gets a little fuzzy when trying to condense this into a few sentences–clearly this is full of much LARGER thoughts. But it’s 7 am(ish) and I’m just taking my first sips of coffee. I read this the other day and didn’t have the time to respond, but I immediately thought the same things then that I think now after reading it again. Something about “state of mind” and “reality vs. perception” and “needs.”

    Hmmm. I suppose I should dive a little deeper once the coffee’s gone. 🙂

  20. I read this days ago and have been wanting to comment but just now got around to it! This post was very honest, and I could relate to it almost word for word. I am a worrier. I HATE it. I know I am passing it on to my boy, and I hate that even more. (Of course, then I worry about that, and the cycle continues…) The worry extends from big (medical issues) to inconsequential (will the party napkins match the cups?). I obsess. About a lot. And the noise in my head is almost always too much to bear. I keep trying to figure out how to let it go, b/c I, too, have noticed that when I am able to not worry, to surrender, I enjoy life so much more. And I do understand that worry has absolutely no benefit, no purpose. Although I am sorry to know you too struggle, it always reassuring when you find out someone else feels the same way you do. Thanks for this post.

  21. I can identify with this post in a very profound way. Earlier this year I resolved to start my journey to really discover myself. It’s a scary place to go, outside of my comfort zone. Much like you, I tend to keep things safe. I worry lots, I stress, I overanalyze. I try to control life. My journey is about discovering how to live from the heart and less from the mind. A very hard thing to do when you want to “stay safe” as you’ve said. Now that I’ve found your blog, I am so keen to read more. It’s so comforting to know their are others who feel and think the same.

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