What is the role of safety and security when you leave your comfort zone into growth?
For me, the reality of many brave decisions of the past twenty years: there has been a strong influence of moving away from pain and fear! I have taken risks, pushed by pain. Because I feared the consequences of staying stuck, I moved! Sometimes towards my passion and transformation. Many times away from the discomfort of my comfort zone.
Looking back, I often wish that I had moved sooner, rather than waiting for the pain to grow and push me. I wish that I had moved towards my passion and dreams, allowing them to draw me – rather than allowing fear to fuel me.
I believe that it was Michael Beckwith that said:
Allow your pain to push you, until your passion/vision pulls you!
I want to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned on this journey.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: safety & security
In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and motivation, we find that primal needs, such as safety and security, must be met before we concern ourselves with aspects higher up the scale.
So, for example, before we can reach connection and loving, we need to feel safe as well as having our physiological needs met. Before we are concerned about matters of self-worth and esteem, we concern ourselves with belonging and community. Self-actualization – finding your purpose and passion – typically happen only after all the rest of our needs are pretty much fulfilled.
As a result, when we lack security or safety, we typically fail to connect with others and build a sense of belonging. We may feel that our growth is stunted, but fail to take steps towards changing the situation until we feel secure.
In choosing to leave our comfort zone – our current situation – fears about safety and security may hold us back!
Psychologists typically identify three aspects of safety and security:
- physical safety
- financial security
- emotional safety & security
The first, physical safety – literally refers to “feeling safe” where we are. Are we physically under threat in our home or neighbourhood? Do we feel under threat as we travel to work or school? Obviously, there is room here for perception to influence this, particularly if someone suffers from PTSD or anxiety of any form.
Financial security, on the other hand, may differ according to personal perceptions of what is “financial security”. For some people, having $1,000.00 in the bank account may make them feel very secure. Others, on the other hand, might feel that $1,000.00 in their account means that they are on the brink of bankruptcy and financially desolate. I am not so much concerned with your perception levels, so much as how you experience it!
How does your financial security impact your decision-making?
You might stay in an empty job, simply because it allows you to continue to pay the bills. What those bills and your standard of living are – those are personal perceptions! Nonetheless – if you feel that your financial safety & security is at risk, you may remain feeling unfulfilled, simply to avoid risking your financial safety and security. You may choose not to move to a new city or take an opportunity, because there are too many risks.
Financial security and independence allow us to choose. When we have stability and freedom, we take “riskier” choices, that allow us more growth and opportunities.
Emotional safety & security:
This refers to three aspects of safety:
- being with people you can trust;
- trusting yourself and your feelings;
- feeling safe to speak up in a relationship about your needs and what is required to meet them.
People you can trust
Each one of us needs to have a circle of people that we can trust. If you have ever been in an unhealthy or “toxic” relationships, you can probably relate to going into a survival mode when you are with or around a personal where you have no emotional safety. Typically, you feel unsafe – unable to freely speak your mind or express your emotions. Perhaps you are walking on eggshells or afraid of how they might respond.
For example – in relationships that I have been in where I did not feel safe, I experienced one or more of the following:
- people-pleasing – rather than authenticity
- my feelings or emotions were invalidated “you can’t or shouldn’t feel like that”; “that’s the wrong feeling”;
- I felt run over by a bus when I finished talking with this person – it was simply exhausting;
- Any time they talked to me, they unloaded all their complaints and negativity on me. It never felt uplifting;
- I had to avoid confrontation and speaking openly;
- Constantly being untrue to myself, in order to avoid problems with them.
These are only some of the signs that you don’t feel emotionally safe, putting you on the defensive. At this level, you are not open to connection, much less enjoying a sense of belonging.
Are you feeling that your relationships provide you with emotional safety & security? Or do you feel that you need more people you can trust in your life?
If you spend too much time with others that are discounting your emotions, you may start to second-guess yourself. Can you easily identify which emotion you are feeling? Part of trusting yourself is identifying and managing your feelings. This doesn’t mean ignoring your emotions or pushing them down – it is about a healthy identification and management.
Can you acknowledge when you are angry, differentiating that from when you are frustrated or impatient? When you are mindful and aware of your emotions, can you then communicate them safely to others?
Safety to speak up for your unmet needs
Finally, emotional safety and security mean you can speak up in a relationship – whether at work, home or friends – about those needs which are not being met. If it is not safe to speak up about what is missing – then you don’t have emotional safety. Something is still missing.
What happens when you are moved by fear?
Occasionally, we can mistakenly believe we are being cautious when we are actually failing to identify our fear! It’s not always about “thinking things through carefully” – but rather avoiding the pain and fear.
When we make decisions from this motivation – we miss out on being wise and smart in our choices.
Consider, for a moment, what is happening in your mind:
With fear, you envision and imagine the worst possible outcome. Your monkey mind rattles off all that can go wrong and how things are falling apart. While you might enter fight or flight mode, an alternative is freezing – feeling paralysed. When you go into fight mode – you may find yourself responding with anger or irritability.
Another fear response is working yourself to the bone – frenzied work, rather than focused and intentional. When you are operating from a place of fear, there is little rest, because you feel a desperation to get just one more thing finished. This can leave you feeling that there is just too much on – all of the time.
Choosing the devil you know
The primal instinct of fear will move you to keep what you have – no matter how little it is – rather than to risk it in order to grow and flourish. Even when your current situation is uncomfortable, you will choose the devil you know, rather than the great unknown.
Of course – on the bright side – fear keeps you alive! Nothing makes us more uncomfortable than fear! It fails to motivate you to improve – but it does move you out of your current pain point.
Unfortunately, it will only move you out of the immediate pain – not into long-term gain.
So, when you are motivated and moved by your fear, it will never be enough to take you out of the danger zone – because it only moves you far enough out of imminent danger, rather than completely to safety.
What does safety & security feel like, beyond your comfort zone?
One of the hardest decisions that I had to make – letting go of fear and pain – was to look at my safety and security in the long-term, rather than the short-term. Safety and security are still a major influence in decision-making. But I’ve changed the role that they play.
For example, when looking at financial security – if you have a job that is paying your bills, but that is all – what is going to happen in 6 months, 12 months or even three years? When you take the longer view – are you really safe staying in your comfort zone?
What do you really risk by making a move? And what do you risk if you fail to make any changes? If nothing changes in my financial situation over the next six months – will I really be safe and secure?
Likewise, when you look at your emotional safety – the people you can trust, trusting yourself and your feelings, or speaking up in a relationship – what happens if you look at this supposed security when you take a long view? If this relationship continues exactly as it is, without risking any changes, where will you be in six months time? Will the relationship be stronger and healthier? Or are there reasons to risk short-term pain, in order to have a long-term gain?
The true challenge of Safety & Security
The real challenge lies in balancing your short term plans and goals against the unknown of the long-term.
Let’s be honest – you never leave your comfort zone for a short-term dream or goal. It’s inevitably about playing a long game. When you consider your dreams, goals and passions – you are looking at the life you are building. It’s not usually about the next three months!
I can guarantee it will probably be uncomfortable:
- You may risk your financial security, choosing a new job or role. Starting a business.
- You may choose to downsize your expenses so that you have more money for investing. You may re-prioritise investment goals and strategies.
- Perhaps you increase your expenses in the short-term, choosing more training and development for yourself, your staff or your business – risking your short-term profits as you invest in yourself or your business.
- A balance might be changed in a relationship – home, work or friendships – as you decide to re-engage with a person or set different boundaries, which are healthier for you in the longterm. This carries a risk of confrontation, or possibly even rejection and ending a relationship.
- You may have to build new relationships with a new group of friends, in order to find true connection and fulfilment.
- You might have to do some inner work, mindfulness and awareness of your emotional well-being – which could drag up past emotions that you failed to engage with in the past. This might hurt in the short-term. There may be grief or pain.
- Looking at your relationships, you may decide to speak up in a relationship and voice your needs. The other person may decide that you have broken the unspoken agreement of what they considered your relationship to be – and no longer want to have a relationship with you.
At the end of the day – you hold the key to any change and growth.
Things can stay exactly as they are.
But if they stay as they are today, where will you be in six months time? A year from now? Three years from now? Will you be satisfied with that?
Or are you willing to rewrite your definition of safety and security – taking a longer view of what it means for you to be safe and secure – so that you can achieve your hopes and dreams?