In Psychology and Coaching, two fields I feel very close to, it is quite common to use the terminology safe space. During a therapy or coaching session, we want to ensure that our clients feel safe to share their thoughts and feelings. As professionals, we do our best to provide an open and free-judgement space to hold the other person’s emotional journey.
This is not true only for psychologists or coaches. As human beings, we seek for safety in many ways. We wish for physical and emotional safety wherever we are. Though not being the reality for everyone, most of us are fortunate to have found our own safe space, both external and internally. We feel safe in the country we live, inside our household, in our work environment, with our family and friends, within ourselves.
Can you think about your own safe space? A place where you can be yourself. Where you can express your thoughts, emotions, experiences without fear of retaliation. Allowing you to be in touch with your best self, letting you receptive to creativity and inspiration.
So far so good. You just do not see the linkage with the title of this blog post yet! If a safe space feels so cozy and warm, how would it limit our own growth?
As I usually say, it is a matter of perspective. There are almost always two sides of everything. If being on a healthy diet is great news for your body and mind; never allowing yourself to have a sugar bite is probably not the healthiest of habits. Or if moving across countries is quite the courageous act, perhaps moving countries every year bringing the family along is not the definition of embracing change.
Below we explore the two sides of this coin called safe space. Let us look at how it can encourage or limit growth.
1. Ways to encourage growth:
Set clear boundaries: Knowing and clearly expressing your boundaries – in terms of time, place, and space – provides you with the mental space required to shift in between roles and responsibilities. Mistakes and broken promises often happen when boundaries are crossed, people get frustrated (sometimes hurt) and blame is spread all over. Therefore, communicating your boundaries to other people is a way to show them the borders of your safe space. It encourages you to be more open about what works for you and what are your non-negotiables. Boundaries are there not to isolate you, but rather as a reminder of what matters to you the most. Next time you travel to your safe place – being a room or in your mind – think about your boundaries. Are you clear about what those are? Do you communicate them to others openly? Take advantage of this peaceful space to review your boundaries and, if needed, put in place new ones.
Increase self-awareness: By getting in touch with your inner self you get closer to your core values, to your true Self. You get the chance to develop more self-awareness, to get to know yourself better and learning from within. When being within your safe space you favor an environment of quietness and stillness, becoming more open to listen and ask yourself the tough questions. While doing so, you are checking in with your thoughts and feelings promoting self-reflection. For some people, this safe place is often associated with the practice of meditation or mindfulness, allowing them to reach this conscious awareness. On the other hand, your self-awareness can also be increased when exchanging and learning with someone – or in this case, that special someone who represents your safe harbor.
Boost creativity: A safe place can be exactly what you need to let your creative side out. There are no right or wrong ideas, just time to let your imagination run wild. Being in a relaxing and inviting space, helps sparking your inspiration. Also, within the boundaries of a safe place, divergent thinking is fostered allowing new and creative ideas to form. And remember that creativity can express itself in various ways. For some it can mean new products or services for their own business, while for others it may be new ways of connecting with their spouses or children. Whatever your creative vein looks like, generating ideas reinvigorates your brain pushing you beyond what you thought possible. Hence, contributing to your professional and personal growth.
2. Ways to limit growth:
Lack of divergent opinions: It may happen that to feel safe, you surround yourself by similar minded people. Meaning that they will less likely challenge your thoughts and your perspective, as they are quite aligned with yours. Not being exposed to different ways of thinking can limit yourself letting you less open and receptive. When you do not have the opportunity to develop your open-mindedness, you may feel your ideas and opinions are the only ones that matter. Hence, interpreting different or even opposite perspectives as wrong. Though when it comes to how we see and interpret the world, there are rarely wrong or right perspectives. We do not have to think alike to respect one another. You can indeed learn and grow when you exchange thoughts and ideas, still feeling safe and respected.
Suppress negative feelings: Being in a safe space all the time is not synonym for eternal happiness and bliss. Nor it means having no problems or challenges at all! When a safe place starts to feel like your own cocoon, without any interference from the exterior or self-reflection of your inner world it may be a sign of suppressed feelings, especially negative ones. You develop this need to feel safe and protected from potential harm thoughts and situations, almost as creating your own reality – preferably a place where nothing ever goes wrong or against your expectations. What you should not forget is that negative feelings are a vital part of your experiences, pushing towards improvement and growth.
A safe space is something some of us take for granted. Aside our own fears and limiting-beliefs, most of us are loved, cared for, safe. We get to be who we are and openly share our values and opinions if we decide to. Today is a reminder to honor your safe space toward your personal development. Do not let it turn into a cage or a cocoon where only what you think and feel matters. Instead, open your safe place to novel ideas and new people encouraging your growth.