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To feel safe or to be safe?

A few days ago, on our NVC Year Training community call we started a discussion about safety – feeling safe in myself and feeling safe to express myself when I notice I’m feeling uncomfortable in the group. The group members had the intention to address the topic as an open dialogue and bring awareness to how difficult it is to be authentic even in a ‘safe environment’.

The word safe environment came up because we all have the intention to learn and live in NVC consciousness on this training. The group collected ideas of what this could look like; for instance regular check-ins between buddies and in the daily Empathy Home Groups on our modules. However, speaking up and expressing myself takes courage. Sometimes it is just too difficult and scary to express honestly what’s alive in me, especially when I feel triggered by a person who is in the room. The question was: What can each of us do to feel more at ease to speak up authentically?

In this context we discussed different perspectives. We had a mutual understanding that there is an individual responsibility (expressing what you need to thrive, addressing internal difficulties) and a collective responsibility (reaching out to someone who is struggling with the intention of care), for example when someone shares their observation and checks in with a person who looks troubled.

I enjoyed hearing the ideas about self-responsibility and how we can take care collectively to support individuals. I had a sense of interconnectedness. We are all together on this topic being a human with our fear Is it really safe? / Maybe it is not safe? Knowing there is myself and there is a community who is cooperating and caring for me makes it easier to trust in life. I’m not alone.

As I recall, this topic appears quite regularly in different contexts. What is behind the fear? Where does it come from?

Rumi’s poem comes to my mind “This being human is a guest house…” where he describes different feelings as momentary visitors and he invites us to welcome them all, because they are sent as a guide from beyond. If we could see feelings as momentary visitors and address them in the moment through the process of self-empathy, I could imagine it would give us more clarity on how to deal with them.

Coming back to my questions about fear, in my understanding this can only be addressed individually. We have different personalities and sensitivities. When I use the word sensitivity, I mean a place where we have a sense of feeling vulnerable. This could be emotionally, mentally and/or physically.

Dominic Barter, NVC trainer and founder of Restoratives Circles, makes the point that ‘to feel safe’ and ‘to be safe’ are different. If we focus on ‘feeling safe’, for instance by trying to avoid getting triggered, we may limit the possibility of connection with others. In addition, it’s unlikely that we will never get triggered. More realistic is to put our efforts into increasing our resilience to recover and restore connection when it’s lost.

I believe we need the kind of conversation which I described at the beginning more often in groups. For me it means that everyone has awareness that we are all dealing with our individual fear, for example the fear of being judged when we speak up. Naming it and learning how to deal with our fear and other unpleasant feelings is helpful if we want to become authentic and feel confident in ourselves. The focus is different.

If you’d like to experience the magic of a year-long NVC community and can come to the UK, find out more about our next NVC Year Training starting in October 2022, with the theme ‘Knowing, Living and Sharing NVC’. And/or sign up for our online Year Training Taster session on 21 May.