We all have ways of staying safe. They are our go to strategies for keeping life from spiraling out of control. Sometimes we make them ways of living. Sometimes we reach for them under stress.
Some strategies are more adaptive than others because they help us and others around us. Some strategies are good for short term problem solving, but not long term survival. They get us out of hot water, but may disrupt our lives, relationships, or keep us from growing. It may make more sense if we look some common strategies in more detail. So, let’s look at how do you stay safe.
People who use intellect to stay safe find safety in data. They need to understand things. If they can understand data, they can make sense of the world and feel that things are predictable, controllable, and stable. Sometimes intellectuals are nervous because they don’t trust the data. They keep checking it, learning more, or asking more “what if” questions. Some intellectuals trust the data and find peace with it. In fact, they may also learn more and more things because it allows them to understand more. That understanding creates peace.
Some people create safety by developing sensitive feelers. These feelers pick up real and perceived threats faster than your average person. They can react with emotional outbursts to throw the aggressor off the scent. The emotions are used to confuse and diffuse so that the issue is never directly addressed. This can create safety in the moment- but at a high cost. The emotional episodes are very draining for the person experiencing them and people around them. The issue that was avoided also doesn’t get resolved.
There are times when we’re all overstimulated. We live in an society of constant sensory overload. So it’s understandable if you feel the need to zone out every now and then. When used as a coping strategy, it probably indicates that there has been a high degree of stress over a long period of time that hasn’t been resolved. It does get you through the crisis, but it leaves you emotionally numb. This can be deceptive because it could appear that you are pretty chill. If you are never really feel anything intensely, you could be numb.
An obvious coping strategy for stress is fighting or becoming verbally aggressive. This strategy helps you to stay safe by intimidating the other person to back off. It can make you feel powerful and in control. That also makes you feel safe. Sometimes fighting is required, like if someone wants to manipulate you into paying more for something that you should or if you are being physically attacked. You don’t generally want to do this with people you intend to have an ongoing relationship with however. Fighting tends to deteriorate relationships as you take away the other person’s power. Who likes that feeling?
Passive Aggressive Behavior
Passive-aggressive behavior is when you feel like you want to stand up for yourself, but can’t do it directly. So you do it in an underhanded way. This doesn’t really provide safety, but it may make you feel like you got revenge for being trespassed against. It may leave you feeling like you got revenge. Of course, what you send out comes back to you, so this is not a healthy strategy at any time.
People who over apologize, make themselves the butt of the joke, and put others ahead of themselves stay safe by playing small. Playing small makes you more of a target by others in some ways. In other ways, it makes you more of one. If you come across those who need to feel powerful or are the type to take advantage of others, you’re more likely to be taken advantage of as a soft target. This could make your self-esteem even lower.
Some make themselves safe by being lovers and givers. These people tend to be really nice to be around. They smile, hug, provide warm chocolate chip cookies, and make things look pretty and comfortable. They are the teddy bears of the world. Very rarely are they ever attacked. The problem with this strategy is that while these people are really good at anticipating the needs of others, they are rarely in touch with their own. They can get mad when they are not given the same consideration that they give others, but they aren’t good at receiving it when they do! This is a no win proposition!
Ah! Nothing succeeds like success, eh? What could be wrong with staying safe by being a success? Attainment is great. It doesn’t matter if the goal is sports, art, education, business, or teaching. You learn along the way, grow in strength, and in confidence. There is nothing wrong with that… unless it’s a way to avoid the conflict that comes with messy things like emotions and relationships. You can’t hug a trophy. Your yacht won’t love you back. It may feel really lonely and unfulfilling to achieve success without the warmth of someone to share it with.
We laugh at the “I do what I want” memes. Some of us really live it. They avoid fear and stay safe by bulldozing anyone who gets in their way. They live through power and domination. It’s not that they push everyone around all the time. Sometimes they don’t have a dog in the fight. When they do, they are hard to reason with and don’t consider others. We might be envious of such courage and strength, but being on the receiving end of it usually isn’t pleasant. This can create loneliness.
What to Do Instead
Most of these strategies can work for some people some of the time. The problem is when they are over used or used to the point of making your life unbalanced. What works better is to step into your power, but don’t take more than what is yours. Everyone has power. Everyone needs power. If you give yours away, you hurt yourself. If you take more than is yours, you hurt others. We’re all happier when we neither hurt other nor hurt ourselves.
Live mindfully. When you are here now, things that may trigger you when you are in a reactive state could pass by unnoticed because you see that they aren’t harming you now. When you are present, you are also more reasonable and can reach for more effective skills. For example, if my go to skill is to smash someone with my wit, I may realize that what I might gain is not worth the effort. So I may let a slight pass.
Living mindfully may also help you to be more self-aware. If you become aware of what tweaks you, it gives you a starting point for working to diffuse that thing as a trigger. If you get defensive or scared when someone implies something about your looks, manner of speech, or clothes, perhaps your ego could use strengthening. If you go into defense mode when someone appears to want intimacy, maybe you have trust issues. Whatever it is, it’s a lot easier to address the issue head on than to die a hundred little deaths each time the issue comes up.
Cultivate balance. Succeeding is great. Everyone wants to reach their goals. If you make it about the journey instead of having something to prove, you may enjoy it more. You may also find that you have time for relationships, relaxation, and developing other things that make life enjoyable.