There is a universal truth for everyone – we all wish to feel comfortable in our surroundings, in our lives, and in who we are. In essence, we wish to be free to enjoy our own life journeys and know that our needs are going to get met in healthy ways. This is true for us all, from infants to children, youth to adults, and seniors as well. This comfort can be categorized as “safety”. When safety is not present for a person, our ability to be our authentic selves and to discover who we truly are becomes almost impossible.
For a young person, this reality is especially critical. Children and youth alike are at one of the most impressionable and most vulnerable stages of their lives, and a lack of feeling safe in their surroundings impedes any efforts they make to find happiness, and to relate to parents and peers in positive ways. Let me break down what safety means in the context of well-being.
There are two kinds of safety. First is the more obvious kind, physical safety. Physical safety means to be confident that one’s physical surroundings are not going to bring harm, and that those same surroundings can be relied upon to bring comfort. Years ago, I was on my way home from a solo trip to Texas where I first learned to windsurf. Bussing back to Houston, where I caught my flight home, involved a 3-hour stopover in a place named Brownsville.
My adventurous spirit (and a bit of boredom) encouraged me to explore the downtown and experience a brand new city. Unexpectedly, I soon found myself in a place where I clearly stood out as a stranger in a strange land, and within minutes had a sensation that I was being cast unwelcome glances. For the first time in my adult life, I chose to avoid interesting-looking food stands and taquerias in favour of vending machine food back at the Greyhound station! At that same moment, an old Buick drove by, and a person yelled a greeting from the passenger window that left me wondering how quickly I could get back to the bus station. At a quickened pace, I found my way back, and left town soon after for Houston.
That story ended well, but continues to remind me how difficult it is to live in a relaxed, confident way if we are unsure of our physical surroundings. I would love to have further explored old, historic Brownsville, but a lack of feeling safe absolutely prevented it on that day. I have worked with many children and youth who tragically did not have this physical safety even at home, and were forever on their guard to try and protect whatever small degree of safety they felt. When we grow up, we depend on those around us for protection, and to give us a peaceful space in which to discover our likes, interests, friends, favourite foods, and countless other elements that make each of us unique.
My hope is that each of us are doing what we can to create that safe space for others. Though it is part of the work I do every day, we all must acknowledge that too many young people in our society lack this basic need. Next week, I will look at the importance of the other key element of safety, that of emotional safety.
About The Author
Andrew Portwood is a local Masters-level counsellor with a special focus on children, youth, and young adults. Creating authentic connection is paramount in all he does. Contact him at The Core Centre of Health (250) 862-2673 or visit his website at clarowellness.ca