By Dr. Steve
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the Safety Patrol
Tolerance is the oil which takes the friction
out of life.
-Wilbert E. Scheer
Treat the words your partner shares with you as the precious gems that they
words caused Martys body to recoil, much as if he had been struck with a bullet
fired from a gun.
does it, Im not doing this with you anymore, Marty shouted.
Martys actions, the words spoken, the depth of Martys anger, didnt seem
to phase her in the least. In fact, it appeared that there was a look of satisfaction on
her face, just the smallest hint of amusement in her smile.
mean it, Dale. I just cant keep taking this.
what? she asked, more annoyed than curious.
know damn well what Im talking about. The way you shoot me down. I feel like I go
out on a limb and there you are right behind me, sawing the branch off.
dont you think that youre being just the least bit dramatic?
You know how hard it is for me to open up to anyone in the first place. And then when I do
so with you--what you do with it--its inhumane.
not following you, Dale said in her most discounting tone.
this, why dont you! I try and tell you how I feel about you and the next thing I
know, you tear into me.
me an example, Dale challenged Marty.
dont have to prove this to you, although I can tell you this much. I know when
youre doing it. I feel it in my gut. It feels like Ive been kicked by a mule.
by Martys protest, Dales voice became harder rather than softer. Listen,
there are times that you go too far with things. Im just trying to let you know to
cut it out.
me know is one thing, but you become downright cruel. Theres no way the punishment
fits the crime. You take what I say to you, twist it, distort it, ultimately you use it
certainly is your perception of things, but it doesnt mean that I agree with
you, Dale said.
God, Dale, Im not asking you to agree with me. Im asking you to understand how
your actions affect me. This isnt about whether your behavior is justified or not.
Its about how unsafe you make me feel. Its about how I feel like closing up
like a clam after one of your slams.
all I can hear right now is you blaming me. I want to understand you, but I dont get
what youre saying, Dale explained.
real simple. I consider the things I share with you to be sacred. Theyre like
precious jewels. But you treat my words like toothpicks that you just snap in half
whenever I have displeased you.
started to interrupt Marty, but Marty waved Dale off.
dont. Just hear me out. Opening up to you the way I do, do you have any idea how
vulnerable, how fragile I feel? And then you come along and stomp on me, its like
you are squishing the life out of a bug. Its like you have a sixth sense for what
Im feeling so vulnerable about and then you just go after it.
need to feel safe in order to be with you. I need to trust that you arent going to
hurt me, that you arent going to use my words against me. Worst of all I never know
when its going to happen. I always have to keep my guard up, I never know when
youre going to pounce on me next.
you get it, Dale, the very way you protect yourself causes me to feel unsafe with you. I
cant keep doing this with you if I cant feel safe.
all have the need to feel emotionally safe with the people in our lives. If you want to
create a relationship thats rewarding and fulfilling, you need to insure that both
you and your partner feel safe with each other. Theres no way your relationship can
grow and develop without that condition being met.
a secure connection and emotional safety are the two fundamental building blocks upon
which an emotionally satisfying relationship is built. By fulfilling these basic emotional
needs, youll be that much better able to have many others fulfilled.
the last chapter, we focused on two skills, checking-in and self-disclosure. These are the
fundamental skills to use in order to create a secure connection. However, you cant
have a secure connection without an atmosphere of openness created by a climate of
this is easy enough to see why. The emotional nutrients of any relationship are openness
and emotional honesty. Feeling emotionally safe is the primary ingredient necessary for
emotional intimacy to grow and develop in your relationships. If you dont feel safe,
youll shut down, turn off, and tune out. The connection that youve worked so
hard to create will shrivel up, wither away, and all too often, die.
makes a relationship emotionally safe? Does the word respect make sense? Think about your
own experiences. Think about the risks that youve taken with somebody. Did you feel
like the risks you took were received with respect? Was there a sense of being honored for
sharing something about yourself with somebody? Did you feel encouraged to continue taking
risks with that person?
makes a relationship emotionally safe. Trust is created out of the track record that you
build with somebody. Has experience taught you that your partner works hard at
understanding you? Or do your words become the tools that your partner uses to humiliate
you? Using your words against you--these are the kinds of experiences that contribute to
an emotionally unsafe relationship.
ownership of your behavior is a third way to create an emotionally safe relationship.
Taking ownership of your behavior removes the voices of blame and victimization from your
relationships. In order for you to feel safe in your relationships, its critical
that you feel safe enough to be yourself without fear of blame and retribution.
theres blame being projected, nobody can feel safe. Blame makes you feel like a
target. When you feel like a target, you must necessarily defend yourself. Feeling like a
target, anybody will naturally defend themselves first, and build relationship bridges
best way to diffuse that vicious circle is to blame less and take ownership more often.
Being open to seeing your part in any dynamic with your partner enables your partner to
feel much more open to seeing their part. That is the formula to resolving conflict and
making things feel safe for you and your partner.
Im suggesting to you is the need to develop an emotional tone in your relationships.
The tone expresses something special--the essence of which may seem somewhat simplistic to
you. What this essence communicates is that you and your partner are for each other.
Cooperation supplants competitiveness. Understanding displaces judgment. Acceptance blooms
where criticism once ruled.
there is a prevailing sense of emotional safety theres a feeling of warmth and
camaraderie. You feel safe in the knowledge that you have at least one person on your side
wanting to be there for you rather than being against you. Life feels a little lighter,
your burdens feel a little easier to bear.
safety is not something you can simply wish to have happen for you. There are things you
can do to create that climate. Much of what we have discussed in earlier sections of the
book are part of the puzzle. Things like acceptance, empathy, and validation. Now let me
suggest more tools that will assist you in building emotionally safe relationships. Using
these skills will build trust into your relationship. The presence of trust will
enable the two of you to feel safe with each other in order to take more and more risks
that will build an even more secure connection.
Use information to understand your partner, not to use it against them.
Lauries face had turned a bright red. She was so embarrassed. All she wanted to do
was find a hole to climb in and hide.
I told you that in the strictest confidence, Laurie said. How dare you
bring that up again!
just trying to prove what a hypocrite you are, Ralph said.
hypocrite? Whats that have to do with anything? Laurie asked.
has everything to do with it. All Im saying is last week you told me all those
things about you and your mom. And I cant help but think that if that is how you are
with your mom, then....
cut Ralph off before he could complete what he was about to say. Then,
nothing! One has absolutely nothing to do with the other.
Ill tell you this much. I cant believe how offended I feel. I cant
believe that you would take what I told you, twist my words, and then try and apply them
to a completely different set of circumstances.
not? It seems like a perfectly normal thing to do. You make all these promises to me and
expect me to believe you. Im just pointing out that theres no reason to
believe you, based upon what you told me about you and your mother.
now, Laurie was more hurt than embarrassed. Tears were running down her cheeks. She
couldnt believe how betrayed she felt.
youre missing the whole point. I told you that stuff about me and my mom, because I
wanted you to better understand why its so hard between her and me. I sure as hell
didnt expect you to take that information and blow it out of proportion in every
other aspect of my life.
be a fool not to, Ralph said.
youre a fool for doing it, Laurie said.
youre causing more damage by misusing what I told you than the damage you fear
Im going to create in the first place.
do you figure? Ralph asked.
Im going to think twice before I tell you anything anymore. I dont like having
to be so guarded with anybody. Im going to resent you for what youve just done
to me and Im going to resent you for not being able to trust you in the
cant you trust me? Ralph asked.
I dont want to have to worry about what youre going to do with something once
I share it with you. When I open up to you, Im just sharing a part of myself with
you, Im not looking to have it shoved back into my face two weeks later when it
suits your purposes to do so.
skills we have talked about in this book have one aim--diffusing conflict by better
understanding your partner and more effectively expressing that understanding to your
partner. Your best intentions will be defeated if all the new ways you have to express
yourself are used against you.
a very simple proposition. You and your partner both deserve to be treated with respect as
you learn how to pinpoint the issues in your relationships. You need to understand that
the skills youre learning are tools of healing, not bullets to be loaded in a gun to
be fired at your partner.
through understanding is the goal. Dont take your sights off that target.
Understanding is created through all the new ways of communicating weve talked
ways of communicating are sacred. They need to be honored as such. Communication is most
effective when it feels safe to express what you need to express.
some time to review the list I have created below. Think about how this list may enrich
your relationship. Is there at least one pointer on this list that you can adapt
list of dos and donts can open up doors to the people in your life. But you
know, this is no instant formula to happiness. You must be willing to practice these
skills and be ready for the inevitable disappointments that come with trying something
The Dos and Donts for
Creating Emotional Safety
take for granted what your partner is sharing with you. It may strike you as
unimportant, but dont mistake that as being true for your partner. Treat it with the
respect that you would want accorded to what you might share.
twist the meaning of whats being shared with you. Check it out with your partner how
youre hearing what has been said to you. Make sure you understand what your partner
is trying to communicate, not what you want to understand from it.
throw information in your partners face. Be clear that whatever your partner shares
with you, its not going to be used as ammunition against them in the future.
your partner. Let your partner express what they need to express. By not personalizing
what your partner expresses, you will reduce the defensiveness that can arise from honest
to your partner. Your partner is not looking to have their feelings debated. Avoid
attempting to argue away or fix away somebodys feelings. Be a sounding board that
affirms your partners feelings.
your partner for taking the risks that they have taken with you. Acknowledge the
importance of what you have been entrusted with. Let your partner know that you understand
the risk they have taken.
Heal the hurts in your relationships rather than store them up as ammunition.
right, thats enough already! Pat said angrily.
Im just getting warmed up, Barb said.
it, wont you? Pat pleaded.
you think I should go easy on you now? Barb asked.
dont you think Ive been through enough? Pat reasoned.
think you should get a free ride just because you quit drinking? What do you think
Ive been through the last fifteen years?
know what youve been through, Barb. Youve been telling me nonstop now for the
last three hours, Pat said.
dont think Im entitled to blow off some steam? I had to watch what I said when
you were drinking because I didnt want to set you off. Now youre saying
youre too frail to take responsibility for the things you did to me?
Im not saying Im frail. Im saying its unfair to keep beating me
over the head for every crime I committed. What good is it going to do either of us to
keep citing me chapter and verse about every last thing that Ive done to you?
It makes me feel better, Barb shouted.
glad it works for you, but it makes me feel like crap, Pat said.
tired of worrying about your feelings. When are you going to start worrying about
mine? Barb asked.
cant possibly begin to do that until you stop launching these missiles at me. If I
didnt have to dodge every misdeed Ive done, then perhaps I could start
thinking about you and your feelings.
call it laundry listing. Keeping track of all the slights you have suffered at the hands
of your partner, never shy of reminding them about the sins theyve committed.
laundry listing is merely a device that fans the flames of conflict rather than makes
molehills out of mountains. Im not saying that you arent entitled to feel hurt
or angry or betrayed. Im merely asking how does clinging to your laundry list serve
the overall well-being of your relationship?
why resolution is so important. Think of all the unresolved issues in your relationship as
jagged edges that you and your partner continually trip over. How does it feel to have
those jagged edges tossed around, days, weeks, even months after the crime was committed?
of resolving conflict means that you have to let go of the past as you move towards living
in the here-and-now. How do you practically let go of the past? In a word, forgiveness. If
your goal is to create a climate of emotional safety, forgiveness is the final stop to
no getting past this ultimate truism. Making molehills out of mountains is one part
awareness of the underlying relationship issue, one part effectively communicating that
awareness with your partner, one part letting go of your hurt and anger, and one part
you see how important forgiveness is in the equation? Do you recognize how you have a
tendency to hold onto the hurts and slights that have come your way? Do you keep track of
them, constantly replaying them in your head, throwing them up in your partners face
from time to time?
prevents you from letting go of feeling wronged?
forgiveness a place you want to wind up with your partner as you work through the issues
in your relationships? There are many people who choose to live in the energy of their
hurt and pain. Many people I work with choose--thats right its a choice--to
stay hurt, to feel wronged rather than forgive.
choice is a simple one. Live in the energy of self-righteous indignation or the energy of
forgiveness. Self-righteous indignation perpetuates the cycle of wounding, whereas
forgiveness heals. Self-righteous indignation creates pseudo-power for the wronged,
forgiveness empowers both parties. Self-righteous indignation widens the split between two
people, forgiveness forges a bond of caring and intimacy.
does that last paragraph fit for you? Can you identify at least once in your life where
you chose to cling to the energy of self-righteous indignation rather than grow into an
energy of forgiveness? Lets walk through this step by step. Lets see if we can
identify what keeps you stuck in your hurt, anger, and resentment. Just what will you need
to let go of in order to create an energy of forgiveness?
is your laundry list of grievances that you keep alive?
What do you gain by continually bringing them up to your
partner? What do you fear that youll lose if you let go of them?
rearrange your laundry list. Take the items on the list from above and write them down
below in the following order. Rank in order from easiest to hardest those items that you
are ready to forgive your partner for. Number one on this new list would be the item that
you are most comfortable transforming from anger and resentment into forgiveness. The last
item on the list would be the one transgression you absolutely refuse to forgive your
partner for. This list is your blueprint to start letting go of those hurts you are ready
to let go of.
youre starting to see your choices for how safe or unsafe you can make your
relationship. You have the power within you to create a climate of forgiveness or a
climate of retribution. You have the power to create a climate of kindness and
understanding or a climate of belittlement and ridicule.
have an enormous opportunity to empower your partner to join you in your efforts to create
a relationship that is built upon a foundation of emotional safety. Dont be seduced
by the allure of revenge. Revenge is a mirage that embitters rather than resolves.
Creating a climate thats safe between you and your partner is hard work. But
its a critical element to sustaining the well-being of your relationship.
sell emotional safety short. You have a right to experience it with all the people in your
life. You have an obligation to create it with whomever you build a relationship bridge
chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your
children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs
free. Learn how
to in Dr. Frischs, Psy.D. Recovery book series.