Safe Choices, Healthy Choices

In my experience as a growing human being, and in my interactions with other people in that time, I think I’ve come to realize one of the little discussed, universal difficulties of life: the difficulty of determining when the choices we make that make us feel safe can be unhealthy, unfair, and harmful in the long term. I’m not trying to express the “don’t play it safe! Let yourself fail! Seize the day!” kind of mentality that celebrities talk about on campuses to encourage others, though it perhaps stems from a same place. I mean something more closely tied to mental and emotional health, and the way we sometimes become destructive in our efforts to feel safe.

I think most, if not all, people must at some time in their lives develop their own set of methods or tools in response to truly bad situations to give themselves what little safety they can. This is just a natural and necessary response that all life forms have: when we are in truly terrible circumstances, when we feel we are danger, we use whatever power we have to give ourselves safety. The problem, though, is that these responses are built specifically to deal with specific, terrible circumstances, and because of this they can carry the negativity and danger of those circumstances with them. When someone feels terrible or unsafe it is not their fault; but sometimes the tools we’ve adapted to use to develop safety from truly terrible circumstances, when brought outside of those contexts into states of uncertain variables and other potential solutions, can end up injecting the negativity of the original circumstances to ensure that the “solution” works. This can be as simple as making a snap judgement and discarding people based on behaviors or features that remind of harmful individuals from the past; it can be building addictions or obsessions to retreat into; it can be social withdrawal or the creation of emotional walls. It doesn’t always feel like we’re doing these things, but often that’s because we’re still seeing them through the lens of the past, where these could have been necessary methods of protection. This may seem obvious, but it can be hard to recognize these problems in ourselves. It’s hard to see that sometimes very simple, minor decisions and patterns in our lives can be destructive or unhealthy, and it can be hard to see that people around us who have clearly destructive behaviors are sometimes just trying to find a kind of safety and just haven’t been provided the proper tools by their experiences.

I don’t know if I can speak specifically on how to move beyond this problem, but I suppose it is important to recognize that it is something that happens, and I truly believe this is something most people will struggle with whether or not they realize it. I know I still make a lot of reactionary decisions, and live in habits of safety to the detriment of myself and others. I hope to improve this. I also hope that maybe this resonates with others, and maybe that can help people move forward into a more stable safety. I don’t mean that people should discard their feelings. Feeling uncomfortable or unsafe is very serious, and should be acknowledged in any situation, but habits can be dangerous and only a superficial solution. If there’s any first step, I suppose it’s to find the people in our lives that legitimately do make us feel safe, and who care about us and talk and listen,  and to acknowledge that those people are there, and to know that they can be relied on (and shouldn’t be taken for granted) when we move forward in life. I hope that this is helpful to those who read this, because I know it can be painful and difficult process to uncover and fix these patterns. It is hard, but it is worthwhile.

-PH

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