When John was a child, his father would come home from a night of drinking, angry and volatile. During those times neither John nor his sisters would know what to expect. He could be verbally and physically abusive to them. John remembers hiding behind the couch one night when he heard his dad’s car because if he avoided the initial explosion, he was usually spared anything further. While that is traumatic enough, there were other times his dad would come home sober, and he was a different person. The obvious safety issue here were the nights that John’s dad came home from drinking. What might now be as obvious is that the lack of emotional/physical safety extended even to the nights that John’s dad was not drinking. For John, the fact that he did not know what to expect left him with a profound sense of instability.
Safety in our relationships is critical to our ability to be close, and we are impacted if we did not have it. The wound in John’s case is the belief that he is not safe. It is important to note that even though safety begins as physical safety, it then converts to emotional safety as we grow. Adults often do not recognize that they feel emotionally unsafe even though they are able to keep themselves physically safe, the emotional experience of “I am not safe” remains. In fact, the two are so intertwined, our nervous system is not able to distinguish them.
It is often hard for us to determine if this is a wound we operate from. A way to discern if this is true for you is to notice how you respond when activated in your relationships. In John’s case, he observed himself protecting against hurt by pulling away from loved ones in times of conflict. It was not just the way he distanced himself but more the fact that the fear he felt was out of proportion to the level of the conflict. Those close to him were often left confused at how much he shut down over minor disagreements. John at times was also confused by this, but nonetheless, felt power less to stop it. Conflict for John is a portal back to the nights growing up that he had to hide from his father. In current moments, his body reacted as though he were ten years old again. I know it can seem hard to believe this would be true but physiologically, it very much is.
The message that I am not safe is powerful in that is born out of powerlessness. When we encounter situations that leave us truly powerless/helpless, we place a “bookmark” in that chapter of our life. These bookmarks show up in the form of our reactions in relationships.
If you have carried a core wound of “I am not safe” in your life, take heart. In John’s case, after understanding this about his experience growing up, he was able to work through woundedness to uncover the truth. The truth is that God never leaves us, and His comfort is steadfast. God is lovingly honest that we will have trials in this life, but He will use those trials to produce hope. While the deepest harm of feeling unsafe is not knowing whether we will be okay or not; the deepest comfort comes with the understanding that we will be okay no matter what because God is with us.