When we look at the hierarchy of needs established by Abraham Maslow, amongst areas which involve elements of basic needs such as food, water and sleep to needing friendship, family and sexual intimacy and more - amongst these needs on the second tier of the hierarchy, Maslow includes safety.
As human beings we desire and long for and very much need to feel a sense of safety. Safety and what safety means for many can vary, but can generally fall into some of the following categories such as safety within family, health, friendships, body, resources, morality (and those are just to name a few)
Why am I sharing all of this with you? Well simply just to set the tone before I delve into this blog and let you know that it is ok to desire or want to feel safe. We need to feel safe, however - sometimes our need for safety can become a repetitive reaction to a perceived sense of being in danger or out of control. Before you read this blog, if you haven’t already read part 1 of this series, please go back and read it as this will give you a greater depth of insight and understanding of the topic. You can click here to read part 1.
This blog will be a relatively short and concise follow up to part 1 and will directly look at ways we can challenge and overcome these patterns of behaviour using methods of Behavioural intervention.
So we want to start by identifying safety behaviours in our life. The frequency and number of behaviours certainly varies from person to person and there is no one size fits all, however - some of the behavioural interventions I will suggest below are extremely effective and can decrease and overcome the level of long term distress a person experiences.
What can I do about safety behaviours?
Exposure - Exposure and exposure therapy essentially involves exposing ourselves to areas that make us feel anxious or uncomfortable. In regards to safety behaviours, often exposing ourselves to our fear without engaging in the behaviours which create a sense of safety can help us build confidence in our ability. I recommend starting by creating a list. Make a list of situations, places or objects that you fear or make you feel anxious. Next we build what is known as an anxiety hierarchy or fear ladder. Once you have made this list, then arrange things from the least anxiety inducing to the most anxiety inducing. For exposure, I recommend by starting with the situation that causes the least anxiety, repeatedly engage in this practice for as long as possible to create confidence in your ability to cope without your associated safety behaviours.
Repeated behaviour reduction - This is exactly what it says on the tin. Identify the behaviours. Why do you do them? What sense of safety do they bring? How do you feel without them? Is this sense of safety real or perceived? Similarly to the section above, we want to expose ourselves to everyday fears without the continued sense of perceived “support” of these behaviours as these behaviours commonly prolong and maintain anxiety.
Minimise avoidance - Again, this one goes quite hand in hand with the above. Usually when we feel anxious or overwhelmed by something, we are likely to avoid or withdraw from the anxiety inducing situation. Avoidance often brings a sense of safety, however - this sense of safety is often short lived and leads to feeling further closed in and trapped by our anxiety. If you feel you recognise avoidant behaviours in your life as a method which creates a perceived sense of safety for you then I would recommend leaning into the discomfort and by doing so you will eventually find comfort in the discomfort and no longer feel the need to find comfort through your safety behaviours.
This blog, while relatively short, is intentionally short as the information above is a great start for challenging yourself. I will continue with this topic in the third release of this series which I believe will be the next step in helping you the reader to develop a greater insight into how to identify, cope with and overcome how safety behaviours can keep anxiety in motion within your life and the lives of many others.
Stay tuned for part #3.
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