Explore vulnerability without being victimised
I used to be terrified to make a mistake, scared that if I did I would be humiliated, judged or criticised. The bottom line was that I didn’t want to feel vulnerable. When I felt vulnerable my heart rate escalated, my muscles tightened and my skin went all tingly. From an early age, I learned to play safe, keep my views and opinions to myself and I often withdrew, especially in certain social situations.
The irony is that it’s essential to be vulnerable and make mistakes, in order to learn how to do things differently, improve, grow and develop.
I still remember my first workshop in Arizona, some 9 years ago – I had an experience which was to be life changing – that of a safe space or environment in which to learn.
I was given time and space to speak my truth, I was heard, I was not judged or criticised and I began to take chances, to risk making a mistake and looking like a fool – so that I could learn something new. And guess what? It was FUN!
What is safe space?
According to the Oxford Dictionary it’s “a place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment or any other emotional or physical harm”
Why is a safe space so important to our healthy development?
It allows us to ‘open up’. It allows us to be feel vulnerable and vulnerability is the pathway to change.
Being judged and criticised hadn’t inspired me in my own life and so, in years as a riding coach, I was determined to create a safe space for my clients to learn. Some people would even cry in my lessons, as I gave them the space to honour their fears and vulnerabilities. Until I trained in Equine Facilitated Learning and started running workshops I had no idea how many other people had, like me, learned to withdraw rather than allow themselves to feel vulnerable.
This is what three workshop clients had to say about the benefits of a safe environment:
“The most reassuring thing for me, in a room with a bunch of strangers was you setting the rules of engagement at the beginning. I knew that every contribution would be listened to and as the days went on I found myself opening up more than I thought I would as I felt safe.”
“I learnt about emotional intelligence and was able to explore feelings of vulnerability without feeling, or being, victimised”
“I really enjoyed the safe environment you created which certainly facilitated the changes which took place in all of us.”
What changes can a safe space support?
I had spent years trying to overcome some of my fears and vulnerabilities by ‘pushing myself’ to do things, often in situations that were unsafe. At that time, I didn’t have a concept of how it would feel to experience a safe, nurturing environment. After my experience in Arizona that changed. I actively searched for people and communities in which I could explore my feelings and speak openly and honestly. I began to experience immense and powerful emotional shifts and even very old stuck beliefs and feelings shifted. I renewed my self-belief. I became able to make mistakes, laugh at myself and try again!
What constitutes a safe environment?
There are many aspects to creating a safe environment. Here are four things that I bring to my sessions and workshops in an endeavour to create a space which allows others to feel safe to be vulnerable, so that they can learn to have fun, in the way that I have:
- Set and maintain clear rules of engagement
- Listen genuinely and attentively
- Use emotions as information and sit in uncomfortable emotions without panicking
- Stay present to what is happening in the present moment
So, if you are afraid to make a mistake and have shut yourself off, but are now ready to step into vulnerability, then seek out a safe environment in which to explore your true feelings and challenge and shift old stuck beliefs so that you can experience change and a pathway to fulfilment.