June 28, 2014 8:43 AM Subscribe
How do you be a 'safe space' for someone? Have you defeated your habit of emotionally checking out when things get hairy?
posted by serenity soonish to Human Relations (25 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
pretend that I am an alien come to earth to learn your customs and culture. (this is not far off, both my parents were personality disordered) How do you be a safe space for someone?
my bf is going through a stressful period at work. I am great at being materially supportive, buying little gifts or making dinner or trying to make him laugh. But recently he told me that I emotionally check out when things get rough and he's left feeling unsupported and alone with his emotion. He expresses his stress through venting. He doesn't take it out on me, he just talks about his day with emotion in his voice, usually frustration, hopelessness or resentment. (he's leading a large expensive project with several sub-par members). I find the rawness of his emotion a little hard to take sometimes. I can handle sadness and pain but truthfully I find his anger uncomfortable. He gets in a funk like there's a storm cloud around his head and his body language is lethargic and I figure I'll just give him space and leave him alone until it all blows over. He says thats hurtful and he wants me to just be with him but I don't know how to be with him without starting to feel bad myself, or starting to get worried that his anger is somehow a threat to our relationship.
I'm your typical 1950s husband (except I'm a woman), so I go into logic solve your problem mode. I listen to his problems and then try to give him ideas to help. Part of me also thinks he brings this on himself by his approach to the situation and I want to correct that. When he says he feels alone and unsupported I want to say: look I come home don't I? I buy you shit, don't I? What more do you want? You want me to sit and be depressed with you? because I can't do that it will bring us both down. I don't know what to do or how to be that would communicate presence & support.
The thing is I'm pretty sure he's right on the money. My mother was the same way - technically there but emotionally absent. She would cut me out and it felt like I didn't even exist. I've known people like that too, they are casual friends only, can't handle depth. So clearly I am disappointed to hear him say that he's feeling that shallowness from me when things hit the fan.
He is definitely more dialed in emotionally than I am. When I'm the one with the problem he is very sensitive and knows the right thing to say to make me feel better. He comes from a normal family & had a good rel with his mom. He's more your securely attached type whereas I am anxious/ambivalent/avoidant/disorganized. He likes intimacy and I can only handle so much before I want to run off and do other things. It is work for me to stay and 'be' there. Yes I know I'm lucky to have him.
We have talked about all this, we can talk very deeply and honestly so that's good. But he can't describe what he actually needs me to do when I 'be there' for him, or what I'm doing that leaves him feeling like I am not there and that is where you all come in.
so... how do you be a safe space for someone? how do you keep connected to your s.o. during strong emotions? have you grown from being emotionally shallow to deep? have you had people emotionally check out on you, what did it look like and how should they have done it differently? I have tried mindfulness, so moment-by-moment descriptions are welcome. thanks everyone.