Child psychologist John Bowlby suggested that life is best organised as a series of daring ventures from a secure base. What a brilliant notion: that together and individually we can have the courage to respond to new and changing circumstances in ways that might be at once innovative and relevant to a new era, as well as emerging from a safe place. Once we find safety in ourselves, our families, work and other communities – both material and virtual – we can take risks which take into account the vital fact that we are part of a bigger clan and that we are interdependent. Under those circumstances our risks might be worth taking.
The question, of course, is how to go about securing the safety. What helps people feel safe?
The most coherent system I have come across so far, proposing achievable ways to help us find safety and confidence in oneself – which in turn will increase the likelihood of clearer thinking and access to a richer imagination – is the Human Givens paradigm. Over the past 15 years growing numbers of therapists, educators, social workers and company managers have applied the Human Givens approach to well-being, with extraordinary results.
Their starting point to achieve a sense of safety within oneself, is to teach people how to get their emotional needs met. These needs are as important as healthy nutrition, clean water, and fresh air. It is imperative, for example, to learn how to pay sustained attention and to learn how to receive it; we need privacy, a time when we are not accountable to others, among other things. And each one of us can learn to be true to oneself by learning how to use his very own and particular talents to get those needs met. Spend time with real friends, take time to daydream, continue to learn new skills and so on. By focussing on the balance between healthy needs and inborn resources people not only calm down, but they thrive and flourish.
Recently the acclaimed UK Mental Health Review Journal contained papers recommending the Emotional Needs Audit (as implemented in the Human Givens system) as a valid instrument for measuring emotional wellbeing, quality of life and emotional distress. This simple instrument was said to give instant insight into the essence of the problem when someone’s life is out of balance. Human Givens therapy was recommended as a bona fide model of therapy to be adopted by the National Health Service.
The second prerequisite to achieve the necessary sense of safety that is grounded in reality, is to become attentive to your own emotional responses. If they are out of proportion to what’s going on in the moment, they stop you from being fully present. Those moments when you fly off the handle just a bit too vehemently or jump to conclusions all too readily, are examples of disproportionate reactions. Such heightened responses are signals of the survival brain being switched on which leave a person unable to learn and grow, because access to the higher cortex – or thinking brain – is blocked.
So let us aim at finding ways to get emotional needs met for ourselves, in our families and the communities in which we operate. Be open to the possibility that our responses may be habits dating back from an earlier time, now no longer relevant and find ways to deal with them so that they can be left behind for what they are. Discover how a calmer, safer place offers a more reliable base from which to lead an adventurous and more productive life.