Are we fighting on two safety fronts?
COVID-19 is genuinely a new and quickly developing physical and emotional threat. Before COVID-19, 70% of U.S. adults have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health*. Despite the cause of the event, many people live their lives in silence. They struggle to function due to the impact of this traumatic event on their emotions.
COVID-19 has brought the thought of life-threatening illness, death, and loss front and center. Besides, many are also losing a lifestyle. So, I’m concerned that grieving in silence may be more prevalent now because whether it’s the loss of a loved one or a lifestyle, a loss is a challenging and unsettling event for our emotions. My mission #empathyforgrief started long before COVID-19. As I’ve moved on my grief and loss journey, I’ve developed a few life skills and techniques that have allowed me to move forward and embrace the unexpected emotions that will emerge out of nowhere. One of these skills involves psychological safety.
We have all types of safety awareness messages, techniques, and measures around buildings, cars, and food consumption. They are necessary. June is Safety Awareness Month in the U.S. backed by a worthy nonprofit organization, the National Safety Council that focuses on “saving lives and preventing injuries, from the workplace to anyplace.” However, as part of our disaster preparedness plans, safety posters, and training, not a lot of conversation is shared about psychological safety at work or home.
Psychological and emotional safety applies to all ages, positions, and crosses generational divides. We talk about being ourselves, but very often, especially when we don’t feel great or are out of line with the current group or team mood, we do not have permission to be ourselves, voice why, and feel safe that it won’t eventually come back to haunt us. Now that we’re spending more time in our homes, where hopefully we can be ourselves without backlash, I believe it’s an opportunity to show more empathy and awareness about the importance of psychological safety in this new work-home life environment. Maybe working remotely will thin the line between executive presence that commands the room and being an authentic leader who models psychological safety in the physical and virtual room.
Why Create Psychological Safety
According to Dan Harris, psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished for making mistakes, and emotional safety is feeling like you can let your guard down and be yourself. The healthiest and most engaged workplaces know the importance of emotions in the workplace. They don’t just tolerate emotions — they welcome them! Does it build trust in a team to hide your feelings or to share them appropriately so that an empathetic teammate or leader can voice and show concern and adaptability for the person as much as the project? If you need information, data, and statistics on psychological safety, I’ve provided a link to Dan Harris’s article here: Creating An Emotional Safe Space.
No Safety To Be Found?
So what if your culture doesn’t promote, encourage, or practice psychological safety when you’re experiencing loss? I’ve found this relatively simple technique that works for me, whether I’m in a safe place or need to remain silent, I create a safe place. A safe place came to me when I wrote the book: My Backyard Garden, A Memoir of How Love Conquers Grief and published it in 2018 as a way to say to others who are struggling in silence …you’re not alone. I also wanted to share with you that I realized that there is a way to move with and through loss…a move journey that is uniquely yours, and I share mine with you in hopes that you will find your way to a better place.
This concept of getting to a better place led me to realize that I am on a journey with an emotional destination that is a moving target. Different people handle this journey differently, and I didn’t think about the psychological safety aspect of loss and grief until I started reflecting on what was happening to me. I had to find an emotional destination that could both acknowledge and address my changing emotions.
A Place is Available
My technique was to create a place. In my mind, I embraced the memory of a physical location that brought forward positive feelings when my emotions were raging. This safe place became a stabilizer for me. It creates psychological safety at least in my mind. It is part of the reason my book title became My Backyard Garden. Some of my fondest memories were created there, and in my imagination, I can conjure up this image and stabilize my emotions when the not so positive feelings of loss appear, and it’s not safe to share them.
During this time of change and loss, here is my hope for you. I hope you can find a place of positive memories for your journey. It can be a garden or somewhere else. I’m not sure why I didn’t pick a beach because I love beaches too. But one of the first things that I suggest you do is reflect and think of what I’ll call “your garden place” and use that place to continue your journey, especially if your route crosses into unsafe territory.
Why do you need a place? You might ask. There are other articles on the importance of Psychological Safety, and I’m not going to support my suggestion on statistics or educational findings. All I know is that it helped me, and I genuinely hope it helps you. Because after I lost my mother, I felt lost and alone. I did see a counselor who asked me with much concern after I broke down with tears in her office: “Are you truly alone?” Some of us are genuinely alone after a death or a loss, but I wasn’t, I had family and friends, but I felt that I was because no one could replace that relationship that I had with my mother. So I felt alone, and it’s something about feeling alone also makes me feel lost because I didn’t know what to do about feeling lonely.
Creating a “place” helped me. Building A Backyard Garden” helped me. The backyard became a special place for me and my mother and I hope you find and share your special place. There is always a place and a space available in your mind and memories. You don’t have to write a book. You can make them real by finding pictures, creating drawings, or writing descriptions of your special place. Then commit to that place as being your emotionally safe place. With all this physical distancing, I invite you to post your special place and tell us what makes this place or space safe for you.
Mother’s Backyard Buzz is a “safe place collector”, so if you’d like to share there too, we welcome you. Follow Mother’s Backyard on Instagram, Twitter or contact: www.mothersbackyard.org.. *Link to “How to Manage Trauma” Infographic