Emotional Safety: what it is and why you need it (Episode 38)

What the heck is emotional safety and why is it so important? In this episode, Kay Coughlin talks about it and how she creates it. One amazing benefit you can expect over time is that you will actually be able to practice it in your own everyday life. And that means you’ll be able to do things that are important to you, no matter how difficult they are.

Learn more about all of this work at FacilitatorOnFire.net/LearnMore.

Transcript of episode is below.

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Transcript: Emotional safety – what it is and why you need it (Episode 38)

Hi there. I’m your host Kay Coughlin. And you’re listening to From One Caregiver to Another. This is episode 38. Before I get started today. I just want to tell you that if you want to find out more about human giver syndrome, which can play a major role in causing exhaustion and burnout for family caregivers. And I’m including parents here too. Listen to episode 31 of this podcast. Or go to my website, that’s facilitator on fire.net/learn more to find the links to my next webinar or presentation on it. And there, you can also find a free guide on healing from the costly habits of human giver syndrome.

I was talking to a friend yesterday and I started going on and on about how important emotional safety is to me in my work and in my life.

I’m not surprised it came up for me in conversation with this friend, because I did touch on it in last week’s podcast episode about the difference between therapy and coaching. So obviously it’s on my mind right now. And in that episode, I did mention several times about,  looking for a therapist or a coach with whom you feel safe.

I’ve really found that this idea of emotional safety is the key to being able to dig deep into yourself. So you can uncover whatever is holding you back while also being truly loving and gentle with yourself. But what does emotional safety even mean? Well, my informal definition of emotional safety is being acknowledged and accepted for however you show up in that moment.

And I mean, emotional safety with other people, but also with yourself. And I have two reasons that I want to talk about it on the podcast this week. The first one is that. I’ll be honest and tell you, there have been so many times in my own life when I didn’t have emotional safety and it’s really been a thread throughout my life.

So I am very aware of what it means to not have emotional safety. And then the second reason is that the majority of questions and issues my clients bring to me. Are ones that really need a space and a feeling of being emotionally safe, talk about those things or to act on those things. And these are the kinds of questions I get from my clients all the time.

They say things like I’m thinking about asking my father to live with us, but I’m worried that my family will think I’m doing it because I have some ulterior motive or. My family member has asked me to be a caregiver for them, but I’m afraid if I say no, it will hurt her feelings. My mother-in-law insists that I cook food her way and it’s really bugging me, but I can’t tell her that I don’t want to.

I need to tell my husband something important, but I don’t know how he’s going to react. Or my wife needs to get help, but she doesn’t want to hear it from me, or I want to start this business, but I’m afraid to tell people because they’re going to say it’s risky. And here’s one that I get a lot. It’s about saying no, people will say to me, if I say no to this, and this can be anything.

Won’t it make them feel bad. So these things are all things where you need emotional safety. If you’re going to be able to even discuss them with someone, including me as a coach. And if you haven’t really heard the term emotional safety before now, well, that’s because it’s a term that mental health professionals use a lot, but it’s not something you’d hear otherwise, unless you’re already into doing a lot of self-awareness work.

In fact, I didn’t even know the term emotional safety myself until I started training first as a facilitator. And then as a coach, like human giver syndrome, which is another term that I use a lot now, emotional safety was something I could always sense. And I knew that I needed it. And I guess I knew that I needed a definition for it too, but you know, I just didn’t have the words to describe it to myself or to other people.

And I’ll tell you something else using jargon that people don’t understand, whether it’s a word like emotional safety or human giver syndrome, or some acronym that you think is really common, but somebody else doesn’t understand it. That’s one of the ways that we accidentally make people feel emotionally unsafe.

Because most people are really reluctant to speak up, to ask for a definition. If there’s something they don’t understand, they just don’t want to look stupid. And so they feel at a disadvantage and that automatically reduces the emotional safety. By the way, this is a really big tip for any leaders who are listening to this podcast right now.

If you want to create emotional safety on your teams, and this could be at work. Maybe this is in a volunteer group, maybe at a church. If you want to create emotional safety for them, don’t let your team members slide by using acronyms or jargon for the sake of team morale, ask anybody who’s using those unusual terms or jargon, ask them to define the terms that they’re using and that’s going to help everybody.

And I’ll also tell you, that’s the reason that in my work, whether with individuals or with groups. I have found that I much prefer to be clear and not use confusing or ambiguous language with them. So I have developed a very deliberate way of expressing myself and really declaring how I establish and maintain emotional safety.

And I do this by using these three ground rules and all of my work. They are no judgment. No guilt and no dwelling on the past. Over time, these ground rules have become a real foundation for me and for my company. In fact, a couple of years ago, I was working with a potential client for one of my group facilitations.

And this client asked me to. Remove those ground rules from my plan for the work. And I said, no, I told this organization that I would actually be happy to release them from their contract rather than compromise on my ground rules. These are non-negotiable for me. They are so important to me that I can’t do my work effectively without them.

So I guess the big question here is why are these ground rules so important to me? Well, I’ve learned that we can’t begin to do difficult things. Mike, talk about painful topics or change or grow, unless yes, we can feel safe. And by we let me be really clear here. I mean, humans. And I find that my ground rules help me communicate that to my clients so that we have a baseline of understanding for our work together.

And I always tell my clients that these ground rules benefit both of us, and we both have a responsibility to uphold them. If I am acting in any way that a client feels violates these ground rules. Whether it’s no judgment or no guilt or no dwelling on the past. I want my clients to speak up and tell me, because as I often say to my clients, I want them to practice saying hard things to me, where it’s safe, so that they can learn to do what they need to do in their everyday lives, where people aren’t going to be acting according to my ground rules and foundations.

What’s so interesting to me about my ground rules and about emotional safety is that over time, my clients begin to be able to create emotional safety for themselves. They rely less on other people to create safety for them. They judge themselves less. They don’t create as much guilt for themselves and they don’t dwell in the past quite so much.

And this is true for me too. The more I practice this in my work, the more I can use it in my life. Now, I’m not saying that I go around putting ground rules into every conversation I have in my life. I actually almost never do that. It would be way too awkward. But now I can say to someone, I want to have a conversation about this with no judgment, or I can say that I don’t want to allow guilt, or I can say I really don’t want to dwell on what happened in the past.

So let’s talk about this without dwelling on that. And while we’re talking, I can redirect them when we do end up going into judgment or guilt or past events because we’re humans and we’re just going to do that. It’s going to happen. And I’m finding that now I don’t even really need the other person to agree with me in order to create emotional safety for myself.

After all these years, I trust myself enough now to know that I can say difficult things and I don’t have to manufacture judgment or guilt or drama about the past in my head, after that conversation is done, of course I’m not perfect. And sometimes I will find myself creating drama in my head later after a conversation’s over, but I don’t spend nearly as much time doing it now, as I used to.

And most importantly, I can catch myself now when I’m doing it so that I can manage my thoughts around it more gently and with more understanding and with more love for myself and all of this has become incredibly important to my family life, too, which for me includes being a wife of almost 26 years and a mother of two young men.

And being the primary caregiver for my own mother, all of those relationships are really intense because that’s the way it works. Our closest family relationships are going to be our most important ones and the most difficult ones. And in all of these relationships, I am now able to have far more difficult conversations because I have learned to create emotional safety for myself.

This comes back around to those ground rules and emotional safety it’s because I know how to do that. And I know that there are a foundation for me. So I’d like to leave you today with a couple of questions. The first one is, what do you think of when I talk about using my ground rules in my work and in my life, do you believe it’s possible to have conversations and relationships without judgment or guilt or going into past issues?

And then second, what do you think you need today for you in order to create emotional safety in your own life? And there’s no right or wrong answer to this question. I know what I need in my life. And that’s what I’ve been talking about today. And I know that it works for me when I’m coaching my clients.

And I know it works for my clients, so it’s a good general rule of thumb, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only answer for you. So what do you need. And here’s a bonus just in case you missed it. What I did right there was I took the judgment out of the questions I asked you. So I want you to know that I really do use this stuff a hundred different ways every day.

And it has completely changed my life. It has changed my life, especially in the way that I can truly offer genuine unconditional love. And I can offer that to the people in my life and to my clients. But I can also offer that to myself. And that’s what I want for you to be able to find your foundations and your own ground rules or whatever you need to create emotional safety in your life.

Thank you so much for listening today. You can learn more about me and about all of this work@facilitatoronfire.net. That’s facilitator on fire.net. There, you can also sign up for notifications about new podcast episodes. And that will be in my newsletter, which is also called from one caregiver to another.

If you want almost daily doses of straight talk for family caregivers who want to learn how to improve their own lives, please follow me on Instagram and I’ve put a link for that in the show notes. If you liked this episode, please leave a review, which will help other caregivers find their way here so they can get the help they need to, and definitely consider telling a friend who also happens to be a caregiver.

I can’t wait to be here with you again in the next episode, from one caregiver to another.

your guide

Kay Coughlin, CEO and Chief Facilitator of Facilitator on Fire, has a dream to create a world that is generously inclusive of all adult generations. The best place to connect with Kay is on Instagram.

Caregiver Coaching” is for family caregivers who are ready to improve their own life. Facilitator on Fire’s “Building Trust Across Generations” seminar helps leaders and managers build amazing teams that are attractive to people of all ages. Kay’s keynote address, “Top Myths of Leading Generations,” helps businesses see the hard costs of miscommunication between generations.