A SAFE PLACE
By: Christina Levasheff, Judson’s Mom
Those who have endured deep heartache will quickly learn to develop protective social barriers as a means of survival. However, when they perceive someone is safe, they may talk with ease to that person about their circumstance; most are longing to share their genuine feelings, and possibly their tears too, if they can count on an understanding response.
So what makes someone safe?
There is a woman in my church who, to this day when I see her, gives me a knowing hug and directly asks what I am currently experiencing in the midst of my loss. In mere seconds I find myself gushing with my grief and sorrow while she listens; she is one of the few people who engages me on this level anymore, genuinely caring and wanting to understand. I end up feeling sheepish about spilling open with her when we’re together, but she always responds with affirmation, “What you have been through, Christina, is so awful. It’s just awful! I can’t imagine how you could feel any other way.”
She beautifully encapsulates what makes someone safe—consistency, intentionality, sensitivity, a listening ear, solidarity, and validation.
This friend would not have come to mind if not for the regularity with which she has reached out. I’m sure the first time she asked, I was hesitant to engage with her, not sure what kind of response I’d receive. But through her consistency it became clear she was a safe place. Her love is intentional, seeking to touch me in my especially broken places by asking directly about my painful wounds in a caring and sensitive manner. And all she does is listen. She doesn’t inject knowledge or wisdom or try to shift my perspective. And she doesn’t act as though my grief is unhealthy, inappropriate, or foreign. She simply uses her words to validate my pain.
Validation is key.
Those who are suffering can feel as though this world does not have space for their pain. They often sense that friends don’t want to engage their “mess,” people become uncomfortable, or some just want them to be “over it.” So the consistently caring people in their life are a gift; those who affirm their feelings, whatever they may be, and who give them the space to struggle without subtly suggesting they should feel other than they do.
When we allow the struggles of another person to touch our hearts in such a way that we genuinely seek to feel what they feel, rather than trying to shift their feelings, we can become a safe place. And as we share in their pain, it’s as though we begin, in a small way, to help carry their burden.