Hands in a heart shape holding an infinity rainbox. Underneath the words Sandra Bell ND Coach
#4 Safety is a need, not a want
Safety as foundation legend
  • Safety is something that we all need, it isn't a nice to have.
  • We need to feel both physically and psychologically safe to self regulate and learn.
  • When we see dysregulation, the first thing we should ask is - do they feel safe?


We all need safety. Without a foundation of feeling safe our brain makes it impossible to self regulate, which in turn makes it impossible to learn. I don't just mean self regulating and learning at school. I mean being able to self regulate or learn anywhere when we don't feel safe. This safety needs to be both physical and psychological, so even if there are not physical threats there also needs to be no psychological threats. 


It makes sense, if we aren't safe there isn't any point to trying to feel calm or regulated, or indeed to learn, we need to act on instinct to survive. This makes sense to most people if it is not feeling physically safe, that can be easy for everyone to see, a person trying to hit you, or a car coming towards you. What is more difficult for people to understand is psychological safety, whether someone feels under threat or not is subjective, and internal, and if the person has earlier trauma , something in the present can be a trigger even if it wouldn't been seen as a threat in the present on its own, it is just a reminder of one. 


The importance of understanding that we need to feel both physically and psychologically safe as a foundation for everything else, is that if we don't feel safe we go into survival mode, and this is an automatic response. Our actions become driven by that base instinct. If we don't understand the need for a foundation of safety we can misinterpret those survival actions. 


Think of a child at school who is trying their very best to follow the teachers instructions, but they have a sensitivity to noise. Their brain perceives all the classroom noise as a threat and it isn't possible for the brain to tell if it is life threatening or not. So to be on the safe side it fires up the survival instinct as though it is life threatening. So the child no longer has the capacity to learn, or to self regulate, all their energy has been diverted to survival. So they clamp their hands over their ears and yell "shut up". Are they met with understanding and compassion... "you must be feeling unsafe to do thatlet's change your environment safety first"? Hmmm, unlikely, more often than not that child would be admonished (further decreasing their feelings of safety) and possibly sent to the principal's office (even further decreasing their feelings of safety). 


So what can we do. When someone is unable to learn, or they are dysregulated, the first thing we need to ask ourselves is - do they feel safe? 

Once we feel safe, then we have the capacity to self regulate, and once we can self regulate we have the capacity to learn. 

Thanks for reading.