In a world filled with judgment and stigma, having a place — physical or virtual — for when you need to open up and ask for help is paramount for your mental health. A safe space, a meeting ground for you when you need assistance, or need to be alone, for others who need the same. It’s a simple concept with a big impact.
In my own experience, I’ve found having a safe space to be hugely important. There’s something powerful about not having to apologize for being who you are, what you’re experiencing or what you’ve done. When you feel loved and confident instead of regretful and defensive, you feel less afraid. And when you feel less afraid, you are capable of processing and working towards change more freely.
What this space looks like can vary, but it can be something as simple as a group of people who hold similar values and provide each other with a supportive, respectful environment. One of my strongest safe spaces is a text chain with my best friends from high school — girls I can be myself around and open up to entirely, knowing I’m being listened to and will be loved regardless of what I say or feel.
Below are some tips to make every space a safe space, so you can make thoughtful decisions and have greater peace of mind in your personal and professional life.
Make Room For Who You Are
Feeling like you need to have your guard up all the time is exhausting and emotionally taxing. And remember, being comfortable enough in the world to let your true self shine through is a prerequisite for self-actualization. If you can’t be yourself, after all, who are you?
Calling a space a safe space is not enough. Neither is building the space and encouraging those that come to it to speak up and take risks. You need to create a culture of trust that is forgiving and welcomes openness. Only when someone feels they have the strength to open up and be free will a safe space serve its true purpose.
Be vulnerable and allow yourself to build an emotional connection
Being open to new people, experiences, and uncertainty can feel scary or at least unfamiliar if you’re not accustomed to it. It requires you to be brave and vulnerable, but it’s important to make progress in your mental health journey. As scary as it is, communicate your fears and open up about your past. Every time you open up instead of close yourself off, you’re working towards a solution.
A single member of a minority group will likely feel uncomfortable opening up to a majority group unless the space is welcoming and nonthreatening. To prevent this person from feeling isolated, focus on commonalities and making that person feel welcomed and embraced as a member who truly belongs.
Give others a space to talk
Although a safe space serves as a vehicle for you to unleash all of your thoughts, don’t feel you need to dominate the conversation. You’ve all come to be heard. After you’ve listened, consider speaking. Once others have listened, let them do the talking.
Know that your actions speak louder than words
One of the reasons a safe space is so impactful is because it provides a sense of reliability. It’s not uncommon for people to say things and make promises they have no intention of keeping, so honestly and accountability are especially important in a safe space. Show others in the space how welcomed they are and how their wellbeing is truly a priority for you.
If there’s a physical environment, make it welcoming
Make a physical space more inviting. Use alternative seating areas like bean bags, stools, and cushions on the floor. Having a comfortable environment can translate to more relaxed space, where everyone can feel calm and open to sharing.
Just One Space Can Be Enough
One of the easiest ways to find a safe space is to sign up for therapy. Regardless of why you’re doing it, however big or small the issue that brings you there, your therapist can build a space for you where you feel structure, safety, and support. Sure, you’re making yourself deeply vulnerable to a stranger, but it’s necessary for healing. A therapist’s space, physical or online, can help you work through experiences and thoughts with a sense of reassurance, compassion, trust, and optimism — all characteristics of a nurturing safe space.