Everyone needs a safe space, a space they can be themselves in, completely free. No filter, no judgement, no worry, even just for a small time.
In a safe place we can actually talk a lot of the pain of life, the pain of the past, self-loathing, existential crisis. We can also talk about joy, no doubt, no question at all. But in our pain we receive support from this person/group; love, caring, a sense of community that we all long for. Scratch that, it is not a sense of community, we receive community if it is truly a safe space.
No one is going to tell on you, no one judge you badly. There may be push back, lively discussion but we will not turn on each other. I admire that our Jewish sisters and brothers have kept this in their use of theology. Argument is key when discussing faith and scripture. For them argument leads to divine revelation. For us, argument is bad, Christians imply there is one right way and answer.
So we hide our thoughts and our feelings, all of us, on some level, because we are not “safe”. I spent most of my seminary days feeling like they were going to kick me out because I wasn’t “sure” if Christ was “the way the truth and the life” I had no idea what exclaiming what “Jesus is Lord” meant. Hell, I’ve never really been to Sunday School!
So I kept those thoughts to myself, those thoughts (among others- including what I thought about justice, women, sexuality, etc.) became secrets, a secret identity. The problem with secrets is this: they eat at you, they are shame’s lover. They imply you’re doing something wrong.
When I was married I kept secrets from my husband. My husband knew about my past, I didn’t keep details from him, he knew about my problems, what I kept secret from him is how they affected me. When issues of past trauma would arise (as they inevitably do for all of us) I would keep those feelings secret and hide them from him. Letting him into the details is not the same as letting him in.
It was wrong on so many levels.
Secrets breed fear. I was ashamed of fears, I was afraid he wouldn’t handle them (note: not couldn’t handle them, wouldn’t). I was afraid he would tell me to move on, get over it, suck it up. This would not be the first time I would have heard these things, but coming from him they would have been devastating. I needed a safe space so badly that I secluded my way out of one.
I needed safety and freedom and I was my own worst enemy in destroying it.
Oh, he said plenty of stupid things, did plenty of stupid things, no doubt. But there is a difference between keeping my stuff private and keeping things secret. In privacy we may not be ready to talk about it, but we can at least speak our realities to ourselves, not push our feelings away, and perhaps, allow someone else to take care of us, even if they don’t know all the details of what is happening.
If you keep it private you have the opportunity to mourn without shame, you will struggle without fear, you don’t have to you are choosing to. You will be transparent in vulnerability. In secrets you will stuff them down until they are like water on pavement, they will find every crack and crevice. They will find their way out.
I am learning, slowly, to be good to myself, allow myself to be loved in order to receive the benefits of a safe space. My friends, who love me, are forming me to do this, calling me when I try to hide from them. Having a safe space is not devoid of hurt, it means hearing painful things or retelling painful things. But it is also an honest, open relationship, even in it’s private.