The ‘safe space’ we actually need

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As I mentioned in this week’s Monday five, I went to the University of South Carolina on Saturday to attend a chamber music competition. Beforehand, we were exploring the music department and came across a room that was labeled as a ‘safe space.’

While I had read and heard of these before, it felt a somewhat surreal to come across one in real life; it took seeing one in person to realize that this is something that is really happening…not just a story the media is making up. At the risk of sounding insensitive, I think the concept of ‘safe spaces’ is a little silly. Not because anxiety or stress isn’t real or trivial, but because of the idea that somehow a room – like the one we found at USC – can somehow fix our emotional or psychological distress.

How is that room different from any other? Because no one can challenge you or tease you? Because it is a designated space where you can break down? How is that helpful?

If we think that four walls that protect us from the outside world will solve our problems, we are sadly mistaken.

We shouldn’t need an office at our school to hide from our problems…which are most likely not caused by our peers anyway.

The fact is though, we are distressed. More and more of us are starting to take medications for anxiety and depression. The fact that a ‘safe space’ is becoming commonplace on college campuses is indicative of how our generation is feeling.

The reality is, we do need a safe space. But it isn’t a room in the music department of a college campus with bad lighting and gray carpet…it’s our home; it’s our family.

Mothers and fathers (or other primary caretakers) play an irreplaceable role in not only teaching us good habits, but also our temperament, our ability to be in relationships with others, our proficiency at interacting with the outside world and our emotional and psychological health.

This has become more and more clear to me, especially taking a human growth and development class in which these formative relationships are especially emphasized. There is so much evidence which demonstrates that distant relationship between children and their parents is strongly associated with personality disorders (including anxiety), drug and alcohol abuse and delinquency.

The home is where we are formed…physically, emotionally, psychologically and intellectually. When we come from a strong, loving, supportive family, we are able to go out into the world confident in our ability to face the challenges that inevitably will come our way. When we don’t have that stability in our lives early on, our skill to interact with the outside world and develop close relationships with others is stunted…we are immature and therefore unable to deal…hence the need for a ‘safe space.’

When we look at the importance of the family and how many of ours are broken today, it really shouldn’t be surprising that levels of anxiety, depression, alcoholism and drug abuse are increasing more and more. That safe space that a close, loving family provides is essential. Of course even the healthiest of families has it’s problems, the difference is the family that remains close despite them, instead of allowing them to separate or distance them.

I think as Americans we pride ourselves in being independent. We started off as a nation of independent thinkers who strove for freedom. However, the idea of the self-made man just isn’t true…just ask their mother. We were made in, for and to love; and that is something we can’t teach ourselves. How can we possibly love if no one teaches us how or what that looks like? We don’t expect a five year-old to teach themselves how to read…the same logic applies to this. We are born dependent on others and that doesn’t really change as we get older. You may know how to feed yourself (thankyouverymuch) but there is probably nothing more detrimental to the human person than loneliness. We need others and that is not a weakness, it is the beauty of being relational creatures.

We all have dreams and goals that we want to achieve, and that is perfectly healthy. However we have to remember that close relationships with others – love, essentially – is really what gives our lives meaning. That starts at home. Family is where we learn to love and be loved…it is the sanctuary of life. What do you think of when you think of sanctuary? Maybe some place sacred…certainly some place safe, a refuge. Nothing can replace the safety that family provides and we are seeing the consequences of it’s loss with the increasing levels of distress, especially in our young adults (who should be the most lively!).

It isn’t silly that we need a safe space, we do. But a college campus can’t provide it, and the sooner we realize this the better off we’ll be.

 

 

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