When I think about relational safety with someone who is experiencing intense internal shame, I think about boundaries and acceptance. I’ve blogged about boundaries before. Usually people that experience this kind of shame have had their own boundaries, physically or emotionally, violated. It makes it very difficult for them to regulate their own or respect another’s. That is why it’s important as caretakers to have a strong sense of our own boundaries so we don’t become dysregulated, we can stay attuned to the other and help them by constantly modeling healthy responses.
I believe one of the most important things is to continually view what they do in the context of needing to protect themselves which often includes rejecting others. Rejection is a hard thing to feel even when I know it isn’t personal. It is made easier if I can remember that she is either trying to get me to reject her (which happened most of the time) or she is rejecting me first and that this struggle really has nothing to do with me. She can’t find solid ground.
When I do take it personally, I find myself trying to feel better which usually means making her feels worse (It’s not so obvious in the moment, until I began to be more aware). And of course she never looked like she felt worse, the shame inside of her took care of that. Although my responses usually made me feel better—it only reinforced her shame. So a good question ask is, “Am I doing this to make me feel better? How is this helping the relationship?”
And when it comes to boundaries, do we have a fence with gates or a wall?
Acceeptance has a lot to do with grace, which is an unearned and unbroken relationship. There is so much safety to be found for V in me loving with no strings attached. It is risky. It requires that we become vulnerable. It means we will get hurt. I don’t know any other way for me to get stronger or for V to get better. I have got to provide her this relational safety through boundaries and acceptance. Boundaries are not rigid rules.
Relational safety really has everything to do with our responses—that they are appropriately soothing and positive. This doesn’t mean we can’t experience disappointment, hurt, or irritation but that our responses help strengthen and organize their emotions instead of weaken and cause more chaos. This doesn’t require perfection. I’m just shooting for more often than not.