Mental Health: Creating Safe Spaces

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Mental health and the lack thereof, are of primary concern today. The need for mental health providers and solutions are on the rise while the supply fails to meet the growing demand. What’s needed are scalable trauma-informed human systems designed to help entire communities support the healing and wholeness of one another and to minimize future trauma based in developmental patterns that must be dismantled. Based on recent in-depth research on trauma, including developmental trauma in homes and schools, the assumption should be that most people are more likely than not to have a sufficient history of trauma, the cause of which are significant levels of anxiety, depression, and debilitating stress.

“We have brains in order to get along with each other, to be with other people, to connect with other people. That’s really what we are fundamentally all about. And so, much of trauma is about a rupture of the safety of the people who are supposed to protect you and the people who are supposed to come to your help.”

Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD Best-selling Trauma Researcher, and Author of The Body Keeps the Score

In order to talk about mental health, it first helps to understand the root causes of mental illness. As Van Der Kolk states, “trauma is about a rupture of the safety of the people who are supposed to protect you and come to your help.” That means a root cause of mental illness is that in such a rupture (which we are inadvertently and unconsciously swimming in), the body experiences feeling and thinking “I am inferior. I’m not safe.” This leads to struggles that reinforce old trauma and recreate new trauma in the here and now. The answer is not usually more medication, disengagement, or distraction. The answer largely lies in our human systems and their evolution.

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, he states one must have the most basic survival needs met to grow forward and once physical needs are met, psychological safety is next in the lineup; this means each feeling accepted, and respected in our personal and professional group dynamics, making risk-taking reasonable, and innovating and co-creating an adventure. Psychological safety enables resiliency even when one is faced with frustration and negative conditions. Only then are problems solved without diminishing the stature of one’s self or others. What are some of the key mindset and behavior shifts that create safe spaces in any aspect of community living?

  1. We need to offset inferiority feelings by helping one another remember we are social and need a sense of healthy belonging and significance, so we feel empowered, lovable, connected, and contributing.
  2. We need to develop individuation AND social interest simultaneously. Individuation is each one being seen, heard, supported, and validated within compassionate and curious relationships. Social interest is recognizing and being supported in using our personal power to intentionally cause positive consequences for all.
  3. We need to learn and prioritize trustworthiness, recognizing when relationships have unresolved issues, then overcome them by identifying, healing, and resolving neglect or violation of specific trust behaviors.
  4. We need a new model of team that goes beyond individuals committed to achieving goals, to one where each one does this while helping each other become wildly successful, a further extension of social interest.
  5. We need to understand that there are stages for developing into true community. We must learn to move beyond playing it safe; only acknowledging what we have in common, and beyond power struggling, trying to fix, convert, heal, and change others when we realize we have differences, so that we empty ourselves of our fears, prejudices, and desires to change each other. Rather, we must learn to be respectful, receptive, offer recognition of differences with appreciation, and disclose how we think and feel without an agenda to change people. Only then do we reach true community, where it’s safe to be straightforward, honest, seek excellence and follow through on agreements. This is when true community and exponentially high productivity occur.

Creating conditions and conversations that result in psychological safety, trauma-informed practices, and equity and inclusion are not only possible, they are crucial to the success of meeting your every goal or objective, including joy and fulfillment for yourself and those you lead. If you and your people are experiencing stress, disengagement, and struggle, it’s a clear sign you need to create safe spaces. If you’re ready, we’re here to help!

This article is published in the column The Extraordinary Workplace in St. Louis Small Business Monthly, November 2022.

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Business owners and executives, community leaders, parents, educators and individuals hire LifeWork Systems because they know that effective conditions and conversations make all the difference in building trusting relationships, achieving dreams, and creating solutions and innovations for our evolving world. When people are happy and responsible, emotionally and socially intelligent, confident, and appropriately seen, heard, and supported, they always exceed expectations. We help instill into every person common concepts, terms, tools, and processes that result in healthy, happy, caring and contributing individuals, teams and organizations. Our mission is to create a world in which all people love their lives!

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