How often do we find ourselves using defensive mechanisms in order to maintain our own safety. When this approach is applied within family relationships, it becomes counter-intuitive to the expectation which we all hold regarding the family environment being a safe place for us to express who we are as individuals. Being able to shift from a defensive perspective to an open and vulnerable perspective isnt something people just do, especially without some type of evidence or reassurance that others will respond in safe ways.
So what must be done in order to create the type of relational safety which invites openness and vulnerability? Here are three fundamental aspects which must be considered and explored in order to increase the level of safety in relationships.
1. There must be a mutual agreement that safety in the relationship become more important than any other communication dynamic. Without safety, people are not going to take risks to become vulnerable, nor are they going to give themselves permission to be hurt. Once all involved in a relationship can agree to maintain safety, the possibility of vulnerability becomes a viable method of interacting.
2. A default response of validation is necessary in order to reassure people in relationships that safety exists and can be relied upon when engaging in conversation. Validation does not mean agreement, permission, or acceptance. Validation simply means that the other person's reality is real or true for them. Once people in relationships can validate one another, they open the door and invite a more genuine and safe communication process.
3. Finally, after validation occurs, there must be a cooperative approach to resolution. Thinking in ways which create viable solutions for all people in the relationship, rather than one benefiting and others losing, allows for a sense of hopefulness regarding finding viable resolutions for everyone. While its not always possible to come up with the same conclusion that perfectly fits for everyone, the very attempt to accomplish this will serve the relationship in ways well beyond the actual solutions which are proposed or discovered.
Hopefully, we all can assess our own approach to contributing safety to our relationships, and invite others to do the same. How wonderful would it be in your own relationships to make defensiveness obsolete, which gives you permission to freely express who you are, and invite others to do the same.
Anthony T. Alonzo, DMFT, LMFT, CFLE