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Creating the Safe Space (Part One)

By Dr. Patty Williams on November 4, 2023

Bright Insight Support Network founder and president Dr. Patty Williams is a trauma therapist and coach who specializes in EMDR, ND-Affirmative DBT, and IFS modalities. Through Bright Insight, she works to counsel, coach, and advocate for gifted, twice-exceptional, and neurodivergent persons, along with other marginalized populations.

Creating the Safe Space (Part One)

The topic of safety is a common enough one, particularly in current sociopolitical climates that feed the marginalization and othering of any and many populations. When we throw around the professed need for safety without fully defining it, however, naysayers, those who deny privilege, and those who threaten safety can weaponize it against those who seek sanctuary from harm.


So let’s define safety clearly and with a shared purpose.


The Oxford Dictionary defines safety as “The condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury.” In a descriptive context, safety is further indicated as something created to avert injury or harm. As such, one could conclude that the creation of safety is an act of protecting oneself or others from harm.


Creating a safe space therefore involves creating an area, be it physical or virtual, or even between two people, that protects from harm. This sounds nice. This sounds so nice that it is an absolute objective of mine in any space I inhabit. How do we create safety though, and where is it needed most?


To explore the need for safety, I need to rewind however to the topic of intimacy, due to the fact that in safety we can create intimacy, and intimacy feeds safety.


But—what IS intimacy?


I ask the question about the meaning of intimacy in many therapeutic spaces and with friends. It is a seemingly important one. Ultimately, the conclusion always centers around vulnerability. That is, intimacy involves being vulnerable with another person or group. And while a person can be vulnerable to themselves, this reality and the reality involving others only exists when there is a risk of harm. Oh. Risk. Vulnerability involves risk. That sounds familiar.


Here are some examples of the intimacy-vulnerability connection:


Think of physical intimacy. When a person is physically intimate, there is a risk of physical harm or exposure. When we can be vulnerable physically, whether naked, without shelter, or just in closer-than-typical proximity, this exposure or harm is more possible. However, if there is trust built out of safety-making, well maybe this vulnerability can be enjoyed.


With emotional or psychological safety, a person may feel emotionally safe to share vulnerable thoughts and feelings without worrying so much about psychological harm. This is another type of vulnerability we see in relationships, and even in classrooms, friend groups, or online. When we create psychological safety for others, it allows them to share and feel seen (understood more deeply).


Are there other kinds of safety though? Hmmm...


In the Bloomer's Group for 2e and gifted adults on Facebook, there is a culture of safety that has been fostered by not only the admin and moderators but by the group members as well. It is a beautiful space where people share openly in a way that pushes expectations and standards while inviting others in to discuss new or controversial ideas. So people share pictures or videos of themselves even (physical vulnerability), and certainly, many people talk about how it feels to be gifted and/or twice-exceptional (psychological/emotional vulnerability). 


The other day, however, I stumbled upon a realization that floored me. With certain, truly unique people and within this group, there is another type of safety that honestly feeds my soul and overexcitable self—I’m talking about intellectual safety.


Whoa. What?


I looked up intellectual safety, and it is a thing. Generally, however, it is discussed in relation to learning environments such as classrooms. Isn’t life a learning environment? Do you want to—Do I want to learn always? Do we want to feel intellectually safe always? Oh, yes, please.


How many of us, particularly as gifted, intellectually excitable sorts, have had our intellectual exploration met with blank stares and rushed responses?

How many of us have been told that our ideas are unreasonable or “too much.” The too much can hurt, can't it?

How many of us have been intellectually shut down or squelched because our passion for ideas, pattern-finding, and meaning-making have been misunderstood at best or downright disregarded?

How many of us feel our intellectual passions are not mirrored or even noticed? 


At this point in my life, I am seeing an absolute need for intellectual mirroring and safety as much as any other sort. I need safe spaces and I need to create them for others. We need to protect ourselves and others from harm because trauma, though we can grow from it, is not good. 

Harm is not good. 


Safety is at my core, and I will continue to seek and offer it. First, we need to understand it and bring it fully into conversations where vulnerability is also possible, and both intimacy and understanding can be gained.

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