Taking personal responsibility for ‘safe space’


The word community can mean that people have a shared purpose, but as the word joins the syllable ‘com’ with the word ‘unity’, it literally means shared unity, or that we have unity in common.

Communities can be wonderful and intentional spaces for shared love, profound learning and deeply nurturing and heart-opening experiences, just like in-depth friendships, collaborations and intimate relationships. All of these connections also tend to bring up personal and ancestral threads of patternings that can disrupt the flow of mutually empowering group and inter-relational processes, like I have experienced in local and global community projects and in personal relationships including my own. These patternings tend to protect various ideas of who we are and what we need to feel safe in a community, or intimate relationship space.

This is naturally an occurence that happens in every group,community and personal relationship endeavour. It is not necessarily a problem with the community, group or relationship as such, it is simply part of the process of individual and collective growth.

In these situations where self-protective mechanisms in us come to the surface, such as superiority arising from a sense of powerlessness, we may tend to want to shift to label, generalise, accuse, blame, judge and most of all we are likely to attempt to control a situation outside of ourselves, because we may believe that is what we need to feel safe.

This often happens in a highly polarised situation where one party tends to get the upper hand and another one ends up leaving the scene, because no one, or one of the parties doesn’t want to give up on having the ‘right point of view’.

In spiritual communities, where people have adopted the understanding that shaming, blaming and judging as well as being right or a victim is not popular, we often see cleverly used spiritual language disguisng the same old behaviours, which makes any real resolve particularily complex, as no one wants to admit to not being ‘spiritual’.

So often I find that an act that claims to be Love often simply disguises an act that is intended to lead to power in relationsip to a certain situation or a certain person. Love of power is often simply an unseen belief in needing control simply to survive or to be able to hang onto ‘something the way it is, apparently see and needs to be and has always been’. The attempt to ‘look like Love’ usually also stems from a belief that we need to fit in to belong. Belonging to one’s family, tribe and community was traditionally a matter of life or death and is still a matter of life or death in many cultures on this planet. So I really feel it is crucial to bring compassion to our reactions, facades, self-defense and coping mechanisms. The more we can lovingly embrace our own the less likely we are to judge them in others.

Group-facilitators and organisers can not take all the responsibility for the creation of safe space in larger groups. Nor is the responibility for safe space in one-to-one relationships ever just with one person.

Responsibility needs to be fully shared. This is because when a highly polarised conflict comes up or is brought to you, you will find that there is word against word, and it is in fact impossible to know the truth. One person may be exaggerating, another may be down-playing what has really happened. Also our memory of any situation will be affected by our personal filters and interpretations. The more fear there is of negative consequences, the less likely it is that any conversation is really going to the root of a conflict in a healing and insightful way. Hence there won’t be a consideration that for instance a conflict arose from feeling entitled or powerless, numb, dissociated and scared, hurt and feeling a need to be in control. But real insights into the self-protective mechansims we tend to escape into -falsly believing they lead to a sense of safety- are essential for solutions to an issue to unfold that are mutually empowering.

This is why a safe space agreement needs to clearly define new types of actions and processes that support everyones growth and deepening of understanding of how to create a space where there is authenticity, honesty and free creative expression and also heartful respect for one another’s needs for feeling safe to engage with each other in in-depth levels -especially in any type of potential conflict.

This list of questions below is created for people who already are practicing in co-creative, mutually empowering communities and understand that in-person resolve of a conflict allows for mutually empowering insights and outcomes and that running away from it usually only serves a superior idea of ‘moral highground’ to be maintained. For the list to make sense there must also be an understanding that there is no ‘bad emotion’ and that pushing away anger, guilt, shame, fear and rage does not help at all. Patterns of self-protection are not who we are and what defines us, therefore there must be the freedom to be curious and go on discovery. ‘Uncomfortable feelings’ of any kinds are usually very precious guidance towards deeper treasures.This list can also be assisting people in personal and intimate relationships.

Safe Space considerations to navigate conflict:

If you like you can play this audio alongside reading the questions, and listen to how I elaborate on them with various practical examples:

Can I accept that everyone in a community or any other relationship circumstance is here with positive intentions for mutual respect, Love and empowerment?

Can I respect that any person I enounter needs to consent to conversations, sharing ideas and advice and any form of physical touch?

Can I practice to lovingly assert my genuine ‘yes’ and my genuine ‘no’?

Can I accept that all of us are in different places in our lives and understanding of who we are? Can I accept that everyone including myself has blindspots and can be driven by self-protective mechanisms rather then by genuine loving compassion?

Can I do my best to presume that everyone has positive intentions and is willing to learn? Am I willing to not outwardly blame, accuse and judge?

Am I trying to claim the moral or spiritual highground, am I feeling superior, do I want control over someone, or do I allow someone else to dominate me?

Am I labelling others and putting them into boxes and am I presuming that they can not or are not willing to change unless there are evident long-term, and persistant behaviours that obviously create serious emotional, mental or physical harm?

Am I open to exploring a mutually empowering outcome to a conflict?

Can I respect when space is needed for processing, but will I committ to making room for conflict resolve in person when both parties are ready to do so if necessary with unbiased support?

Do I feel that vulnerability is essential for the creation of a safe container for difficult conversations?

Do I agree that vulnerability will only be shared if I understand my own self-protection and do my best not to polarise a situation that has occured into a judgemental, controling and threatening circumstance?

Can I accept that my personal experience of someone may include subjectivity, presumptions and projection? Will I practice to notice subjectivity, presumptions and projections and what they point towards in myself that I am not seeing?

Do I feel that any conflict has the power to turn into medicine, insights and mutual learning and can teach us how to create safe space with and for each other?

Am I in touch with my feelings and needs, especially if they don’t feel met?

Can I practice to tell people in conflict how I feel and what my needs are rather then tell them how they should feel and what their needs are?

Can I accept that a safe space requires my capacity to own my experience in a feeling manner to the best of my capacity?

Can I see that any situation can be experienced in multiple ways, and can I hence committ to validating the experience of others? Can I listen to the reality of others and accept what is true to them, even if I don’t agree? Can I also speak up with my reality?

Am I accepting that my own self-protective mechanisms may prevent me from doing so at times?

Can I committ to resolving conflict and tensions that may have occurred with someone in person if possible? If that is not possible, or doesn’t feel safe, am I comfortable to ask for help from brothers and sisters I trust to mediate in an unbiased manner?

Can I agree that I will attempt everything else including considering these safe space questions in depth, either on my own, with someone I trust or the other party in a conflict that has arisen, before proposing serious steps including legal steps and proposing that someone is to be labelled as not safe to be in a particular relationship and/or participate or be a leader in a community?