Making Safe Connections in Recovery
Author: Tresa Clemmensen M.SC. CCC
Shame is what you feel when you believe that you are a failure as a person or something is fundamentally wrong with you. When you feel shame, there is a tendency to isolate yourself (or your true feelings) from others. You may believe that you donʼt deserve support, so you keep your problems to yourself. Or you think your pain will bring others down so you hide it where others will not see it. The more secretive you become, the more alone you feel. The more alone you feel, the more your feelings of shame seem conﬁrmed.
You cannot recover alone. Reaching out to others is essential to recovery and it is important that the people you reach out to are safe people. Safe people are those who respect you and are good listeners. They do not try and ﬁx you and they welcome you and all your feelings. When you are done talking to a safe person, you feel heard and cared about. Safe people also know how to take care of their own feelings. When they need support, you can trust they will ﬁnd someone (whether it is you or someone else) who will listen and help them get their needs met. Safe people will also tell you when they canʼt be there for you. Although this may be difﬁcult for you to hear, you will be able to trust that when they tell you they can be there, and they really mean it.
Unsafe people are those who do any of the following: criticize, interrupt, try to “ﬁx” you, respond dishonestly, give unsolicited advice, and relate everything you say to themselves, or reveal your conﬁdences. People turn to unsafe people when they fear intimacy, because their rejection and criticism, though painful, is familiar.
Different people can meet your needs in different ways. For example, a counsellor can give you professional guidance, a safe support group member may personally relate and have similar experiences to share, a friend may be there on a long-term basis, and a family member may have a deeper understanding due to history.
Reaching out to safe people means being honest. It means calling them or being with them when you are in pain or feeling bad about yourself. It means telling the truth when you are angry or hurt. It means asking for help when you don’t know what to do. It means trusting people who are trustworthy.
Many people fear that reaching out for support is a sign of weakness. Yet, reaching out takes a lot of courage. It is not easy to go to another person, especially when you are feeling vulnerable, ashamed, hurt or confused. But reaching out helps us process these feelings in a healthy manner. Reaching out pushes many out of their comfort zone, but being willing to feel the discomfort and choosing to do it anyways is so important for your recovery and overall well-being.