What do you do to try avoid feelings of anxiety, panic or emotional discomfort, the nagging feeling that you are not good enough, the belief that others do not like you, that pending sense of loss? What actions do you take, what rules do you make up, what thoughts fill your head?
To help you out we have identified just some of these rules, some of the conditions people create to help block that feeling, quieten the discomfort. Actions that need to be taken so that things (in your mind) don’t spiral out of control.
So ask yourself ‘How many attempts do you make to check, check whether everything is right, whether everyone is ok’?
This is a condition of safety. You need to check in on them in order to be able to relax. You can recognise it as a condition of safety if, when you cannot reach them you start worrying that something is wrong, and when you cannot make the call your anxiety levels go up even though there is nothing pressing you need to call them for, no circumstances that suggest there is most likely a problem that needs your help.
You may react by saying ‘I just like to speak to my son every day, it’s just something we have always done’ But it is the feelings that arise when you can’t do it for any reason that makes this a condition of safety.
Here is another one. Do you always have to check or can you assume all is fine? Are you able to leave your subordinates to complete their work or do you need to check? What about your own work? Do you need to check that everything is covered, going back over documents, emails, assignments or research just to make doubly sure?
Sound like someone who is just thorough. No harm in making sure, right. In fact that certainty may have spotted many potential errors and omissions, it has I am certain saved many of you from being caught off guard or having to rush off to deliver a forgotten text book, gym outfit or assignment once or twice.
To understand this simply ask yourself ‘Does checking in or checking up on something or someone calm your concern, or settle your anxiety?
Does this mean that you need to check or else you will feel concerned or anxious?
If you need to check it is a condition of safety, because quite simply put it is a condition that needs to be met for you to feel safe! Note: We are not disputing whether the need is genuine or not, and in some instances it may well be, but we are asking you to recognise and record your conditions of safety.
So here are some more examples. Maybe you are driven to continuously seek reassurance from others, never quite trusting that yourself. Or perhaps it is the opposite, needing to do everything yourself because you cannot leave things to others.
Perhaps leaving anything to chance is your big no no, having to make certain you have dealt with any possible situation or scenario. So preparing for each and every eventuality leaves you constantly adding to your to do list, your to pack list, your to prepare list!
This list may be the conditions you need to meet before something meets your standards, before it is good enough. A perfectionist, striving for evidence that it is good enough, that you are good enough.
Perhaps you notice that you are avoiding more than you should, procrastinating as you anticipate the consequences your mind attaches to imperfection. The devastating aftermath that you believe may follow a less than satisfactory product or performance.
At first glance it may appear to be more a case of delaying things until certain conditions can be met, like gathering further advice or expert opinion. But certainty is frequently just another unattainable (or merely temporary) condition of safety.
In fact what we propose is that key to managing these conditions and associated anxiety is the ability to tolerate uncertainty, and at times the ability to recognise where such uncertainty should in fact be invited. But more about that elsewhere in our journey towards self-defined.