Social Safety Nets

This post is about a need that keeps most people from learning the skills of Part II.

There’s a nonverbal part of people’s minds which feels safer if they refuse to learn what I’m trying to communicate, because doing what you want, as per my definitions, might cause rejection. We’ll talk about that directly in the second half of that post.

Safety is a legit desire. I’ve observed in myself and other people, that the best way to get around the “I’ll be socially unsafe if I process all my trauma with meditation and learn how to do what I want” block, is to have some other competing desire to outweigh that. (Combined with actually addressing the need for social safety). The most common effective one is something like, “I care about other people and want to stop procrastinating because of emotional pain and the like so I can help them”. Which, only works if there is a part deep inside you that cares about other people enough for that statement to have the force to motivate you. Please don’t try to force yourself to get motivation from such a statement if you don’t have a part that feels that way. It won’t stick, it will be temporary, the motivation will go away. You aren’t shameful for being you, and not caring about such things. If this is you, my suggestion is to look within yourself (not to social or external forces) for other competing desires to outweigh your desire for social safety. I will admit that I don’t have any suggestions, since I’m very picky with what sorts of people (as defined by what gives them the force to motivate themselves) I welcome into my circle of friends, and am not close with anyone who works that way.

Note that the idea here isn’t to have this big clash of desires and to have the desire for social safety lose out. Please don’t do that. The idea is that, a lot of people don’t have anything significant pulling them in the direction of learning the skills from Parts I-III, so even if they satisfy their desire for social safety, there’s not enough pull for them to learn these skills. You will want to read the next two posts before you search your feelings for such a motivation, since they talk about how to do this in a way that will provide a permanent, rather than a temporary, boost to motivation.

Anyways, finding a source of motivation within yourself is left as an exercise for the reader. Let’s talk about how to address your needs for social safety in a way that works with learning the skills in Parts I-III.

There’s a thing where children and teenagers often don’t have boundary-setting skills, because they don’t have the power to enforce boundaries for themselves. Sometimes, for adults, this means that dealing with a feeling of unsafety is just a matter of looking around and realizing that it’s now safe to set boundaries in a given context. Sometimes, there are contexts where it’s actually unsafe (or at least socially costly) for adults to set boundaries, like if your boss is shit or your partner is abusive and would punish you for trying to do so. Probably most people have contexts where it’s safe and contexts where it isn’t.

Sometimes going to a retreat is enough to help, if the issue is that it’s now safe to do what you want but it wasn’t previously, and you just need that knowledge to percolate through to all of your subagents/internal parts.

One way the feeling that “learning to do what I want will make me unsafe” can manifest is if you feel your place in your social group might be lost if you learn this stuff. Or that you might get sick of your social group’s bullshit, and leave on your own. Which is sort of a middle case, because if you’re free to find new friends, then you can find people who will accept you if you’re always doing what you want, but it’s a time and effort cost to do so. Contrast with if you’re in a bad position economically and have no job bargaining power, or if you’re a kid with parents you depend on.

Anyways, my style is to be unequivocal in cutting toxic people out of my life. You really cannot compromise with people who are making it unsafe to be you. If it’s possible to cut someone out entirely all at once, even if takes a lot of effort or emotional pain to do so, I’d recommend you go with that. If you really can’t bring yourself to, work on finding healthier people and silently building up capabilities, and then, once you’re close with a few of them, use that as a cushion to fall back on emotionally after you cut a toxic person out all at once.

If you’re in a situation where you just aren’t free to be yourself full stop, like you’re under 18 and have parents, I can’t say much useful, because you really don’t have options. But, be careful about declaring yourself to be in such a situation prematurely. If you’re an adult and, say, you’re materially dependent on your spouse, and it would in some sense be unsafe for you to learn this tech around them, a plane ticket to a place it’s warm enough to be homeless year round (Berkeley?) is $300, or a mechanically sound car you can throw a mattress in is $2000 (if you don’t know how to weed out bad cars, get a mechanic to look at the car before you buy), or some sort of box car or mini-RV is probably not a ton more than that. So, those are options, and a few more are here.

To give you a better sense for what things to look for, here’s a very incomplete list of things that make people feel unsafe, as if they have to appease others to survive:

  • Not having friends who like you for who you are
  • Having friends/family/partners who will withhold affection or support if you don’t do something (like, get good grades, or offer them your submission)*
  • Having lots of acquaintances, but no close friends who would like, have your back in a fight (hanging out 1-on-1 is good for making closer friends)
  • Believing you need to do a specific thing to be “good” or “safe”, e.g. get good grades, earn lots of money, have certain politics, etc*
  • Not having enough money to survive if you get fired* (or, fear that you don’t have enough, even if you do)
  • Being part of a cult (looking at you, Effective Altruism)

* Some things do actually make you unsafe, so if you want to work around this, maybe build a new social safety net first, and then try troubleshooting the actual fear of being unsafe once it’s no longer a big issue. Or work on building a social safety net at the same time as you learn this mental tech, knowing you won’t be able to learn the full version until you feel mostly safe, but that both processes can speed each other up.

This post has mostly just talked about concrete steps to take, but let’s finish with a word on how to deal with the emotions behind “it’s not safe for me to learn this mental tech”.

First, if you’re new to introspection, your need for safety might manifest as you feeling uncertain or apprehensive, but having some interest in what I’m saying–if that’s the case, try to listen to your feelings of uncertainty and see if there’s more to them. The idea here is that, you might have to do a bit of processing to realize that apprehension about learning the skills in Parts I-III of this blog is being caused by a need for safety, it might not be immediately apparent that this is what is going on if you’re new to mindfulness meditation.

Let’s imagine in a bit more detail what troubleshooting a need for safety could look like.

This could look like someone talking with themselves, and then the “I want safety” part of them being like “no I don’t trust you I’m scared”. Followed by them coming up with a plan to satisfy the “I want safety” part’s values, and executing on it.

One idea for such a plan would be: spend an hour trying to make new friends who like you for who you are, and not for who you present yourself as.

If you try the above and you can’t even communicate with the “I want safety” part of yourself, you can try talking out loud to it, as if it’s another person, and then wait for it to answer.

If you try finding new friends who accept you for who you are and not for how you present yourself, it’s still possible that your “I want safety” won’t feel any better after. If that happens, just try your best to ask it what that part of you wants instead. Maybe cutting off a controlling partner or family member is more important to it? If you don’t get an answer, make an educated guess about what it wants, and just do that. If you’re really having trouble talking to it at all, there’s a post in Part III about how to do that.

Make sure that you’re not treating your need for safety as an annoying thing that needs to be resolved. That need is an important part of yourself, it’s pointing to something important to you. What you really want to do is to listen to the part of yourself that wants safety and incorporate its wishes for safety into yourself, e.g. take its desires 100% seriously and not as just something to be fixed. That’s like, the whole meaning of doing what you want: taking your emotions as something to be listened to, until you listen to them just right and learn what they were trying to tell you all along. And then they quiet down once you figure it out and act on what they were telling you.

Next Post: Doing What You Want