I've got you, babe: A how-to guide to emotional safety

Think of yourself and your favourite people as the inhabitants of a home. In the intricate assembly and core construction of human relationships, safety is that home's foundation, upon which trust, intimacy, and growth are built.


Understanding the essence of safety within relationships transcends simple physical security; it encompasses emotional, psychological, and relational dimensions. Drawing insights from modern psychologists, therapists, coaches and other trusted contemporary voices, let’s explore what it takes to establish emotional safety with your partners, friends, colleagues and kids.

Esther Perel, a renowned psychotherapist and author, delves into the complexities of modern relationships in her book If he's a high value man, what am I?. Perel highlights the significance of emotional safety in fostering authentic connections. She articulates, "Safety is not necessarily the absence of conflict but the presence of connection amidst it."; succinct! This profound insight underscores the notion that safety within relationships is not about avoiding discomfort or disagreements but rather about navigating them together with mutual respect and understanding.

Dr John Gottman, a leading researcher in the field of marital stability and relationship analysis, also emphasises the importance of emotional attunement in creating a safe relational space. He posits, "Safety is cultivated through emotional responsiveness, where partners feel heard, validated, and accepted in their vulnerability." This sentiment underscores the transformative power of empathy and active listening in nurturing a sense of safety within the dynamics of a relationship, be that with your partner, your colleague, your parent, or your child. 

From a life coaching perspective, safety within relationships encompasses the freedom to express one's authentic self without fear of judgment or rejection. Renowned life coach Tony Robbins advocates for radical honesty and vulnerability as catalysts for building trust and intimacy. He asserts, "True safety arises when partners can courageously reveal their deepest fears, desires, and insecurities, knowing that they will be met with compassion and empathy."

The act of striving for authenticity lays the foundation for the deepest emotional intimacy and connection, and as we know, vulnerability promotes vulnerability; when we share and expose something with sincerity about ourselves, it lets the other person know they are safe enough to do so too. 

Dr Brene Brown, a research professor and acclaimed author, sheds light on the insidious nature of shame in sabotaging relational safety. She elucidates, "Safety thrives in environments where shame is replaced with empathy, where imperfections are embraced rather than stigmatised”; inviting individuals to embrace vulnerability as a source of strength rather than weakness, thereby fostering deeper connections rooted in authenticity and acceptance.

Similarly, Dr Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), advocates for a secure attachment framework as a blueprint for relational safety. She asserts, "Safety is the antidote to emotional isolation, where partners feel seen, heard, and valued in their emotional experiences." This resonates with Perel's notion that safety needs connection to honour the uniqueness of each partner's emotional landscape.

The right (and wrong) way to respond 

When beginning to work on the communication within your relationships, it is crucial to recognise that offering practical advice when your partner/colleague/child is sharing their emotions - even if it is your intent to be kind or to help in some way - is actually obstructive, and can undermine their sense of safety and validation. 

Let’s explore why. When someone opens up about their emotions, they're often seeking validation and understanding rather than immediate solutions, so jumping in with advice can make them feel dismissed or unheard. Offering solutions too quickly can inadvertently invalidate the other person's feelings by implying that their emotions are not valid or important, which can lead to feelings of frustration or disconnection.

Emotions are incredibly complex, and processing them takes time, so rushing to provide solutions can interrupt this emotional process and prevent that person from fully exploring and understanding their feelings. This can elongate their processing time, so that the person feels the negativity of their emotions for an exaggerated period of time, and more acutely; penance for them, and not great for you either.

Equally, offering quick fixes or practical advice without fully understanding the underlying emotions can miss the mark and fail to address the root cause of the issue, sending the message that you don't trust the other person's ability to handle their own emotions or solve their own problems, which can lead to feelings of disempowerment and detachment. 

Instead of immediately offering solutions, focus on actively listening, validating the other person's feelings, and empathising with their experience. Let them know that you're there to support them in whatever way they need, whether it's by simply listening, offering a comforting presence, or exploring potential solutions together when they're ready. By prioritising validation and empathy over practical advice, you can create a safe and supportive space for that person to express their emotions freely.

Here's my step-by-step guide to making another person feel safe when they open up to you emotionally:

1. Active listening

Begin by giving the other person your full attention. Maintain eye contact, and use verbal and nonverbal cues to show that you're fully present and engaged in the conversation. If you still feel the urge to offer advice; stop, nod your head instead, and don’t interrupt them.

2. Validation

Validate the other person's emotions by acknowledging and accepting them without judgment. You can reaffirm with, "I hear you,", "I see that", or "I completely understand why you would feel that way."

3. Empathy

Put yourself in the other person's shoes and try to understand their perspective. If it is a child, try to remember how you felt at their age; how important the smaller things were for you. Be gentle. Reflect back their feelings by saying, "It sounds like you're feeling [emotion] because of [reason]."

4. Be curious

Encourage the other person to share more about their emotions by asking open-ended questions, or encouraging statements. For example, “Wow, ok. I didn’t realise”, “I really want to know more”, “How did that make you feel?” etc.

5. Be cool

This is an important one. Resist the urge to become defensive or dismissive of the other person's emotions, especially if they're expressing dissatisfaction or frustration with you or your actions. Instead, focus on listening and understanding their point of view.

Listening without judgement will help you to realise how you have hurt them, plus how you can begin to repair things. Consequently, this paves the way for open, trusting dialogue in the future, where the other person knows they will not be shouted at or dismissed for sharing their emotions with you. Repeatedly failing on this point will teach the other person that sharing their emotions with you is completely unsafe, and they will not only stop sharing emotional challenges with you, but they will also stop sharing their wins and positives with you as well, leading to a complete communication breakdown.

6. Offer reassurance

Let the other person know that you're there for them and that you value their emotional well-being. Reassure them with, "I'm here to support you," or “We can work this out together."

7. Create a safe physical environment

Ensure that your shared physical environment is favourable for open communication. Choose a comfortable and private space where you can have a meaningful conversation without distractions or interruptions. In the kitchen when your parents/friends/colleagues are within listening distance in the next room is not an environment conducive to being completely open or feeling safe to share emotional vulnerability.

8. Respect boundaries

Respect the other person's boundaries; don't pressure them to share more than they're comfortable with or push them to recover from what they're feeling before they are ready to do so. Let them know that they can take their time and share at their own pace.

9. Express gratitude

Express gratitude to the other person for opening up and sharing their emotions with you. Acknowledge the courage it takes to be vulnerable and thank them for trusting you with their feelings. Again, this fosters the security that they can be vulnerable with you again in the future whenever they need to.

10. Follow-up

Check in with the other person after the conversation to see how they're feeling and if there's anything else they need from you. Let them know that you're available to continue the conversation whenever they're ready.

In conclusion, establishing emotional safety within your relationships requires effort, consistency and sometimes distancing yourself from your reactionary self, because your response will actively teach the other person what to expect the next time they want to share something with you. It entails creating a relational space where authenticity, empathy, and vulnerability are celebrated rather than suppressed.

As you embark on your own journey towards deeper connection and intimacy in your most important relationships, take the words of the great Perel with you; "True safety lies in the willingness to explore the depths of our souls and to embrace the full spectrum of human experience, knowing that we are held in love and acceptance."

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, EC1V
Written by Ali Coco Epps, DipLC, MAC, MEMCC
London, EC1V

Ali Coco Epps is a Therapeutic Life Coach and author working between London and Ibiza, with clients throughout the world. She is a pioneer of hiking coaching and comes very highly recommended. She is known as The Real Life Coach.

Her first session with you is completely free - book now via her profile, website, or instagram @itsthereallifecoach

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