In the examination of psychological safety, we’ve talked about a need to be trusting and trustworthy. We’ve also discussed the importance of having the courage to let people express their opinions and feelings – standing bravely in the lion’s roar. I’ve discovered another big reason why we have trouble creating psychological safety, and it’s inspired by the best of intentions.
We want to protect other people from disappointment, annoyance, and anger. We want to make their lives smoother and easier. It is definitely a feeling of protection – and it’s not helpful, even though that is our intention.
As I look at my own parenting and the parenting of others, I see a lot of protection going on. We don’t want our children to experience crushing feelings of disappointment or failure. However, we aren’t helping our children or any adult by keeping them from facing and managing unpleasant feelings.
In fact, we are viewing them as too weak to handle a difficult situation. We are telling them that we don’t trust their abilities to overcome a challenge and manage their emotions. It’s a terrible message to send.
We are also robbing them of the opportunity to grow emotionally. Each time we overcome a difficult situation, we get stronger and better at it. When the next challenge comes along, we think, “I totally got through something similar before, so I know that I can do it again.” Facing and overcoming challenges builds resilience and confidence. We don’t want to steal those opportunities from people.
One phrase helps me when faced with the urge to protect someone from difficult feelings. In coaching, we consider people to be naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. We trust that every person can face and manage the experiences in their lives. It is true! We are all naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. It’s important that we trust in the ability of others to weather the storms of life and that we have enough courage to stand beside them in those storms.
I’ve volunteered with the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), where a team of facilitators would spend a couple of days educating community leaders on the unique challenges that military kids face. The one concept that struck me was how they explained what a military child, or anyone else, needs in order to overcome huge challenges and disappointments.
MCEC says that the adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is not always true. A person can experience overwhelming psychological damage if two things are not present during the struggle. Those two things are hope and support. MCEC doesn’t advocate keeping a child from experiencing grief or change; we can’t anyway. They say we must offer hope and support.
That’s what we can offer others when we see that they are facing a situation that creates strong negative feelings. We shouldn’t try and keep them from experiencing disappointment or anger. We want to offer support and hope for a better future.
Seeing someone as naturally creative, resourceful, and whole is a tremendous gift. We show confidence in their abilities to handle life. When we allow people to feel difficult emotions and overcome difficult situations, we are giving them the opportunity to grow stronger and build confidence. What we can do is stand beside them and offer support and hope. Helping someone build resilience is helping them create success in life.
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