You Deserve to Feel Safe at Home | Counseling | Therapy

You Deserve to Feel Safe at Home

Jordan Pearce , MA, NCC, LAC — Associate therapist

you deserve to feel safe at home; domestic violence; intimate partner violence image

“Do you feel safe at home?”

It has become commonplace to hear this question in a variety of healthcare settings, and it is a common question now to be asked when visiting your doctor’s office, when being admitted to a hospital or emergency room, and even at your dentist. Often in these settings, this question is asked amongst several other questions, and you may have answered it with a simple ‘yes’ and then moved on to other questions, maybe without giving the question serious thought.

Another place you will hear this question is when you meet with your new therapist. Therapists often ask this question when they meet with a new client for the first time and will explain their reason for doing so. Your therapist will continually assess for safety at home during future sessions.

New therapy clients are sometimes confused about this question and may be asking themselves the following when faced with it: What is this question actually asking? And why is it being asked in the first place? What do you mean by “safe” and how can I determine if I do, actually, feel safe at home? And what happens if my answer is no?

In broad terms, safety means feeling protected against harm, injury, or danger. We sometimes think of this in terms of physical safety, and you have likely had the experience of feeling like your physical safety is being threatened.

Imagine, for instance, walking through a dark street late at night alone – you might feel a sense of dread, or anxiety, or fear about what might happen next. You might feel physical sensations like an elevated heart rate, shortness of breath, or nausea. You might be distracted by these sensations or preoccupied with how to deal with the unexpected that may or may not occur. Your emotional experience might include feelings of helplessness, or regret, or anger, and these feelings and physical sensations might last long after you have made it to your destination safely.

Unfortunately, many people experience home environments that are not safe, and many experience the physical and emotional sensations described above in their homes, sometimes over a long period of time. This lack of safety can often be amplified by economic struggles, disability or health issues, or having your autonomy taken by someone else in your home that is abusing you or others.

You deserve to feel safe at home.

Safety is related to our feelings of security. When we feel safe, we feel less anxious and less overwhelmed by our experiences and emotions. When we feel safe, we feel that we receive warmth and compassion from others in our home. When we feel safe, we feel supported and valued, and respected. When we feel safe, we take better care of ourselves and others.

You deserve to feel safe at home.

Feeling unsafe can have impacts on your physical and mental health, and it is an important part of assessing your overall physical and mental well-being. So, this is why you are hearing this question more and more from your doctor and others.

This lack of safety can manifest in several key ways. Below are broad areas of concern that might have an impact on a feeling of safety in your home. You may find these explanations helpful in determining if your living environment is safe or not. The examples provided are in no way exhaustive, but may give you a framework to reflect on your home environment and your experience in it.

  1. Environmental safety, which includes unsafe living environments, such as a dwelling that is structurally unsound, or not heated in the winter, or where there is a significant pest issue that is impacting the health of people living there. Do you have access to clean water and a place to use the bathroom? Do you have access to food and a place to store, prepare, and consume it? Can your home be reasonably secured against intruders, and is there safety equipment available in your home, like a carbon monoxide alarm or a fire extinguisher?

  2. Physical safety, which includes experiences of violence in your home. You may be experiencing family violence, or violence in your intimate relationship. This may have taken the form of hitting, slapping, being restrained, or being threatened with a weapon. Threats of physical violence can be just as detrimental as being hit or restrained.

  3. Body safety, which would include whether or not you have autonomy over your own body and whether you have a say or not in what happens to your body. This may take the form of unwanted sexual touching or advances, lack of privacy when bathing or toileting, or being forced to take medications you do not wish to take. This could also include whether you have access to healthcare when you need it, and are in control of your own reproductive choices. This also includes whether you are able to freely leave your home when you choose to.

  4. Emotional safety, which includes experiences of emotional violence. This may take the form of yelling, name-calling, insults, manipulation, gaslighting, or other tactics designed to control you or make you feel bad about yourself or your situation. This also includes safety in your relationships, such as whether you feel you can leave your relationship any time you wish.

  5. Financial safety, which includes access to the things that you need and the means to acquire them. Do you have control over your own money? Do you have a say in what happens to the money you earn or otherwise contribute to your home? Do you get to make your own financial decisions, and if not, are you a part of that decision-making process?

You deserve to feel safe in your own body. You deserve to feel safe at home.

What happens if you tell your therapist that you don’t feel safe at home? Your therapist will respond with compassion and empathy and will likely ask follow up questions to assess further what is impacting your safety and how, and work with you to determine next steps. It can be incredibly scary to share with your doctor or your therapist details about your home life that might be making you feel less safe. Often people feel a sense of shame for not taking action sooner, or feel guilty because they blame themselves for what has happened or is happening. It is important to be honest and forthright with your healthcare providers so that they can support you, connect you to resources, and intervene if necessary.

Your safety matters.

It is important to remember that what you tell your therapist is confidential and private, but that there are limitations to this privacy that directly relate to the question of safety of yourself and others in your home. All mental health providers are required by law to report incidents of child abuse, elder abuse, and the abuse of disabled adults to relevant government authorities. These disclosures can be made to relevant authorities with or without your consent, but often can be done with your cooperation and foreknowledge. You should not be afraid of this requirement; it is in place as part of the sacred trust that healthcare providers have with the public. These laws are designed to protect the most vulnerable people in our society.

You deserve to feel safe at home.

How can my therapist help me experience safety?

  1. By providing a safe and supportive place to talk about yourself and your life openly in a space that is warm, compassionate, and empathetic.

  2. By helping you assess how safe you feel and determine what is contributing to this feeling of being unsafe. Hearing yourself talk about your situation is often enough to trigger you to a make the needed changes to begin to address a bad situation.

  3. By helping you understand that what is happening to you isn’t your fault, and reinforcing for you that you deserve to feel safe in your home and in your body.

  4. By helping you process your emotional response to the situation, helping you to navigate feelings of helplessness, sadness, fear, and anger related to your circumstances. Remember, change is possible.

  5. By helping you implement behavioral changes that can increase your sense of safety and autonomy and help you regain some control over your environment and circumstances.

  6. By helping you develop a safety plan, a formalized idea of ways to increase safety in unpredictable environments where you often do not have agency to make changes.

  7. By connecting you with resources, such as hotlines, government agencies, non-profits, shelters, legal advisors, and other community resources that can help address areas of your life that are making you feel unsafe. Sometimes you need help to get yourself out of a bad situation.

  8. By making a report to relevant authorities about abuse or neglect.

  9. By suggesting, if necessary, a higher level of care to address your concerns and to help return you to safety.

Opening up to someone, even someone you trust, about things that are making you feel unsafe can be very scary. Often we feel shame, guilt, embarrassment, or fear related to sharing such personal things with others. Your therapist is your ally in helping you talk about what is happening to you, assess the situation, and decide how to take action, and what that action might look like. Depending on your situation, taking action to address it may take a variety of forms, and your therapist can help you navigate putting your plan of action into place.

You deserve to feel safe at home.

But the first step is to tell someone what is happening. As much as we wish we could change our circumstances, and perhaps we have tried many times to do so, often we need help to realize the kind of changes that are needed to keep yourself safe.

You deserve to feel safe at home, and a professional counselor / therapist can be an integral part of helping you achieve this.

At TCFG you can schedule directly online with a shame therapist. If you prefer talking to a shame therapist first, you may call (215) 922-LOVE (5683) ext 100 to be connected with our intake department. Lastly, you can call our Director, “Alex” Caroline Robboy, CAS, MSW, LCSW at (267) 324–9564 to discuss your particular situation. For your convenience, we have six physical therapy offices and can also provide counseling and therapy virtually.

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