What does the word "safe" mean?

The word safe for us is confusing.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary Online; Safe means:
“Free from hurt or damage; unharmed.”
“Free from danger; secure.”

Intellectually we know this. We understand what these words mean and how they should be used.

But what happens when safe has meant harm, hurt and danger in the past? How is a child meant to understand what that word means when someone encourages them into a place or situation by telling them it is safe, or they are safe; only to then hurt that child? What happens when that word becomes a trigger?

This became a struggle yesterday while on the phone to a friend in America. We both wanted to feel safe… one of his alters responded that there is no safety. We understand this feeling and empathise with it. But for us this gets further confused when the older parts, unaware of what it does to the younger parts use the word as a soothing technique. As soon as they hear that word there is panic… acceptance of the pain to come… defeat… confusion…

We once mistakenly tried to ease that fear by saying “Shhhhhh”. We will never do that again. The pain of seeing and feeling a child part screaming in pure terror or staying perfectly still in pure defeat is more than we can handle.

We’ve yet to find an alternative that has the strength of the concept behind the word safe that makes sense to us all. If anyone has any suggestions, it would be appreciated.

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4 thoughts on “What does the word "safe" mean?

  1. I understand what you mean. Do your smaller alters have the same triggers around derivatives of the word “protected”? I was mulling over your post, and had the thought that perhaps doing somehing as simple as getting a thesaurus, and testing synonyms with your system, might help. There are a few other fairly powerful words that mean “safe” but aren’t that word. The other thought that occurred to me is that it might be possible for your system to invent its own word for protection and security, if an existing word can’t be found. Your friend’s comment gave me a wry smile, as it reminded me of something I said in my first session with my therapist … that there can’t be any safety in my life, because all the unsafe things are internal. It’s not the world that’s unsafe … I carry all my lack of safety inside me, so wherever I go, that place isn’t safe. It’s impossible to get away from it.

  2. Hi David,We’ve tried words like “comfy” but that just didn’t work. They know what it is to be “protected” – Sophie looks after many of the younger ones and protects them. But they’re still too caught up in the past.I think you’re right, it’s that lack of feeling of internal safety that is the key. We’ll try and get our therapist to see this rather than her eviction mode of thinking!We had tried different paper thesaurus’ with no luck in the past. However, after your suggestion we tried an online one and think we may have found a word even better… Cherished Thank you.

  3. Words can be tough. For me, feelings and thoughts are better, but these are hard to convey over the phone or through email. For one of mine inside, just thinking or saying “warm heart” is enough to give a big hug. Another was calmed by my mother when she brushed my hair. She told me that when I was in those states, she couldn’t say a word, but if she rubbed my back or brushed my hair, it would bring me down. Would anything like that be helpful?

  4. Hi,I think that’s where we were sort of going with the word Cherished. It’s word that the cynics can understand and its more emotive with actions and feelings attached to it, so helps the younger ones. It’s also nothing we were ever given or told when growing up, so there’s no “baggage” attached to it :)I like the idea of the soothing through actions that you describe, but its something that we will have to aim for as a goal rather than something that we can achieve now. Touch, no matter how soothing is just something beyond us at the moment.Thank you…Sophie

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