New Year’s is a time to dream big, but first, you need to discover what you need to feel safe and secure. When you do both, you access the kind of strength we all need right now as we ride out the Covid-19 pandemic.
The new year is here at last, after the hardest year in memory for many people around the world. I send you my heartfelt wishes for health, peace, and prosperity in 2021. Given our personal, and global challenges, though, we have a long road before we achieve these essential goals. So I also send you my heartfelt wish for strength.
You may need physical strength to regain your health or to help loved ones regain theirs.
You may need emotional strength to handle financial stress, unemployment, food insecurity, racism, or injustice… or to handle the ongoing life challenges that don’t go away just because we’re in a pandemic.
You may need strength of will to continue the daunting task of working from home while caring for young children, as an estimated one-third of the U.S. workforce is doing—a particularly difficult situation for highly sensitive people who need time alone to rest and recover.
You will certainly need moral and spiritual strength, to cope with and seek solutions for all these challenges. We all will.
Each year around this time, my partner and I sit down together to look back over the previous year. We assess the work we did, celebrate our growth and accomplishments, and express gratitude for the good fortune we experienced.
We also acknowledge and mourn our losses. Mourning is a prerequisite for moving forward, and it is more important than ever after a year like 2020. If you haven’t yet sat down to celebrate and mourn all that happened to and for you this year, I hope you will take an hour or two to give yourself that gift.
For today, though, I’d like to invite you to focus not on the past, but on the future—a long-term view from the mountaintop. Find a pen, a notepad, and a comfortable place to sit. Then answer this question:
“What do I need to feel safe and secure in the new year?”
Notice I’m not asking yet for your deepest dreams and greatest hopes. We will get to that later. However, as Abraham Maslow showed in his hierarchy of needs, human beings can’t focus on growing, learning, or loving unless our need for safety is met. Accordingly, we begin by asking, “What do I need to feel safe and secure in the new year?”
I’m always amazed how quickly and clearly I get answers to this question. One year, my biggest safety-and-security need was to find a quiet place to live: my nervous system was constantly on edge from the noise level in my apartment. Another year I realized I needed to address the fact that I was feeling awful by the end of each day because I was sitting way too much.
This year, I realized I had outgrown the home-crafted spreadsheets I had been using to track my expenses. I was increasingly stressed trying to produce the information I needed to make decisions. When I asked myself what I needed to feel safe and secure, the answer came immediately: “I need to start using an accounting program like QuickBooks.”
As these examples show, your sense of safety encompasses your physical health, your emotional health, your financial health, and more. What do you need to feel safe and secure this year? Make a list. I suggest typing it and saving it. That way you can look over it again in the months to come, and add new items as they occur to you.
Once you’ve written an item down, ask yourself a second question: “Do I need help to do this?” Remember, you are not alone. You might need help to put a new system in place, acquire new information, master a new skill, or untangle a painful, limiting emotional pattern. For example, I knew I needed help with QuickBooks. So I hired someone to set up the basic structure and teach me how to use it.
As you write down what you need to feel safe and secure and what help and resources you need to accomplish that, here’s a meta-level task for you:
Notice how you feel as you make your list
You may feel relief as you work on your list. This means you are moving in the right direction. In the Inner Bonding® process, we use the first four steps to dialogue internally to determine what action would be loving. But only with Step Five does the rubber finally hit the road. In Step Five, we act.
Then, in Step Six, we sense whether our action was loving or not. If an action is loving action, even imagining doing it can begin to make you feel better. By “better,” I don’t mean the temporary relief that comes from numbing out or procrastinating. I mean that deeper good feeling you get when you move towards greater integrity, kindness, strength, joy, more creativity.
Consciously or unconsciously, we experience this feedback loop of action and evaluation all day, every day. Step Five action: I eat ten Christmas cookies in one sitting. Step Six feedback: I feel vaguely sick. Step Five action: I put myself to bed at a decent hour. Step Six feedback: I wake up feeling good the next morning.
In these examples, I get feedback immediately. But sometimes feedback takes weeks or months to register. In this case, it is easily overlooked. We get caught up in the rush of every-day life, and we forget to notice the longer-term cause and effect of our actions. That’s why stepping back and looking at the bigger picture is itself an essential form of loving action.
What actions have you taken (or not taken) in the areas of life that trouble you? If an action has brought you more clarity, integrity, peace, and joy over time, then you know it was loving action. If an action has left you feeling depleted, confused, or anxious over time, then you know it was not loving action.
What if some items make you more stressed?
Occasionally, though, you may identify a safety or security need, only to find yourself feeling stressed instead of relieved. This can happen if meeting the need will require you to take complex or long-term action. When you can’t see all the way down the road to relief, the part of your brain that is wired to be afraid of uncertainty will kick in. This part wants to see all of its ducks in a row. When it can’t, it fears the worst.
Fortunately, “wired” doesn’t mean “doomed.” This hardwired fear is contained in a part of you but can be held and comforted by the “bigger You”—that is, your Loving Adult. If contemplating your safe-and-secure list kicks up fear or overwhelm, take time to pause and acknowledge something in you that is afraid.
If your scared part is like mine, it gets overwhelmed thinking it has to handle life all by itself. Your parts are just kids, and they don’t have your adult resources—including your adult ability to get help.
If you can keep an arm around this scared part of you, then you can act from the more spacious perspective of Loving Adult Presence. In reality, you can’t possibly get from “here” to “there” without first defining where “there” is. So your first step is to define what you need.
Don’t worry about exactly how your project will come about. You don’t have to see the entire road from here to there: you only need the next step. With each step, sense how you feel, and listen to your spiritual intuition. Only your Loving Adult can do this: your inner parts can’t. As they see you getting the guidance you need, they will relax more and more.
A subtle form of prayer
When you write down what you need to feel safe and secure, you are, in a subtle way, praying for the next steps to show themselves. It all starts when you step back to look at the bigger picture of your life, and ask “What do I need over the coming months to feel safe and secure?”
Why is this question so powerful? Because of the underlying assumption: You deserve to feel safe and secure. This stance is the key prerequisite to loving action. You won’t even think of taking action if you believe you don’t deserve to feel safer and more secure. It’s surprisingly easy to slip into a passive, helpless stance without realizing it, especially if you have trauma in your past.
If this powerless, helpless stance sounds familiar to you, add another question to the above process: “Is there anything that bothers me or worries me in my life that I’m telling myself is ‘just the way it is,’ or is hopeless to change?” Use this question to bring areas of learned helplessness into your conscious awareness.
Finding your strength in 2021
Once you’ve made a satisfying list of what you need to feel safe and secure, you can express your deepest dreams and greatest hopes with your feet planted solidly on the ground. As you do this, you may notice a surprising thing: when you connect to what you need to feel safe and secure—even if you haven’t achieved it yet—and when you are connected to your highest values and dreams, you feel stronger.
This is the kind of strength we all need right now, and it is my wish for you for 2021. Happy New Year!
Image © 2021 Emily Agnew