I approached this year’s vacation much like I prepared for my wedding – with visions of undiluted happiness spinning in my head. But after arriving at midnight, I woke up in Vacation Heaven to raging winds, and a stormy sea. Lake Michigan was unsafe for small vessels and open water swimming. And strangely, it reminded me of a shocking truth we all live with, but frequently ignore…
In emotional storms, even the best relationships seem unsafe.
Or at least it feels that way. It doesn’t really matter how much we love someone. And no one has to lay a hand on the other. In fact, we can be absolutely safe physically. But whether we intend to or not, sometimes we just freak each other out.
After almost 27 years of marriage, I’ve experienced this dynamic – in person and in phone calls. And I bet you have, too.
Any of us could be talking, texting, or minding our own business when an emotional storm erupts in our presence. Suddenly we feel distinctly unsettled and unsafe. Imagine dining out with a partner who becomes obstreperous in a quiet restaurant. Think of a husband who realizes his binge drinking wife is late coming home, again. Or a teen whose happy creativity is interrupted by parental yelling upstairs. Or the yelling couple who started out merely disagreeing and wound up in World War III. The sky isn’t falling, but who feels safe in these relationships?
It reminds me of my first earthquake experience.
In August 2007, we were wrapping up a 2-week trip to Peru. On our very last night, my daughter and I sat watching CNN in our hotel room. Suddenly I observed small pieces of plaster falling from the walls. When our beds began to firmly shake, I stated the obvious. “We must be in an earthquake”. Suddenly, we felt unsafe on the 8th floor of a hotel in Lima.
I opened the door and saw people walking fast towards the stairwell. My anxiety was in high gear, but I stayed outwardly calm, and suggested that we follow suit and leave the building. So down, down, down we went, treating the stairs as a game until we found our tour guide on the street. Carlos informed us that we had been in one of the safest buildings in Lima, one built to withstand earthquakes. So as my breathing slowed, I realized another truth we frequently ignore about emotional storms…
In emotional storms, we can be safe even when we don’t feel safe.
Even though we didn’t realize it, my daughter and I were safe as plaster fell from the walls, and as we exited the hotel. Just like we’re safe when a dinner companion is obnoxiously loud in a restaurant. And the husband is safe as he waits for his wife. The teen is safe in her creative room downstairs. The couple, not prone to physical violence, is safe while arguing. And we can use this knowledge to help us feel safe in an emotional storm- if we remember that…
Feeling safe hinges on making a choice.
You see, we can enter the emotional storm, or we can stay out of it. Just like I had a choice to stay inside and dry on day one of this year’s vacation. And like the choice my daughter and I had to exit a shaking building. Sometimes to feel safe, we have to step away from someone else’s emotional storm. We may have to leave a restaurant, stay out of someone else’s fight, or withdraw from a verbal argument that’s spinning out of control.
To feel safe in any emotional storm, we must take full responsibility for our own actions, and release responsibility for the actions of others.
What helps you feel safe in the presence of emotional storms?
Speak your mind below!