Are People Safe Around You? Ask Them.

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In between marriages, my mother dated a man who was a chief petty officer in the navy. As I remember him, he was a good looking man, blond, tanned skin, with a slight receding hairline.

He looked very good in his tan naval uniform, and I could see why my mother was attracted to him. But, he had a problem with his temper. Whether drunk or sober, it was hard to predict when he would get mad. When he would have bursts of anger, he would take me by the arm and jerk me very hard.

Even at the tender age of four I sensed his unpredictability. He told my mother that when they married he would bring discipline to the home, especially he would be disciplining me.

I didn’t feel safe around him.

Even my mother said, “Mac I don’t feel safe around you.”

Eventually she lowered the hammer on Mac. “You’re going to have to go. This won’t work out.” At that moment I remember he grabbed my mother’s arm and yanked her toward him. I can’t remember what was said, but I saw Mac leave the house with two beautiful tan leather suitcases.

My mother immediately turned to me and said, “Don’t worry, you’re safe.”

That’s probably the most unsafe I’ve ever felt.

I can remember not feeling like eating, even when I was hungry, when I was at the dinner table with Mac. Food doesn’t have a taste when you feel unsafe. There were a couple of times when he would look over at me and say, “What are you looking at? Eat your food or I’ll shove it down your throat.”

I know what it’s like when people don’t feel safe.

Young ladies feel unsafe around men who are nice and then act like monsters in intimate situations. Children feel unsafe when an aberrant father makes sexual advances and threatens to hurt the child if they tell anyone, especially their mother.

People with this kind of power violate the most basic of human needs – the need to feel safe.

Being afraid and be scared are different from feeling unsafe. When fear grips you, you still have options, flight or fight. But once you feel unsafe, you are paralyzed. Mostly when people feel unsafe, it’s after they have felt safe and have given their trust to someone, then that someone seriously twists that trust.

Feeling unsafe is a deeper fundamental feeling than fear. The possibility of deeper psychological damage occurs when one’s basic feeling of safety is violated. For example, people will go to a horror movie to be scared out of their wits, but people won’t go to that same movie if under the seats there’s a chance a sink hole will open up.

Unfortunately, being trapped is a part of feeling unsafe. Take Bill Cosby. Not only was he an icon of virtue to the public, but he was a figure of trust to colleagues in the entertainment industry. When an ambitious underage young woman put herself in Cosby’s hands to act as a coach and facilitator, there was a trust that developed.

The downside of trust, however, is dependency. Dependency frequently allows trust to turn into power. In other words, once a person recognizes they have power over another person. Very big decisions have to be made. The biggest one of course is, “how much do I manipulate this person to get what I want?”

This is more a question of personal morality and ethics than it is a question of legality. As such only behavior can determine the final outcome.

Once that behavior becomes manipulative, the person who has given trust and has become dependent, begins the nightmare of feeling trapped, and worse, unsafe. At that point the burden of responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the person who has the power. Unless they recognize they are manipulating the other person and stop, they start the process of doing irreparable emotional damage to their dependent captive.

Sometimes the cruelty ends. However, the victim’s bitterness usually doesn’t. Eventually the power equation may turn, and the victim reaps vengeance. Look what has happened to Cosby.

A word to the wise: if a person trusts you, try to be worthy of it.

How is that accomplished? By occasionally asking, “Everything ok?” “You feeling good about things?”

Men, especially, should ask wives, employees, children, associates, and companions this question.