Safety & Security and Your Lizard Brain

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The second layer of the Maslow hierarchy is safety and security.

Once we’ve met our basic physiological needs, we look to meet our safety and security needs, although most of us tend to work on these two layers simultaneously. At this level are our worries about death, natural disasters, and illness. Safety and Security is about long term shelter, freedom from fear, and freedom from pain.

The current election in the US is a prime example of people acting based on their second level fears.

Both candidates are addressing second level fears: fears of terrorism, ISIS, economic instability, affordable healthcare, taxation, loss of rights, loss of religious freedom, etc. Think about your biggest fear regarding this election. Are you afraid of refugees bringing terrorists into your state, your neighborhood? Are you afraid of losing your job? Are you afraid of potential nuclear war? Are you afraid Clinton will win? Are you afraid Trump will win?

Here’s some good news:

Quite often, our fears are based on imagination rather than harsh reality. How many people do you know who are terrified of air travel, yet hop into a car without a second thought? But it’s almost cliché to point out that air travel is far less dangerous than road travel.

Consider Halloween candy. When was the last time someone you knew personally ate poisoned candy? Never, right? Because it’s never happened! Yet people still wonder if it’s safe to trick or treat.

Our level 2 fears are often very unlikely.

Whenever you face a level 2 fear, assess the rationality of it. Next, prepare accordingly. After that, there’s nothing you can or need to do.

Consider our financial fears. I know very few people who can say, “I have enough money.” Most people are concerned with lack of money. And this is a bottom level Maslow issue, because without money, we cannot get shelter. At its root, the fear of “not enough money” is a fear of homelessness. My husband has faced several layoffs in our 12 years of marriage. We discuss the issue when it comes up and make a plan. Fortunately, he has not actually been laid off. Still, we know our options, and we know what we would do if it happened. We know not only how long it would take to lose our home, but also who would let us move in with them temporarily if we did lose it. Having a plan in place quiets those fears substantially.

Think about our fear of sexual assault or sexual molestation. While this is a very real threat (up to 25% or more women are sexually assaulted in the US), our specific fears are often irrational. Women walk with dogs, or with companions, to avoid being raped by a stranger. People argue vehemently about bathroom laws because they fear the molestation of their children. Yet 90% of rape survivors know their attackers. You are far more likely to be raped by someone you currently are friends with. And children are far more likely to be sexually abused by a trusted family friend: that’s just how sexual molestation works.

Assessing sexual assault information reveals that while our initial fears (rape by a stranger) are irrational, it is rational and necessary to be concerned about sexual assault. Therefore, we need to educate ourselves and plan ahead. Learn the signs of sexual molestation in a child. Teach your children about safe and unsafe touch. Listen to your own intuition about the people in your life. And make a plan for what you will do if the worst happens and you are assaulted. I know what I would want to do if I were raped. I know my rights. I know how my insurance handles coverage of a hospital rape kit exam. I believe I would prosecute my rapist in court if at all possible. I also know that I might not want to do any of those things, and that’s OK too. Ultimately, even if my plan fails, I know that I am capable of surviving this event.

It’s easy to see how our fears can constantly assail us. But the antidote to fear is always the same. Assess the reality of the fear. Is it a true possibility? If it is true, then assess the likelihood. Is it likely to happen? And if it seems likely, then plan for it. Make an emergency plan with your family. Hold a home fire drill. Install an alarm system. Start a savings account.

Consider the likelihood of your fear. How likely is it to happen?

If it is likely, then deal with it. Be specific. Make a plan.

Fear at the safety and security level of the Maslow hierarchy is real and valid, but it can be successfully overcome.

A final note: sexual assault is a very difficult topic to discuss. I would like to point out that having a plan doesn’t mean that you can avoid sexual assault: this is not in any way about victim blaming. No one can plan to prevent sexual assault. But everyone can make a plan for recovery in case it were to happen.

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