Growth happens outside your comfort zone.
How many times have you heard something like this?
At the same time, you’ve likely also heard arguments that we need safe spaces. Out culture, at least in America, has become one where “trigger warnings” are demanded and offered before university lectures or even blog posts.
You might reasonably wonder:
Which is it? Do we need to be held in safe spaces or pushed out of our comfort zone?
Well, first of all, we should think about expanding our comfort zone rather than being pushed outside of it.
That distinction aside, the answer is both.
Any confusion about comfort zone and safe spaces arises from equating comfort with safety. In fact, they are different. And in order to expand our comfort zone we must begin from a foundation of safety.
The Difference Between Comfort and Safety
The difference between comfort and safety can be simplified in this way:
Comfort is a state of mind.
Safety is in your nervous system. It resides primarily in the unconscious, in the autonomic functions such as hormone production, heart rate, breathing patterns, motor control, digestive functions, and all the other “under the hood” functions that keep your body going.
Growth is uncomfortable, and it requires safety.
Whether it’s giving a presentation at work, creating something new, sharing your message, your writing, or your art, raising kids, dealing with difficult people, having hard conversations, or anything else, we are often forced to take actions and have conversations that may force us to our edge.
This is life.
The inner work of healing — examining your trauma or your privilege, facing your inner beliefs, unconscious biases, and behaviors — can be uncomfortable.
There’s no way around this.
Meeting your edge requires a foundation of safety in the nervous system. Physical safety and emotional safety.
To do this hard work — especially the difficult work of healing — we must have certainty that we are held in safe “containers” or spaces.
Among other things, safety includes the certainty that
- we will not be judged
- that the truth of our past experience won’t be used against us in the future
- we will be met with compassion
- we will be loved unconditionally
Without this safety, the body cannot relax. Breath gets stuck and we can’t breathe.
Without this safety, the mind will put up barriers that prevent us from accessing the limiting beliefs that we are trying to change.
Without this safety, we cannot meet our edge, let alone push its boundaries.
Growth requires getting uncomfortable, and trauma-free discomfort is only possible when we feel safe.