Our Need for Emotional Safety: Why It’s So Important

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Transcend" by Scott Barry Kaufman. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why is emotional safety a human need? How do people achieve emotional safety?

Based on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman created a new hierarchy of needs in his book Transcend. According to him, neuroscience and psychological research reveal that we all have security needs, and he notes that emotional safety is one of them.

Read on to learn why emotional safety is so important to humans, according to Kaufman.

The Importance of Emotional Safety

In Transcend, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman argues that to achieve emotional safety, we need to feel safe with the people around us. Kaufman says that this begins with the development of a secure attachment style early in life. When you have a secure attachment style, you feel you have the trust, love, and support of the people closest to you, and you’ll have the confidence and energy to focus on other things, like exploring your environment or making new friends.

Kaufman points to research that shows that a secure attachment style sets you up for success, emotional safety, and growth later in life. Studies show that those with a secure attachment style are better at regulating their thoughts and emotions and dealing with stress, are more satisfied in their relationships, and show heightened senses of empathy and tolerance. 

When you’re an infant, you develop a secure attachment to your caregiver when you can rely on them to respond to your needs. As you grow older and develop more relationships, your emotional attachment style is also influenced by other attachment figures like romantic partners, close friends, siblings, or other family members. If you feel the people close to you have been sensitive to your wants and needs throughout your life, you’re likely to be a more trusting person and feel you’re worthy of love and support. 

If you don’t feel as though friends or family members are sensitive to your wants and needs, you may develop an anxious or dismissive attachment style, which can hinder your ability to develop emotional safety and maintain relationships. An anxious attachment style comes from a fear of abandonment and leads to a constant need for attention and reassurance. A dismissive attachment style also comes from fear of abandonment or rejection, but instead of being needy or reliant on those close to them, a dismissive person will avoid closeness or intimacy altogether. 

How to Develop a Secure Attachment Style

Kaufman acknowledges that your attachment style stems from childhood experiences and often extends into adulthood, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with one particular attachment style for life.

The first thing to do if you wish to develop a secure attachment style is to recognize your current attachment style and how it’s affecting your relationships. Take a long look at yourself and determine how you feel about yourself and how worthy you think you are of love. Then, examine your current relationships and the people closest to you. People tend to attract others with similar attachment styles, so if you notice most of your friends seem to have an anxious attachment style, there’s a good chance you do too.

Once you’ve determined your attachment style, here are some things you can do to make it more secure:

Work on yourself, not just your relationships. If you become more comfortable in your own skin, your relationships will benefit as well.

Rid yourself of toxic relationships. Sometimes a friend or loved one just isn’t good for you and you need to move on from them.

Work on expressing your emotions. Whether you’re anxious or dismissive, learning how to recognize and share your feelings can benefit your relationships.

Confront your past. Since insecure attachment almost always comes from unhealthy relationships, you may need to confront your past to heal from traumatic or harmful events. Therapy can be especially helpful in this regard.

The Need for Intimacy

Now that we understand humans’ need for emotional safety, let’s also discuss our need for intimacy. According to Kaufman, the need for intimacy is about maintaining strong, close relationships with at least a few people. Strong connections are important to growth because they enhance many aspects of our lives and well-being. Studies have shown that those with strong connections are healthier physically and mentally, have higher self-esteem, are more hopeful, and are better able to manage stress.

(Shortform note: Many psychological studies support Kaufman’s argument on the importance of intimate relationships, providing overwhelming evidence that high-quality relationships are associated with a decreased risk of mortality. Because of this, some psychologists recommend increasing social connection as a public health priority since a lack of social connection has been shown to be as prevalent and dangerous as other health risks such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and obesity.)

How to Deal With Rejection

While we dislike rejection because it threatens our social connections, rejection is inevitable, so learning how to cope with it can benefit your mental well-being. Here are some tips on how to deal with rejection in a healthy and productive way:

Remind yourself why rejection is painful: Because rejection is tied to our evolutionary need to be part of a tribe, remind yourself that the painful emotions don’t reflect the reality of the situation. Though rejection hurts, you’ll be just fine.

Focus on the positives: Like with almost any negative experience, there are lessons to be gained from rejection. Focus on what you learned and how you can grow from the situation.

Reach out for support: Everyone has been rejected at some point in their life. Instead of wallowing in your sorrow, reach out to friends or family to express your sadness or frustration. This can help lessen the emotional impact of rejection.  
Our Need for Emotional Safety: Why It’s So Important

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  • An updated, modern take on Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs
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Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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