The concept of “mental safety” came up recently during a dinner conversation.
The basic premise is this:
There’s something you’d like to do. Perhaps it’s flirting with that attractive bartender. Perhaps it’s trying out pole dancing for the first time. Perhaps it’s telling a friend or significant other about a fantasy.
However, for the fear of being made fun of and judged, you stop yourself from exploring those desires or sharing those thoughts.
I can give countless examples of friends and acquaintances who have told me they wanted to do something but didn’t due to mental unsafeness.
Most often, this mental unsafeness comes in the form of “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t want others to scrutinize and dissect my work.”
I can also certainly relate to feeling mentally unsafe, and it has tormented me quite a bit in the past.
I’m publishing stories after stories with some of my most intimate thoughts. I constantly seek to challenge myself physically and mentally. For instance, I signed up to compete at Level 3 in my upcoming pole dancing competition. I’m BARELY a level 3. I do worry about having a routine that doesn’t technically measure up against my competitors’. I do worry about people thinking “why the hell is she competing at level 3?”
I constantly step outside my comfort zone, and by definition that gives me a sense of mental unsafeness. I’m no longer inside my realm of familiarity where I know exactly how everything is and will be.
Every once in awhile I’d worry and ask myself: “Would people be liking me better if I didn’t do the things I’ve been doing this past year.”
What if I stayed hidden instead? What if I didn’t put myself out there? Is it better to be known, to do and create something valuable, but risk being mocked by a few people? Or is it better to be hidden, live a quiet life, and disappear when the time comes?
I’d go back and forth on this topic.
“What if people don’t like what I’m doing?”
“What if people are making fun of me?”
But then something hit me.
See how I use the word “people”? I can’t even name anyone specific. I’m not asking:
“What if my boyfriend doesn’t like what I’m doing.”
“What if my best friends are secretly making fun of me.”
This is when I started to think about the validity of the concept of feeling “mentally unsafe.”
I’m not saying the feeling is invalid. I’m asking if the feeling is warranted.
Ultimately, I realized that a lot of the “mental unsafeness” I feel is exaggerated by my own head.
As long as I have the love and the support from the people closest to me, it doesn’t really matter what everyone else who might know me thinks. For all I know, they might not be thinking about me at all. And if they were, it clearly hasn’t affected my life.
In the end, I decided I shouldn’t be scared to take risks and to work on my pole dancing and writing dreams.
As Bernard M. Baruch famously said: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
The alternative to not overcoming the mental barrier is to stay stuck and to never discover what is out there waiting for me to grasp.
A version of this story was published on Medium