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9 Types of Safety Most People Don’t Know About

Safety is a crucial topic for trauma-informed systems, and understanding how your community defines safety is no small task.

A lifebuoy floating on water

If I asked you, what are a few examples of safety concerns, what would you say?

Most people might say things like fire safety: a dilapidated building with no fire exits, extinguishers, or alarms presents many safety concerns. It’s true. In a classroom setting, teachers are often quick to cite the student who throws things or threatens physical violence.

Yes, those are definitely safety concerns. I also work with corrections officers and wardens, where physical threats are very real.

Physical safety is important, and it’s not the only kind of safety. In a trauma-informed system, community members acknowledge that physical safety does not give us a whole picture of safety. It merely plays a part in our overall sense of safety.

If you’re new to the trauma informed approach (or you’d like a refresher on safety), exploring these 9 types of safety is a journey worth taking.

A person sitting in a dark room alone

1. Psychological Safety

Do you trust your own mind?

Psychological safety is the feeling of being secure within oneself. It includes the ability to protect yourself from danger, foster self-awareness, and freely express yourself. When you are psychologically safe, you can say I feel safe within my own mind.

In other words, psychological safety means that you feel capable and confident in navigating the world around you. You trust yourself to set boundaries, advocate for yourself, and remain grounded in reality.

If you don’t have psychological safety, you might feel like you can’t trust yourself. You might worry about your behavior, especially if you have a history of risky or harmful behaviors when stressed. Or, you might struggle to differentiate which thoughts you have are based in reality and which ones aren’t.

A child crying

2. Emotional Safety

How do you feel about your feelings?

When we are emotionally safe, we know that there are no bad or wrong emotions. We are free to experience, express, and share all of our feelings—including guilt, shame, joy, anger, pleasure, grief, loss, connectedness, fear, and everything else.

In a workplace that promotes emotional safety, employees are encouraged to share their feelings and hold space for all feelings, fostering an environment where they can thrive.

Emotional safety can be disrupted by toxic work environments, bullying, harassment, and a lack of support for emotional well-being. Most often, emotional safety is disrupted through behavior modeling.

If I act like certain feelings are wrong or bad, it teaches those around me to believe there are wrong or bad feelings. Even if I never say it explicitly, my unwillingness to feel or share my anger, guilt, or grief proves to others that those are “unacceptable” feelings.

A close up of people holding each others' hands and lifting them into the air

3. Social Safety

How do you feel when you’re around this person/this group of people?

Social safety is a sense of security with a person or group of people.

We are socially safe when we know—and feel as though—we can trust and will be accepted by the people around us. It also involves feeling cared for and unafraid of judgment or abandonment when interacting with others. When we are socially safe, we feel more free to be authentic, vulnerable, and creative.

We can promote social safety by building strong relationships and strong communities at home and at work.

Disruptors to social safety can include office politics, lack of trust among colleagues, and a competitive work culture that discourages collaboration. The most common yet overlooked disruptor to social safety is rupture without repair.

Rupture with repair actually strengthens relationships and communities. However, when there is no repair, rupture often disrupts safety by jeopardizing trust.

A hacker's hands typing on a laptop

4. Moral Safety

Where do your values and behavior align? Where don’t they? Why?

Moral safety is a sense of security regarding your personal code of conduct. When you are morally safe, you feel capable of living life according to your moral code. You know that you won’t be put in situations where you have to violate your moral code to establish safety or meet your basic needs.

Moral safety also relates to social safety because a part of moral safety involves knowing that the people around you share the values that matter to you the most.

Cultivating moral safety involves aligning your actions with your beliefs, and it is made possible by having your basic needs met.

Two examples of common disruptors of moral safety are poverty and domestic violence. In both situations, a person might feel forced to violate their moral code (by stealing or lying, for example) in order to maintain their safety.

A close up of a person holding their pointer finger to their lips, as if asking someone to keep a secret

5. Ethical Safety

What shared commitments has your workplace (or household) agreed to, spoken and unspoken?

Morals and ethics are closely related. In this context, ethical safety refers to shared morals. Ethical safety is experienced in relation to a larger group, and we feel ethically safe when we know that all members of our group will respect the group's agreed-upon norms, values, and commitments.

For example, an organization that commits to trauma informed change can support ethical safety by following through with policy changes, cultural shifts, and behavioral changes, especially regarding leadership and decision-making.

Ethical safety can be disrupted by ethical violations, dishonesty, and a lack of accountability for unethical actions. The most common disruptor to ethical safety I see is when someone (or an organization) says one thing and does another.

This is especially common in DEI practices. An organization will say “we value equity” with a great DEI statement, but they refuse to acknowledge pay disparity, audit discriminatory hiring practices, or have open and honest conversations about race at work.

6. Cultural Safety

What larger cultures do you connect with? How do they make you feel?

Cultural safety is also deeply connected to the other realms of safety. When we are safe in our culture, we know that our culture will be respected by others who do not share it, and we know that our authentic selves will be accepted within our larger cultures.

At work, we can support cultural safety by sharing our cultures with each other and then subsequently acknowledging, respecting, and integrating diverse cultural values, beliefs, and practices into our workplace cultural norms.

To better understand cultural safety, we can deepen our understanding of what culture is. Culture is a collective way of being and doing. It encompasses social behaviors, norms, values, knowledge, and beliefs—and it includes our practices, such as arts, laws, customs, and habits.

When we say “cultural safety,” it includes various cultures, such as cultures associated with ancestry to specific groups of people, workplace culture, queer culture, and more.

Fostering cultural safety allows individuals to promote, honor, and live as their authentic selves without fear of judgment, which contributes to resilience, community building, and acceptance.

7. Racial Safety

In what ways have you worked towards unlearning harmful beliefs surrounding race? What else can you still change?

Racial safety is the security in knowing that you will not be harmed due to your race. For most people—and like the other kinds of safety—racial safety is particularly fluid, changing from one setting to the next.

Racial safety can be a charged topic in the US for many reasons. There is deep generational and historical trauma in the US—regardless of what perspectives you have on the topic. If you want to learn more about this, I highly recommend Resmaa Menakem’s book My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies.

To establish racial safety, we have to start by acknowledging the absence of it and the chronic stress and trauma that racial violence causes. Then, we can further establish safety by having open and ongoing conversations around racial equity, where we each make commitments regarding our personal development to be and do better.

8. Financial Safety

What feelings come up when you think about saving, spending, or budgeting?

Financial safety relates to the security of your financial well-being and your relationship with money. It’s an unfortunate truth, but many of us rely on an income to meet our basic needs. We need our jobs so we can afford to pay our rent or mortgages, buy food, and access healthcare.

Our basic human rights are not guaranteed. And that’s an inherently violent place to exist.

To mitigate that harm, we need financial safety, which includes job stability and having a safety net. Employers can support financial safety by ensuring workers are paid fair wages, know that their jobs are secure, and see opportunities for growth should they want them.

Individuals can support their financial safety by building a financial safety net, which can include an emergency savings fund, a support system of friends or family, or a long-term financial plan.

Disruptors of financial safety are all too common: unexpected layoffs, economic instability, inhumane wages, chronic stress at work, exorbitant healthcare costs, substance use disorders, and a lack of support from governments, employers, or our communities.

9. Professional Safety

How do you feel about your career?

Professional safety pertains to an individual's confidence in their professional identity, growth, and whether or not they belong in their role.

Promoting professional safety involves other realms of safety, and it is defined by a feeling of security in one’s role, knowing that there is nothing you could do to lose your job—in or out of work. Should something occur, you and your colleagues would be able to repair the rupture so that your role at work isn’t jeopardized.

Professional safety is often disrupted by imposter syndrome, which is a feeling that you’re not qualified to be where you are. Ultimately, it is a fear that you don’t belong. You might also feel a lack of professional safety if you worry that your behavior outside of work might jeopardize your job or career.

It can also be disrupted by unhealthy workplace dynamics. Supporting professional safety is about supporting the other realms of safety, especially psychological safety at work

Another Perspective on Safety

The realms of safety aren’t set in stone. These facets of safety are simply meant to serve as examples of how vast safety is—and how complex establishing safety at work (and at home) can be.

In addition to the realms of safety explored above, we can also look at safety on the levels of communities and systems. For example, there are multiple types of safety that impact you regularly and are related to place, such as:

  • Household safety. How do I feel when I’m at home?

  • Family safety. What thoughts and feelings come up when I’m around my family?

  • Workplace safety. When I’m at work—or with my coworkers—what makes me feel safe or unsafe?

  • Community safety. How do I feel around my neighborhood, church, or community events?

  • School safety. How does my school keep me (or my kids) safe?

Final Thoughts: Understanding Safety More Deeply

If you want to understand safety on a deeper level, we can think about how safety relates to getting our needs met. When using a trauma informed approach, we often define “our needs” by looking to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

When using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it’s important that we consider the historical and cultural roots of this ideology, which come from the Siksika Nation.

It’s also important to remember that a place usually isn’t either “safe” or “unsafe.” Safety doesn’t operate on a binary system like that. Instead, there are practices, beliefs, or norms that can support safety or present danger or violence. It’s up to us to pay attention, self-correct, and create safety on a case-by-case basis.

What are your key takeaways or aha moments from this blog? Share your ideas below!


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