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Methods for Meeting Basic Needs: Safety

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Safety issues occupy the second rung in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. They are less important than the most basic issues, having to do with food and shelter, but they are more important than most everything else in life. When you don't feel safe as you go about your life, you are likely to be on guard all the time; worried, anxious, vigilant and stressed out. You are rather unlikely to have extra energy or attention available for dealing with less demanding, pressing life issues.

Whether or not you feel safe has to do with your perception of whether you are in danger or not. We use the word "perception" deliberately here. Believing that you are safe is different than actually being safe. Some people are afraid of getting on airplanes for fear that they will crash, but have no problem getting in a car (which is much more likely than a plane to get into a serious accident!). It it is not enough that you are safe; you have to feel that you are safe too.

Numerous things can lead to your perception that you are in danger. You may live in a war-zone or gang-infested neighborhood which erupts in violence on a regular basis. You may be in a troubled relationship and fear domestic violence, or abuse will take place. Your home may be structurally unsound, or built in an earthquake, flood, tornado or other natural disaster zone. You may work in a building you fear is a target for terrorism. Any or all of these conditions could cause you to fear for your safety.

There are a variety of actions you can take to help yourself feel safer. The form these actions will take will vary with the type of safety problem you are wanting to address:

If you live in a dangerous location, your options for better protecting yourself vary with your resources and the type of dangers you face.

If you live in an area facing civil unrest or war, there is very little you are likely to be able to do to preserve your safety except flee and seek refugee status in a safer location.

If you live in an area characterized by frequent violence:

  • You can work with your local police and neighborhood watch programs to report criminal activity.
  • You can make sure that your home is alarmed, and is secured by quality locks. Of course, these precautions will do you little good if you forget to arm them, so make sure you get into the habit of doing so.
  • Many people choose to arm themselves, feeling that they will be safer if they have a gun. This is not necessarily the case. Pointing a gun at someone raises the stakes of an engagement to lethal levels when they may not have started out that way. Guns may be used against their owners as well as by their owners. Gun accidents, particularly when children have access to guns, becomes a serious problem. For all of these reasons, think carefully if you purchase a gun, and devote the time necessary to learn how to shoot it accurately and to secure it so that it is not a threat to your family.

If you are worried about sexual violence (e.g., rape):

  • You can learn basic self-defense techniques. Basic martial arts training, or women's self-defense (if you are a woman) will do the trick in most cases. You may also choose to carry non-lethal "weapons" like pepper spray, which may be useful against a would-be rapist or attacker.
  • Take care to avoid isolated buildings (such as parking garages) when other people are not around.

If you are at risk for natural disaster, you can take steps to lessen your risk:

  • You can prepare a disaster kit, complete with flashlights, a battery operated (or cranked) radio, a tent and sleeping bags, a cook stove and fuel, enough food for several days, and multiple gallons of fresh water.
  • You can purchase insurance to offset the risk that you won't be able to pay for needed repairs to your house in the event of a disaster. Many disasters are not covered by standard homeowner's polices, but rather require special coverage which is purchased separately. This is the case for earthquake insurance and flood insurance. Contact your insurer for availability, coverage details and costs.
  • You can hire contractors to retro-fit your home so that it is strong enough to withstand particular disasters. You might have your home bolted to its foundation, or have an entirely new foundation installed (if your home is older) for example, if you are worried about earthquake damage. If you are worried about fire damage, you might clear the area around your house (including pruning trees that overhang), and make sure that fire-resistant roofing is properly installed.
  • You can research the types of danger your home is likely to face by requesting maps from your town. Flood maps display the likelihood that your home will flood in a given year. Soil maps disclose the firmness of the land your home is built upon. Some of these risks may have been disclosed to you at the time of purchase. You will need to use your common sense in interpreting this sort of data. Risks indicated by maps are always estimates; some dangers may actually be more pronounced than official documents indicate. If you cannot live with the risks you face from natural disasters where you are presently living, your option is to consider moving to a new home.

If you are being abused by your relationship partner, you can take steps to stop the abuse.

If you are in immediate danger:

  • You can contact a domestic violence shelter for aide in separating from an abusive spouse.
  • You can report abuse to the police. After one or more documented abuse reports, the local courts near you may issue you a temporary restraining order, making it a crime for your abuser to come near you or face jail time.

If you are not in immediate danger:

  • You can learn how to have a more assertive communication style, which will help you to recognize when you are being abused, and to better defend yourself (at least verbally).
  • You and your partner can attend couples counseling where a third party counselor will help you both learn how to better be with one another.

There is no such thing as absolute security. No matter how many precautions you take, or how carefully you plan, there is always the possibility that your life or the lives of people you care about might be endangered. It is important that you think through ways to make yourself and your family safer, and take appropriate action to eliminate or manage risks. When that work is done, it is important that you relax and live your life. Should feelings of worry and anxiety continue to plague you, you might do well to consult with a mental health professional, or to consult the parts of this document that have to do with "changing your moods" and "self-soothing" .

 

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