What is safety in recovery?

Safety refers to being protected from or unlikely to experience danger, harm, or injury. In recovery, safety typically refers to emotional or relational safety, although it can also be physical safety.

You have a right to be safe from:

  • Emotional manipulation
  • Lies or deceit
  • Control or unhealthy use of power
  • Threats of any kind (harm, relapse, abandonment)

Safety is more than this.

Safety means working toward dealing with and confronting fears

Safety means freedom to be emotionally vulnerable

Safety means freedom to work toward trust

CAUTION: be careful not to overuse the word safety—meaning, be careful not to apply it to things that aren’t really about safety. Overuse of a word makes it lose meaning and power.

Examples of overuse:

I don’t feel safe because you didn’t do the dishes when I asked

I don’t feel safe because you aren’t helping with bed time for the kids

I don’t feel safe when you don’t agree with me

It’s possible that the behaviors listed above are signs that the addict is in resentment and addict mode—which may create a sense of lack of safety. But the behaviors themselves don’t generally make a person feel unsafe.

Learn to distinguish between the frustrating behavior (or lack of behavior) and the underlying reason you would not feel safe.

Safety is not freedom to always get whatever you want or need, immediately

Safety is not having people agree with everything you believe

Safety is not an absence of any fears or distress in your life

Safety is as much a process as it is an outcome—it’s creating mutual understanding between partners and it includes mutual tolerance of each person’s struggles and weaknesses


What do you do when an addict turns the word ‘safety’ against you?

Sometimes an addict will use the word safety against his partner—turn it around as a manipulation. He might say, “Well I don’t feel safe with you when you get upset because…” or “I don’t feel safe when you keep asking me to do things I’m not ready to do.”

Typically these statements are not about safety—but addicts learn that the word safety has power. Often, an addict’s use of the word safety is meant to use the power to keep his partner from holding him accountable.

In these cases, you will need to set a boundary around the use of the word safety. Make sure you are using it correctly, and then simply say that you will listen to his concerns as long as he does not bring safety in where it doesn’t belong.

You may need help of a counselor to clarify this in some cases.