When Psychological Safety is Threatened

Reframing My Freeze/Flee Reactions

We become insecure from a toxic culture of being watched or the perception of being watched (both are real), and that insecurity threatens our emotional and psychological safety.”
—Mukta Panda, Resilient Threads

I have experienced this fear of being watched, mainly in the professional realm as an adult. I have heard this fear expressed by many, especially in the last few months.

Unpacking this fear for myself, I have journeyed through the responses of freezing and even fleeing. Fighting is not natural to me, it evokes even more fear. Instead, freezing and fleeing are more natural. Many times, this freeze/flee instinct itself feels suffocating and just not right. I get angry with myself, and I feel like a coward. I lack the confidence, the courage to fight. I feared the risk of what if’s, such as what if I slipped and the damage was irreparable?

It took many years of painful unpacking and reflecting on this fear as an intentional ritual that helped me face my insecurity.

I realized my fear stemmed from one major issue: I felt different, I looked different, I spoke different, I ate different, and I wore different clothes. Was I different?

Being different, I felt I was always under scrutiny. I felt dehumanized and devalued.  I became hyper vigilant, always on the edge. Through a ritual of self-reflection and reflection with my community of trusted relationships, I was able to reframe and refocus my fear. Was living on the edge really fear provoking? Was it the edge or was the edge really the perception of being different and feeling scrutinized? How do I face and overcome this fear and hold on to hope? 

I had to reframe and find strength in my difference. Was different bad, or was I not proud of my culture, my heritage, and my gifts? Indeed, I was!  How could I use my difference to strengthen me, my environment, my work, and my purpose?

This refocus and reframing helped me focus on compassion and empathy, first for myself so that I could share the same compassion with others and see the same in them. It helped me gain confidence and self-respect—and respect for others. It helped me feel more true to myself, to my integrity. Doing so built trust. I trusted myself, which helped me view others without the lens of fear.

My engagement was more authentic. I continued to look the same, speak the same, dress the same, and eat the same as before, yet I felt less different, less scrutinized.

Instead of freezing or fleeing, I found in me the fortitude to face the edge. I forced myself to reframe the positive, to create a community of friends. Forgiveness for self and others was easier. I was able focus on which side of the edge to tread with a firm conviction and, most importantly, with my faith! I felt hopeful and a sense of freedom from this fear.

Indeed, this freedom is liberating because it unleashes our inner true gifts, our creativity! This makes all the difference!

What allows us to hold on to hope when we experience fear, feeling devalued and dehumanized?


Online Retreat Coming in March

Reframing Resilience, Renewing Leadership: An Online Retreat for Weaving Joy and Meaning with Courage. Reclaim joy and meaning with courage, exploring in a Circle of Trust® how to weave your life’s threads into life and work as 2021 unfolds. Choose from a weekend option, March 5-6 or a four-week series on Thursday evenings that begins Thursday, March 18. Learn more and register here.


As we enter 2021, how will you tend to self-care, community and resilience? I will continue posting reflections on these themes and invite you to join in the conversation here or on Twitter or Instagram with your thoughts or what you are doing for self-care and care of others. My book explores such ideas too: Resilient Threads: Weaving Joy and Meaning into Well-Being.

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