The stupidest stigma – The Safe Space

Since when did ‘Safe Space’ become a negative concept?

Similarly to many illnesses and behavioural disorders, there has been a massive curveball in the way that mental illness is perceived in recent months/years. At first, there was growing acceptance as people began to understand it. More people came forward, having the courage to speak out since they felt they would finally be heard. But society won’t listen. Now every panic attack and cry for help is brushed off as ‘special snowflake’ behaviour, going as far as even universities condemning safe spaces as wrapping the youth of today in cotton wool, and failing to prepare them for the ‘real world’.

It’s become a running joke – ‘do you need to go to your safe space?’ has become a snide joke aimed at those who voice their offence in response to something that’s upset them. But why is a safe space supposedly a negative thing? A place for a person to go that makes them feel safe shouldn’t be considered coddling. Is society so harsh as to believe that feeling unsafe is something we should have to put up with?

I entirely agree that there are nasty things that happen and exist within this world that we need to be aware of, and learn about. However, I cannot agree that people who have experienced trauma of any kind, to a degree where they feel unable to sit in a lecture/be in any situation, should not feel able to leave and know where they can go to be safe. It doesn’t matter how this is orchestrated, but it needs to be accepted and supported.

As a literature student, a lot of what I study can be pretty emotionally jarring, and can produce some intense emotions even in the steeliest student (and I like to think of myself as pretty steely). I am lucky to be part of a university where lecturers and students alike have infinite support for their peers and tutees. Nearly halfway through my degree, I have cried in seminars, had panic attacks in lectures, skipped/walked out of lectures, and been granted permission to miss lectures that I preemptively know it will be too much to handle. Every instance has been handled with consideration, and at no point was I told, or thought that I would suffer, because of doing so. In fact, it’s been the opposite – controlling what I know I can handle emotionally and choosing my safe space has protected me from unnecessary upset, allowing me to focus on the areas of my degree I find most enjoyment in, and to tackle the emotionally difficult content in my own time when I feel safe.

As I am pretty candid (read: stupidly uncensored) with talking about my experiences, it’s no secret that I am definitely one to benefit from a safe space. I find no shame in admitting that I need them. They are not a place of shame. It saddens me that there is so much negative talk around the concept of feeling safe. My final comment is to encourage you to reclaim the safe space – when it’s mocked, admit your need for it, and come out the other side the better for it.

Merry x

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