Creating psychologically safe families, homes

Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse Mental Wellness

As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.

Psychological safety is a creation of an environment where we feel safe from emotional hurt and distress, excessive criticism, shaming, humiliation or punishments.

Our families and homes should be emotional safe havens to help us maintain mental health and well-being.

Is your family and home psychologically safe?

Consider the following:

  1. Are you highly critical of each other? Do you hold each other to impossibly high standards?
  2. Do you feel comfortable expressing what you think or feel even if others will disagree with you?
  3. Do you often speak with loud, harsh tones to each other in the family?
  4. Is your home peaceful?
  5. Are hurtful, embarrassing or abusive words used commonly in the home?
  6. Do you feel heard, valued and cared for in your family and home?

What causes our families and homes to be psychologically unsafe?

Psychologically unsafe homes are the result of dysfunctional family dynamics where there is a culture of harsh criticism and judgement. Communication is poor with frequent use of harsh tones and hard words.

There is little acceptance of family members and their individual strengths and weaknesses.

There is emotional neglect.

Conflicts are not resolved effectively and there is an intolerant reaction to mistakes.

Effects of psychologically unsafe families and homes

If our families are dysfunctional and our homes emotionally unsafe, this can result in:

  1. Fear, anxiety and stress
  2. Limited expression of thoughts, feelings and individuality by family members
  3. A culture of guilt and shame
  4. Decreased self-confidence and increased self-doubt
  5. Increased risk of anxiety, depression, psychological trauma, alcohol and substance use problems

What are the benefits of creating  psychologically safe families and homes?

  1. Improved self-esteem and sense of self worth
  2. Courage to be oneself and to reach one’s full potential
  3. Confidence to take risks, learn from mistakes and grow
  4. Stronger family relationships
  5. A greater sense of belonging and decreased loneliness

How can we create psychologically safe families and homes?

  1. Accept one another, celebrating each other’s strengths and accepting each other’s weaknesses
  2. Create a culture of empathy and understanding
  3. Even when disagreeing, do not resort to verbal or physical abuse
  4. Mind your language in the home, be respectful and civil. We often treat strangers better than we do our own families
  5. Be kind to each other, avoid harsh criticism and hurtful words
  6. Foster open, honest, authentic communication
  7. Encourage emotional vulnerability and validate each other’s emotions even if you do not understand or agree with them
  8. Build trust and dependability
  9. Learn to ask for and to give forgiveness
  10. Seek professional family counselling if needed

If you or your family are struggling emotionally, please contact your nearest healthcare provider and get help.

l Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by Dr Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse, Consultant Psychiatrist.

Feedback: (Dr. Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse Whatsapp+263714987729) ( <>; [email protected]

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