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The Power of Relational Safety


In the Matrix of Needs model, the need for safety is all-encompassing. It is a continuous need throughout the lifespan of every person. In my work supporting people with histories of complex trauma, the term Betrayal Trauma is used to talk about abuse and neglect experienced within relationships with people who were supposed to maintain safety. Coined by JJ Freyd in 1991, her work at the University of Oregon and elsewhere convinced her that when the people or institutions we depend upon for safety violate and betray the trust placed in them, the effect of that trauma is deeper than trauma experienced at the hands of strangers or natural disasters.


When I teach on this subject, I use photographs and videos. Here is a picture taken by Sebastian Leon Prado and downloaded from Unsplash:



Some adults are naturally gifted at creating this kind of safety. Many others, including myself, have to work at it because safety may not have been a part of our childhood experiences. For those of us with a history of complex trauma, scoring 5 or more on the Adverse Childhood Experiences questionnaire, relational safety was not a natural part of our growing up, and we have to work even harder to overcome the pain of the past as we do everything we can to change the future for the better for the children, adults, for all the beings with whom we interact.


What Lies Inside is a 2020 documentary on the topic of trauma by Luke Renner. The film won the Best Feature Documentary prize at the Montreal Independent Film Festival in 2020, and a short clip is used with the permission of Luke Renner to discuss relational safety.


Having relational safety, which encompasses emotional and psychological safety, as a prime focus will also ensure healthy attaching relationships, support meeting subsistence needs, and build communication skills with children. When safety is established and the Core needs are met, the chances that this child will grow to be loving, kind, generous, and safe are exponentially greater than if these needs are not met.



Bob Bowen, Developer

The Matrix of Needs


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