On “Feeling Unsafe”


Does the average person go around looking over their shoulder, feeling “unsafe?” When I left Reeducation, the only explanation it would accept was that I “did not feel safe” in it. I played this card in desperation, for Reeducation was saying but, but, but, how did I expect to live without it, and so on. It refused to have an adult conversation, or allow me to beat a civilized retreat. But I had learned that the phrase “I do not feel safe” was one Reeducation could hear.

I had picked up the phrase from Reeducation itself, which considered “not feeling safe” to be the normal, or at least the expected condition of persons. One of the things Reeducation found suspicious about me was that I did not seem to to feel unsafe unless there was something dangerous actually happening. That meant there was something wrong with me. It meant I was so damaged that I did not have the irrational fears which signal normalcy.

I knew, of course, that I was not safe emotionally with my family. That was, after all, why I was in Reeducation. I wanted to understand and handle the situation better, so as not to feel so unsafe with that group of people. I had no reason in the rest of my life to feel unsafe. What was unsafe, of course, was the set of ideas Reeducation taught. When I remember how vibrant I was before Reeducation, I am in awe.

So I am curious: does the average person, in the absence of clear and present danger, really go around looking over their shoulder, feeling “unsafe?” Reeducation presented this feeling as healthful and self-protective, but it never seemed so to me.


Both my Reeducator and the abusive man I got involved with years later told me that I was unreasonably placid about the things that can go wrong in a day, unreasonably confident that things could be improved with some effort, and unreasonably calm and accepting in the face of bad news. They used to tell me it would be more appropriate for me to be more agitated, sadder, angrier.

Willing to consider their point of view, I would try to feel as they wished me to. If I succeeded, they would then ask why I could not take the calmer or more stoic attitude they had criticized before.

I eventually saw that this tactic on the part of my abusive man was a mere technique of emotional manipulation, undertaken for recreational purposes. That is one of the main ways I came to see that my Reeducator, and the discourse of Reeducation itself had been similarly abusive.


Today a friend and I went looking for houses in and around smaller towns. If we sold our houses and bought out in the country, we could afford to travel more. In each town we were soon told which areas were “unsafe” and we went straight for them.


11 thoughts on “On “Feeling Unsafe”

  1. Oh yes, I love “Anxiety Culture” – I’ve found it before and I always mean to fully read this magazine.

    I finally figured out, darkly, what the concept about this was in Reeducation. Reeducands, it was supposed, did a lot of strange or illogical things because in the insane backgrounds from which they came, it was truly unsafe not to do these things, and to act normally. Now that they have left those backgrounds, they are *still* afraid to act normally.

    This was what Reeducation officially expected and was trying to work with but then you have to mix in things like: not afraid to go to the movies alone?
    You must be a trauma victim in denial. Etc. etc.

    But it is much more interesting to look at these things at the level of Anxiety Culture.

  2. I must confess to having trouble with the word, “safe”. I think I don’t really understand it in the ways that most people do. If I was to say to someone, “Well, I feel very safe,” then you can probably assume that I am bored out of my wits, am terrified of losing touch with the texture and grit of life, and am going stir crazy. I do not like to feel safe. Safety, to me, implies a kind of deadening; a separation from the stream of life which portends doom.

    You know, I was born with a civil war raging around me, and I need to raise a certain amount of tension within myself in order to feel normal. So, in a very true sense, for me to feel a certain degree of unsafeness allows me to feel safe.

  3. Yes – Reeducation supposed that, on the one hand, one would stay in painful situations for no reason other than because they were familiar and therefore “safe,” and on the other, one should prefer actual safety over anything else, since that was “healthy.”

    Perhaps the majority really will vote for familiarity first and guaranteed safety next, with everything else rated far lower in terms of importance, but it seems unlikely to me. Large numbers of people take risks for the sake of discovery and possible growth every day, and consider it normal.

    I also do well when there is some sense of excitement enveloping things. Interesting projects, interesting towns, interesting woods to explore, something. Suburban and small town life, for instance, and routine work do not interest me.

  4. Aha – so Reeducation takes conservatism and calls it health.

    I am traditional in some ways, but I have never been conservative. And I note that in to many here, “conservative” means “not chaotic.”

  5. P.S. I suddenly understand this now. Where I have traditionally felt unsafe is in the effort to put my own best interests first.

    It was always antithetical and scary: it is dangerous not to do it, but I had learned it was yet more dangerous to do it, so I did not know where to turn.

    This was always the source of my anxiety.

  6. I find one of the keys to putting one’s interests first is to be skeptical about Being. The way that people try to pin you down into a role that doesn’t serve your own best interests is to make you reflect about yourself in such a way that stabilises your identity to the point, sometimes, where you are more thing than person.

    Morality says, “If you do this action, how will it reflect back upon your Being?”

    Thinking in this way produces a hall of mirrors effect, wherein the real you is finally lost. So, you need to coax yourself away from an idea of a permanent and fixed Being.

    Perhaps this is the result that the shaman finally achieves for himself by facing “death”?

  7. Precisely. C’est brillant.

    My infamous X (who professes Philosophy and is so anti-postmodern and anti-Continental that he has not to my knowledge read Bataille) used to say that the problem was Sartrean being pour-les-autres, and that one had to get into the pour-soi.

    But this was always my discomfort with ‘Reeducation’, that oh so impoverished system of thought which says it is so sophisticated: it wants to fix people in pre-formed and predestining roles.

    Really and truly one needs to avoid this effort toward fixity of being / Being and yes: c’est le shamanic act.

  8. “The way that people try to pin you down into a role that doesn’t serve your own best interests is to make you reflect about yourself in such a way that stabilises your identity to the point, sometimes, where you are more thing than person.”

    I just found this again. It really is key.

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