Freedom vs. Safety

I have long known that I exist within a contradictory dichotomy: an attraction to both freedom and safety. (I use safety and structure interchangeably here, because to me structure creates a feeling of safety)

I think others may relate to this as well, but I’ve always felt these two polarities competing against each other in my life, in often frustrating and conflicting ways.

I hate being told what to do, but I love structure.

I love spontaneity, but rituals are very good for me.

I love being creative, but I’m often most creative when guidelines are established (this is a common principle of creativity)… and, I typically need others to define those guidelines.

I finally had more insight into how I work, during a recent call with a client / mentor. This person knows me well, believes in me more than I do, and is supremely understanding of my many seemingly prima donna tendencies (also known as ADHD symptoms).

Here’s what I think I’ve figured figured out: I need both.

There is a balance of freedom and safety that I need at all times.

“Fair enough,” you might say. “Everyone needs balance.”

Ok, but let me have my obvious realizations on my own.

Also, I think there’s an additional layer to add here: internal vs. external states.

Internal states are one that happen in my own head, external is what happens in the world around me. And so, it ends up looking something like this:

I believe the formula is always ensuring that I have a balance of freedom and safety (making sure both colors are matching in the chart above).

Too much constriction, and I rebel or get bored.

Too much freedom and I spiral out and lose myself.

So, for example, if I’m encountering a new group of people (external freedom/unknown), I need to have an internal sense of safety, usually in the form of familiarity with my environment or an expert in my field.

I often socialize in the world of acro yoga, and since I’m a certified teacher and confident in my abilities, I feel comfortable encountering strangers. Throw me into a similar group at a random conference, and I’d be very lost.

On a two week cruise, I found myself much more open to the new crop of strangers who showed up on the second week, because I was already familiar and feeling safe in my physical environment. (There was an internal sense of “this is my ship now, and you are all welcome aboard”)

Another example – if you want me to come up with creative ideas or work (internal freedom), I usually need it to occur within a defined environment, such as a 9 to 5 job where I go to a physical location, or an actual meeting that defines the structure of the experience (external safety).

If you simply asked me to be creative and let me figure out when it should happen, the answer would be “probably never”. Knowing this, I’ve often scheduled web design sessions with clients physically present in order to provide me with a sense of structure/accountability.

So there you have it, a new layer of insight into what really might be another ADHD coping mechanism: a potential inability to regulate myself well enough to actually harness my creativity without external structure; a need to feel secure in my abilities as I restlessly bounce through the world.

I think we all have a need for this, but highly sensitive people are tasked with finding a more nuanced balance – we have less tolerance for any deviance. Keeping my eye on my internal vs. external sense of freedom and continuously ensuring the proper fuel mix, is another tool in my arsenal.

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