Feeling safe is the anthesis of experiencing feeling threatened. Without potential threats, our experience of feeling safe would serve no purpose. The evolution of protective responses reached a level where the task of maintaining vigilance for potential threats could be delegated to members whose specific job was to monitor for threats, thereby enabling other members to settle into the experience of feeling safe. The archetypal example of this is the sentinel Prarie Dog maintaining vigilance for predators atop the burrow while the other members graze nearby. Mammals developed this modality in which extended nurturing of new members could unfold inside a protective “bubble” maintained by other members dedicated to protection.
The safe space inside this bubble enabled mammals to engage in complex social behaviors that facilitated further evolutionary potentials, eventually leading to our extended maturation cycle, which lasts perhaps 25 years. One feature required for this system to function is the ability to sense cues to distinguish between safety and threat. These cues have been studied extensively by Dr. Steven Porges and documented in his Polyvagal Theory writings. Our level of vigilance for these cues or the trigger threshold for protective responses from these cues correlates directly to our experience of feeling safe and degree of social engagement.
The safest place is at the center of the herd. Essential to the ability to perceive this is a continuing perception of the self relative to the group. For herd mammals, the closer to the edge of the herd on is, the less safe one feels. This dynamic actively expresses in our species as social anxiety and the drive to get as close as possible to the center of one’s group/tribe/social unit. As conscious members of our group or tribe, we continually consciously regulate these and other emotional drivers of group cohesiveness. These dynamics are so distinctive among the collective of species of animals that here they are elevated to the level of an archetype:
The cognitive mechanism correlating with the emergence of protective safety is emotion. Emotion enables individual members of the group to interact non-consciously or semi-consciously as a socially cohesive unit. Love, Bonding, Grief, Shame, Guilt, Jealousy, and Resentment are some examples of these emotional drivers. Feeling safe is an emotion. Emotionally driven cognition is a defining attribute of Mammals and is discussed in the context of Mammalian Neurophysiology in the section on:
Cooperative strategies for protection, for example, distracting prey or predator while another member attacked from the blind side afforded an insurmountable fitness advantage, which, given the opportunity afforded by the previous mass extinction event, led to Mammalian dominance of the living system. These strategies have at this point resulted in our capacity to wage war, which one can argue has, in the quest for safety has resulted in our being quite unsafe, but in a seemingly abstract way (which we are not able to process abstractly using the emotional driver for safety which got us here (emotion cannot process abstractly)). These emotionally driven dynamics are quite fluid and complex and difficult to tease apart. This study discusses an aspect of this ongoing work:
Social determinants of health and survival in humans and other animals
/DELEGATING PROTECTIVE ACTIONS ISOLATES PROTECTION FROM PRESENT MOMENT EXPERIENCE. AS LONG AS SAFETY IS MAINTAINED IT DOES NOT MATTER HOW THAT OCCURS.
Safety is one layer of many that describe the evolutionary progression of protective responses. There is a discussion of this progression here:
MEANS AND METHODS
An overview of protective mechanisms as expressed in our species:
An overview of the archetypes for which protection serves as a special case:
An overview of all of the models dissecting the human experience presented on this website: