Are you a safe person?
Do you cultivate and lead spaces that are safe?
And how do you know the difference between lack of safety and discomfort?
The hard truth is that we can never declare a person or a space “safe.” We can do all we can to cultivate safety within ourselves and we can be intentional about doing our best to be safe but we cannot name a space or a person safe. That is for others to decide. Which is vulnerable and challenging.
If we want to increase our capacity for discomfort and work towards being safe, it will require us to get really clear on how we can be unsafe along with discerning the difference between safety and discomfort.
And if we truly want to be a part of cultivating safe spaces and be safe people to others, we have to build our capacity for discomfort to: be wrong, make mistakes, be misunderstood, set and maintain boundaries, speak up when harm happens, and take ownership of our part when harm is done. This is something we need to feel through, not just think through.
Today’s guest digs into the difference between safety and discomfort, and the qualities we show when we are actually unsafe people.
Tasha Hunter, MSW, LCSW is a Black, queer Internal Family Systems therapist. She is the owner of Ascension Growth Center, PLLC, servicing clients in North Carolina and Kansas. She serves Black/BIPOC women, and LGBTQ+. She is the author of the memoir, What Children Remember, and host of the podcast " When We Speak". She is passionate about speaking about adult child trauma, suicide, and collective healing and liberation.
Listen to the full episode to hear:
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Scroll Down for The Full Episode Transcript:
Tasha Hunter: Love and pain go together. They travel together the same road. So, with that being stated, my goal: when the harm happens, how am I going to address it and can I sit with my parts that may want to defend, that may want to excuse, that may want to ignore, that may want to wish them away. Can I sit with my parts and understand them but still be a safe person and do what’s necessary in that moment and in all moments?
Rebecca Ching: Are you a safe person? Do you cultivate and lead spaces that are safe? How do you know the difference between lack of safety and discomfort? Now, I’ve spent the last two decades working with those carrying burdens of various traumas, and they taught me a lot about these nuanced questions. Now, one of the top lessons is that we can never declare a person or a space safe. We could do all we can to cultivate safety within ourselves and we can be intentional about doing our best to be safe, but we can't name a space or declare a person safe. That’s not for us to decide, but it’s for others to decide.
It’s vulnerable, though, and challenging to let that be the case, and it also gets tricky because we often conflate safety with discomfort and the burdens of trauma can leave us feeling like any discomfort equates to lack of safety. Since trauma is a breach of connection, it makes sense safety feels fleeting when connection with Self and others feels hard to obtain. So, if we want to increase our capacity for discomfort and work towards being safe, it will require us to get really clear on how we can be unsafe along with discerning the difference between safety and discomfort.
I'm Rebecca Ching, and you're listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with humans who navigate life’s challenges and lead in their own ways. Our goal is to learn how they address the burdens they carry, how they learn from them and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others.
All right, today I’m tackling a big topic, and I’m not gonna do it justice, but I want to start thinking a little bit about the nuanced difference between discomfort and safety. So, I’ve realized that my capacity for discomfort begets safety within and with those around me. I’ve also learned I cannot control how others experience me or how they experience others, but I can be with their experiences, and I can commit to staying true to my values and my boundaries and my responses when I feel attacked, misunderstood, and judged. When I mess up (which is often) I can commit to naming it, owning it, and feeling through it, ideally with others.
But what often trips me up is how I respond to my own discomfort. I often find trailheads in those moments that lead me to discover deeper work that needs to be tended to so I can feel the difference between discomfort and safety while staying present to the vulnerabilities and fears that get stirred. Discomfort is that charge of anything that just feels off, and it’s on that spectrum of safety, but it’s something that touches into our vulnerability. Safety is the space where we actually feel like literally harm can be done. Are we safe physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally?
So, my many years working on Dr. Frank Anderson’s leadership team for his Internal Family Systems Trauma and Neuroscience Level Two Training has taught me that managing my discomfort involves more than just a mindset shift, and when we have a low capacity for discomfort, this inhibits the release of what many call the happy chemicals and causes the release of other chemicals from your brain like adrenaline or glutamate.
When our body releases these chemicals, it signals a preparation or a warning for dealing with a potentially harmful or undesired situation.
Now, a potential or anticipated harm can feel like real harm in a person’s system that’s burdened with unhealed trauma that continues to replay past experiences. All of this muddles our capacity for discomfort. Let’s not forget real-time affronts to our dignity through the burdens of sexism and racism and homophobia and economic disparity and more, but I also know that the power of connection and feeling seen and heard and valued is salve to our wounds. It increases our ability to sit with our discomforts. And since trauma is a breach of a safe connection, it makes sense that we all often feel like a hot mess in these moments when discomfort arises. The feelings and behaviors in others in close proximity to us can impact how and what we feel, and if we want to be a safe person, learning how to respond when we feel activated by what comes up in our discomfort is key.
Y’all, this is a life-long practice, and I want to also make sure that we don't weaponize regulation in this nuanced conversation around discomfort and safety because sitting with your discomfort is being regulated. Responding to your discomfort in a way that’s aligned is part of regulation too.
So, the challenge and the call is to sit with the discomfort of what others bring up in us while staying present both with what we’re feeling and with what others are feeling, without defaulting to harmful defenses.
This is hard, and this is humbling work to do because it rarely seems tidy or smooth. [Laughs]
I still struggle with blowing through my discomfort and missing the fears and vulnerabilities stirring in me at the expense of the impact of others, and I don't know if for you it may look like shutting down and being silent or bypassing a hard conversation. It might mean over-accommodating and people pleasing or defaulting to blame and defending yourself or defending others, really, but if we truly want to be a part of cultivating safe spaces and to be a safe person to others, it starts with building our capacity for discomfort, our discomfort to be wrong, to make mistakes, to be misunderstood, to set and maintain boundaries, to speak up when harm happens, and to take ownership of our part when harm is done. This is something we need to feel through and not just think through. So, when I read a post by my guest today detailing the qualities we show when we’re unsafe people, I knew I needed to have her on the show to dig a little deeper on this topic.
Tasha Hunter holds a master’s in social work and is a licensed clinical social worker and an Internal Family Systems therapist. She identifies as Black, queer, a veteran, and a survivor who’s also the owner of Ascension Growth Center, and this place serves clients in North Carolina and Kansas. Tasha serves Black and BIPOC women and the LBGTQ+ community, and she’s also the author of her memoir What Children Remember and host of the podcast When We Speak. She is deeply passionate about speaking about adult child trauma, suicide, and collective healing and liberation.
Now, I want you to pay attention to how Tasha defines safe and unsafe and listen for when we unpack the qualities of an unsafe person. (It’s a doozy, and it’s important). And notice how Tash responds when I ask her if she is unsafe to herself. I’m still thinking about her answer. All right, y’all, now please welcome Tasha Hunter to The Unburdened Leader podcast.
Tasha, welcome to the podcast!
Tasha Hunter: Oh, thank you so much, Rebecca!
Rebecca Ching: So, we were touching base right before we started recording about these Instagram posts that just are super prolific for those of us reading them. [Laughs] And you’re like, “They just flow out.” And so, we’ll get to that in a minute because one of these posts was about how to be an unsafe person, and I thought before we dove into that, it would be good just to define terms because a lot of people these days use terms and they kind of make them mean whatever they want, so I thought that would be a good place to start, foundationally, and talk about the terms “safety” and “safe spaces.” I’d love for you to share how you define safety and safe spaces.
Tasha Hunter: I’ve spent so much time thinking about this, and when I think about safety and safe spaces, what comes to mind for me are places where places and people prioritize safety, number one, people and places that prioritize respect (so respect is on the table).
Rebecca Ching: What does that look like, Tasha? What does it look like to be in a space where respect is on the table? What would I see? What am I feeling?
Tasha Hunter: Mutual consideration, compassion, positive intent. What I mean by positive intent because that’s kind of a wonky phrase, too, is my intent is to make sure that all people here feel included. If I am in charge of a meeting or a training, that all people feel a part of and included in it. My positive intent is that while I can't control whether harm happens or not, my goal is to make sure that if it happens, that there is a decreased chance of it happening, and that if it happens, no person is left alone in their experience.
Rebecca Ching: So this is a really important distinction. Tell me if I’m hearing this incorrectly or miss something, but safety and safe spaces aren't remiss of harm being done. At the root of it is how do these places and people in these spaces respond when harm is done.
Tasha Hunter: How do they respond. While we can't control, we can sure as hell put some things in place to make sure that it is decreased. When I think about it being decreased, if I’m looking at it or thinking of it from a biblical perspective, it’s to the least of these. The marginalized folks, the quieter folks, the people who may have felt like, in other spaces, their voice, their being was not wanted or well represented. How can I make sure that they are safe and have a process in place, a protocol in place to repair.
Rebecca Ching: So the desire and the intent -- I just want to really drill down on this. I’ve become a safe person or I’m a part of creating a safe space when I’m, obviously, using compassion. I have positive intent. I want to avoid harm being done, but I am preparing, and I have actual plans and protocols and systems and supports in place if someone is harmed.
So, I do think for those who are in white spaces or in white bodies, there still is this sense of not wanting any harm. There’s almost this sense of if any harm happens, that’s a failure, which of course we don't want it, but it’s missing the mark that we need to expect it because we’re human, not because we’re being reckless. I know for me there have been times where I feel so bad about what’s happened, it takes me out of the situation because I’m feeling so bad, and I feel like it’s a reflection on me, and then I worry so much about the other person that it’s hard. It feels like you can flail, but those intentions, those guardrails, if there’s a sense of, “Okay, this is what we do when we human,” that actually increases safety. What comes up when I reflect that?
Tasha Hunter: This is what happens when we human.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Tasha Hunter: I can't think of anything more accurately than that. This is what happens when we get people together, for any reason. There is always a potential that harm may happen, that the way that we -- the use of language, that we may use a word or a phrase that may offend or upset someone or many people, that someone’s concerns may be overlooked, that maybe we don’t respond to things in a manner that is timely or appropriate for another person.
Oftentimes, harm is unintentional. However, it can't be avoided. That comes along with us being human and being in community with each other. So knowing that that comes with, like love and pain go together. They travel together, the same road.
So, with that being stated, my goal when I am with people, when the harm happens, how am I going to address it and can I sit with my parts that may want to defend, that may want to excuse, that may want to ignore, that may want to wish them away. Can I sit with my parts and understand them but still be a safe person and do what’s necessary in that moment and in all moments.
Rebecca Ching: So it’s kind of what we talk about in the IFS space, then, is when that harm happens, whether we’ve been the recipient of it, we’ve been a part of delivering it, or we witness it, what are we noticing? What comes up in us, first and foremost, and our relationship with that. The desire to fix, the desire to run away, the desire to minimize, all the different responses.
How am I taking care of that within, and then how do I return to the community to then move forward in a way that is honoring of everyone involved.
Tasha Hunter: Because I also want to add when I think about safe people and safe spaces, I can’t even talk about safe people and safe spaces without also naming that it’s a place that really is welcoming and inclusive. So if I feel like I need to mute myself or I need to code switch or become something different or more or better or blending in, that is not a safe space.
Rebecca Ching: Well, no. I just want to jump in. You used a term: if you have to code switch. What does that mean to you? I just want to make sure we’re understanding terms.
Tasha Hunter: If I have to code my character, my personality, my language in a way that is palatable for white people, patriarchy, patriarchal thinking, code switching has been a form of safety for marginalized, for Black and brown, for women. I am in a stage in my life where I am not code switching for anyone for any reason. No ma’am, no sir, no how.
Rebecca Ching: Okay.
Tasha Hunter: If I need to change myself in order to be “palatable” and to make you comfortable, maybe I won’t use African American vernacular in all spaces, but I need to be able to speak whatever my truth is in whatever way is more representing me.
Rebecca Ching: So a space or a person starts to become less safe when you are muting, you are adapting how you dress, how you talk, how you move to make other people comfortable so that you’re safe.
Tasha Hunter: Yes! Yes.
Rebecca Ching: And if they're comfortable, that means you're safe, so you're doing these things to protect yourself.
Tasha Hunter: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: We all do them. Not we all do them, but particularly Black and brown folks and women and other marginalized groups do these things, absolutely.
Tasha Hunter: Yes.
Rebecca Ching: I’m just relating as someone who identifies as female, relating a lot to that too. So, when you go into a new space, walk me through kind of how you assess that and connect and then start to determine how much of you is safe to share and just show up.
Tasha Hunter: How I assess the spaces that I’m in, oh, kind of look around.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] You're moving around.
Tasha Hunter: Yes, I’m moving around. This is what my body does. For listeners, I’m kind of rolling my shoulders and just kind of getting how you could get a feel in for a space, and I’m looking around, and if I happen to notice, maybe I notice that I am a minority in that space, then I start to look for what identities are represented. How is the leadership team maybe being mindful of various identities that are present? Are they sensitive to trans and nonbinary people? Are they sensitive to immigrant people?
Are they sensitive to queer people, to Black people? Whose voices are being elevated? How are they speaking about culture and specifically white supremacy culture? Is that being named? Is white supremacy culture being named? Especially in the training environments, white supremacy culture is everywhere. It’s a part of all of us, and I don't believe that we can have authentic healing spaces if we’re not naming the impact of white supremacy culture, naming it in ourselves, naming how it may show up in different spaces.
I guess I just want to also name that I don't believe that safe people exist if they don't have relationships with people who don't look like them.
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Tasha Hunter: So it’s hard to create safety for others if your own personal relationships don't reflect the people that you're trying to protect. So, if I am in a predominantly white space, I want to know, and I often do ask for people coming on my podcast, “What is your relationship with Black and brown communities? What is your relationship with queer communities or identities?” I want to know do you have a Black friend, do you have an Asian friend, do you have a Latinx friend that you commune with because it is damn hard to create safety from an authentic place if you don't have relationships that mirror the people that you're in the room with, personal relationships.
Rebecca Ching: Okay, and another thing that’s come up for me, too, around safety -- and I’ve heard this in business spaces or in any space, really, where someone will say, “This is a safe space,” and this is usually the leader saying it, and what I’ve come to realize is I don’t get to declare myself as being safe or the space that I’m leading or that I’m in is safe, but I want to commit to cultivating that safety so that someone else who’s not part of dominant culture can say, “This feels safe,” but I’m not the one to say, “I’ve deemed this a safe space,” like you see in some of this hyper-wellness space, too.
So yeah, I see you shaking your head. I’d love to know -- yeah, what’s coming up for you as I share that?
Tasha Hunter: Oh, I’ve heard that so much! People claiming that this particular space is safe or that they are safe. And again, going back to my original example when we first started recording, when I think of the least of these, the people who feel the most unsafe get to determine where safe places exist. The people that are most at risk of harm get to determine who and where or what is a safe space. We get to determine who and what is safe.
So just because someone is in a leadership position and they say, “Oh, I have an open-door policy. I am a safe person,” let me see how you address harm, let me see who you advocate for, and what are your policies on harassment, and how do you handle complaints? How do you handle microaggressions? How do you handle any kind of trauma that happens in your workplace? Who’s on your board of directors? Who’s on your leadership team? All of that determines safety.
I am not a church person. I haven't been to church in I don't remember how long, but I used to be. I used to be a churchy person, and I remember I would hear pastors say that they were safe, and that couldn't have been further from the truth. How are we treating our people that are on the margins? Again, what does your leadership team look like? Whose culture is most represented in expression, in the music, in the Bible studies, in the teachings, in your bookstore? Whose voices are represented? Because if I see a bookstore and it’s a whole bunch of white folks who have written books, then I know that this place is not a safe space. If you’ve not spoken out against harm, against Black people, against immigrants, against children, against domestic violence, and so many other things, then you’re not a safe space.
If you’ve not done your own work to meet and sit with your own shadows, you are not a safe person.
Rebecca Ching: Mm, you know what’s coming up? You're bringing up the open-door policy, and that still puts the onus on somebody else to come to leadership. Are there other ways that you’ve seen the use of safe or safe spaces misused in workspaces or by leaders or even on social media?
Tasha Hunter: I think that, from my experience, I have heard leaders, both in my time working in the military and my time working in human resource management, now in my time working in the mental health field -- especially in the mental health field that it’s a given that because we’re mental health practitioners that we are safe. But this field is rife with people who have not addressed their own issues with race, their own fear, their own fatphobia, their own privilege and how they got to that privilege. So what I’ve seen is it’s like a given: “Well, because I’m in this position, of course I’m a safe person. I’m a social worker,” or, “I’m a psychologist,” or, “I’m this person.” No, but how have you attended to your own bias? Being safe is intentional. It’s not a given. It’s something that is practiced over and over and over through learning, through therapy, through listening.
It’s such a deeply intentional practice. It’s not a given based off of position, based off of education.
Rebecca Ching: Or a declaration.
Tasha Hunter: Or declaration. Oh, my goodness. It’s practice.
Rebecca Ching: It’s one of those I will be practicing this ‘til I breathe my last breath practices.
Tasha Hunter: Yes, yes. Me too.
Rebecca Ching: Because human. [Laughs]
Tasha Hunter: Because human. So, I just got done PA-ing in the IFS fellowship cohorts, the first cohort, and so, each group that I PA, I go in -- each module we’re with a different group, and each group I introduce myself, “I’m Tasha Hunter. I’m a licensed clinical social worker. I’m Black, and I am queer, and I’ve experienced a number of traumas, and I say that as a matter of fact, and it’s important because I also believe in consent and autonomy and people having agency. My identities make consent and agency and autonomy super important.”
So, I’ll always ask with each group, “Check in. Let’s take a minute and check in with your own system and see what parts are represented in this moment,” and what might your system need in order to feel safe?”
It’s damn important, Rebecca, that we all ask each person, “What do you need in order to feel safe?” That in and of itself creates safety because I’m not assuming that people feel comfortable and safe because they're in my group or because we’re in a training or anything. It’s let me ask, “What might you need? What might your system need to feel safe right now?”
Rebecca Ching: So you talk about naming your identities as connected to consent. I just want to be really clear. Can you talk a little bit more about how naming who you are in some of your intersectional identities when you are leading a new group, for example, how does that connect to consent, to you and to the community, and tell me a little bit more why that’s so important.
Tasha Hunter: Oh, it’s so good. It’s actually a part of something that I’m currently working on that’s dealing with culture and intersectionality and the location of Self. When I think about my identities, I’m a Black, queer woman, I am a military veteran, long-time military spouse, military contractor. I am an intellectual, a creative, and again, I’m someone who has experienced a number of different traumas within my lifetime. As a woman and as a Black person and as a queer person and as a traumatized person, often, consent was not on the table.
It wasn't priority, and it wasn't respected. So consent is important to me because that’s something that is a right, but it hasn't always been granted, historically, generationally, ancestrally. I mean, we could take that a lot of different places. As women, we are still fighting for our rights as it relates to our bodies, our voices. It’s related, but it’s unrelated.
I was talking to a friend yesterday, and I was telling her I remember sitting in executive-level meetings, and there was this belief, both in the military and in my time working in human resources, that in these meetings that I was in (we’d go into these big conference rooms), and there was this belief that, if you were a woman, that you needed to make a person in charge (who was typically a white male) believe that something was their idea even if it was your idea. And if I just -- you know, you have to say it in a way that you have to manipulate them into thinking that it’s their idea, and you have to kind of soothe their ego, and that is the way so many women function in these meetings, believing that their voice was being hard when it really wasn't. I don't want to live my life soothing someone’s ego, making my ideas seem like they're their ideas (dominant culture; white, male culture).
No, my ideas are my ideas. You can listen or not. You can take them or not. But I’m not gonna give you what’s mine and make it seem like it’s yours. No! And if you take it from me, give me some freakin’ credit. In corporate America, we women are still operating from that belief. So, I don't want to be someone else’s muse, especially if they are a cisgendered, hetero, white man.
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I want to shift a little bit to talk about how you see and discern the difference between unsafe and discomfort, and you and I are gonna have different experiences with that, but I think sometimes what is uncomfortable for you could be unsafe for me and vice versa, and there’s a lot there when we’re in community together. So yeah, I’d love for you to share how you discern the difference between unsafe and discomfort.
Tasha Hunter: Discomfort is, to me, having an experience that may cause anxiety, may cause shame, may cause embarrassment, may cause confusion, may cause sadness and anger, and can I honor that experience that nobody wants to feel, that discomfort? It may cause annoyance. Unsafe, someone qualifies as unsafe when they are harmful, verbally harmful, physically harmful, sexually harmful.
Someone qualifies as unsafe when they don't have within them, it seems, like some kind of a stopper to say, “Wait, don't say this thing, don't do this thing,” because that is really abusive if you say or do this thing when there’s no stopper. Then a person becomes harmful. When there’s no accountability.
Rebecca Ching: Ooh, yeah. And no capacity for accountability.
Tasha Hunter: No capacity for accountability!
Rebecca Ching: And no systems in place, like you referred to at the beginning of our conversation.
Tasha Hunter: Yes.
Rebecca Ching: I really appreciate you differentiating discomfort and unsafe, and I cosign that 100%. I also want to acknowledge those who are still sitting with a lot of undealt with trauma. That’s a hard stretch sometimes, and you and I are trained to help folks develop the nuance of the spectrum from discomfort to unsafe. And there’s something with privilege and power that equates discomfort and unsafe and there’s almost an entitlement in there, too, that I wanted to acknowledge, that is -- curious is probably a nice way of saying it. But this is like, “What?” [Laughs] But really, just discomfort, there’s almost this sense of if I am uncomfortable, you are unsafe unless you make me feel comfortable, and this is often said and done by folks who have a lot more power. What comes up for you when I share that? [Laughs] I see you nodding.
Tasha Hunter: Well, I’ve witnessed, in dominant culture, people not really realizing, again, what it really means to create safety, and so, then, it’s on us to really define, “This is what I’m willing to do,” and because I don't give you what you want, that does not, in and of itself, create an unsafe environment. What I’m really talking about, more so, is abuse and trauma, and outside of that lens, we have to do our own work, check our own expectations for people. And then there’s a part of me that’s coming up even in this conversation that’s saying, “Wait, Tasha, you're still missing it.” Another part of being a safe person is making sure that we don't sit silently while other people are being harmed. Going back to that Instagram post, if I sit silently, and I am witnessing harm and I don't speak on it and I don't try to help the person that was injured, that was wounded, oh, let me get my name tag, I’ve just made myself an unsafe person.
So we have to really think about our expectations of other people and how we’re showing up. In our work to create community and all of these things and to have open dialogue and to welcome everybody’s parts, we’ve really got to be honest about what we’re creating and how we’re creating it.
Rebecca Ching: Thank you for bringing up that Instagram post. And actually you have, I think it was, 17 qualities you put on there on how to be an unsafe person.
I want to dig into that a little bit more specifically, but do you remember what inspired you to write that post on how to be an unsafe person?
Tasha Hunter: Yeah, I do. There were a few things. As a program assistant for IFS-I, I’ve PA-ed (been a program assistant) a number of times, several times, and in each cohort, and a lot of the modules, I have witnessed harm. I have witnessed it from the leadership team, people with each other, PA to PA, or leadership person to PA, or participant to PA, PA to participant. I’ve witnessed a lot of harm. I’ve thought about the harm that I have experienced in those spaces. I’ve thought about the harm that I have experienced in other spaces. I’ve thought about my little girl parts being harmed by people who were adults who could have prevented certain things from happening to me.
Writing has been catharsis for most of my life, since I was about 8 years old. I’m almost 44 now, and I started writing as a little girl. And so, my writing most often comes from my own pain, so when I am feeling certain things they come out in Instagram posts. [Laughs] I’m writing what I know. I’m writing what people around me are feeling. But mostly it’s what I know and have experienced.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and there’s something about, whether it’s being on our leadership teams or any kind of space, it definitely just activates the echoes of those times that we’ve experienced harm.
Tasha Hunter: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: I want to go through some of those qualities that you listed, and you touched on one already: sit silently while someone is harmed. Not that I want to make a caveat for that one, but I know for me sometimes I see harm being done and there’s almost this shut down that happens, and everything goes into slow motion, and so, sometimes I don't speak up in the moment. I’m getting better at that for sure. [Laughs] And sometimes I come in like I’m a semi-truck, [Laughs] and I’m like -- you know? I mean, especially, I think of it with dear friends. I think of it with my kids. It’s just like, “Oh, hell no!” There are kinds of those other parts of me that just show up, but sometimes there’s just this shut down like what’s happening, and my silence doesn't get broken until I get back online, and then I’m like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. I’ve got to circle back here,” or I do something offline.
So I want to make sure, for folks listening, this isn't a performative thing. Sometimes witnessing harm has its echoes, but it’s not staying silent. Even if it’s not in the moment, it’s speaking up saying, “You know what? I needed a beat, and that was not okay.” Tasha’s giving me a thumbs up. [Laughs] Awesome!
So another quality you put in this Instagram post, which we’ll make sure to link in the show notes, you wrote, “Play the I-don’t-want-to-take-sides card.” That one lights me up too, so that’s why I picked that one too. Tell me a little bit about what that looks like when we see the I-don’t-want-to-take-sides card being played.
Tasha Hunter: Ooh, I hate that one. I hate that one. My parts -- ooh, I can't stand. It’s been my experience that when someone is in -- maybe they’ve named a trauma that’s happened, let’s say in their family.
And they’ve named it, “These things have happened to me, and this is why I am estranged from certain family members,” what I have found, undoubtedly, is that there are always people, whether it’s neighbors, friends of the person that you’re estranged from, other family members, who want to kind of kumbaya the situation. “Oh, you should talk to so-and-so, you should do this thing,” and they're real good about telling somebody else what they should do while also saying, “I’m gonna put my hands up. I don't want to be involved in it. I don't want to be in the middle.” No, no, no, but you already put yourself in the middle. You already put yourself in the middle, and now you’re saying you don't want to take sides, but in your not taking sides, really what you're doing is solidifying your place in the abuser’s life or in the person who did the harm. You're solidifying your place in their life. You're doubling down on the harm done to me because of your fear of speaking up, your fear of conflict, and whatever other fears that exist, you actually are taking a side that hurts me in a moment when I very much need people who are willing to take my side, people who are willing to speak up for me, people who are willing to advocate for me and such as be with me in my pain.
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Tasha Hunter: So when we say to people, “I don't want to take a side,” you're taking one of the most painful, damaging sides against the person that was harmed, whether that’s your child, your spouse, your friend, your whoever. You're still taking a really painful and damaging side.
Rebecca Ching: Mm, I feel that. Okay, this one got me very activated, too, when I read, “Make excuses for the person who caused harm.” I was just flooded with memories, whether it was in corporate, in politics, in my family of origin, in a faith community. Yeah, tell me what led you to write, “Make excuses for the person who caused harm,” and how you added that to your list.
Tasha Hunter: I added that because I’ve watched it play out in the IFS spaces and in other spaces. This isn't really just about IFS, but that was first, if I’m speaking honestly, what prompted that, and we make ourselves unsafe when we’re trying to kind of ease tension, [Laughs] you know, calm things down, and we say, “Oh, well, the person, they're going through a hard time in their life. That’s why they said the thing. Oh, their exiled parts were coming up and were activated. That’s why they said the really harmful thing. They're in the battle of their addiction, and that’s why they said the really harmful thing.” No. [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Let’s do one more that stood out to me in that list. “Label the harmed person as being overly sensitive or dramatic.” Tell me what I’d see if I’m witnessing that.
Tasha Hunter: If a person explains and really names that they’ve been harmed, and maybe they're really, through their vulnerability, showing the full expression of that harm, whether that’s through sadness, tears, anger, whatever comes out in that moment.
And if my parts go to a place where I, then, say, “Oh, you're being too dramatic. You're being too sensitive. Why are you so sensitive? Don't be so sensitive,” you know, then that’s an indication that I’m not really sitting well with my own parts around the expression of emotion, or I’m not sitting with my own parts who may be shame avoidant, I’m not sitting with my own parts that maybe are not able to handle accountability well. And so, if I shame that person because of their emotional expression, I’ve made myself an unsafe person. Now that person cannot come to me again with anything that’s tender because I’ve blamed them, I’ve shamed them for being sensitive.
Rebecca Ching: Would you say that, often, the making excuses for the person who caused harm and labeling the person as over-sensitive who was harmed is kind of another one-two punch that often go together?
Tasha Hunter: Yeah, let’s say you and I are friends and you’ve hurt me, and I say to you, “Rebecca, you did this thing, and it just really was a gut punch to me. It really hurt me,” and you say, “Oh, Tasha, you're so sensitive. Oh, stop it. It wasn't that serious,” and you minimize, then I know that our relationship has changed.
I can't, in good conscience, come to you again. I can't be honest. I can't be open. Especially, I can't be honest if you’ve hurt me, and that ruins relationships. So, what you’ve shown me, if you were to respond in that way, then I cannot come to you again. But the relationship has changed. Maybe we keep it surface level if you're not comfortable with my emotions, if you can't sit with it and hold it. So yeah, it’s the one-two punch for sure.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, that really lands. And this one was really, also -- gosh, I saw a lot flash before my eyes, but, “Allow the person who caused harm accessibility to harm others in the same environment.”
Tasha Hunter: Mm-hmm.
Rebecca Ching: All right, tell me what I’d see. I have my own ideas on that, but yeah, give me an example of that one.
Tasha Hunter: If a person, let’s say, verbally assaults another person through name-calling or any number of microaggressions, if I observe this person or hear of this person doing this and I don't address it with that person one-on-one, then what I am giving permission to is for that person to continue doing that thing unchecked. And I, again, have watched this in IFS spaces, and in every space that I’ve been in I’ve watched people who were leaders and not leaders do things that harmed other people, and the people, the leadership, who could address it with this person one-on-one, pulling them aside, “Listen, let me talk to you for a minute. This is what was heard. This is what was shared. Can we have a conversation about that,” full stop.
If you have a person in your midst who has in any way harmed other people, if you don't speak about it, then that person gets to go on with their life and continue the harm.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and it almost connects again with the making excuses for the person who caused harm.
Tasha Hunter: Right.
Rebecca Ching: So, then lastly, there was a quality that fits with a theme that you’ve been talking about today, too. “You can be an unsafe person if you have no action or plan to repair.”
Tasha Hunter: Right. So, if I go to someone in leadership, and I say, “Hey, this is the thing that happened,” and they say, “Oh, you know, tempers are high. Let’s just let things kind of resolve on their own,” and da, da, da, da, da, and there’s no actual plan of how do we address this --
Rebecca Ching: I would say this is where, at least for me, I see a lot of people allow perfectionism to get in the way, like if they can't resolve it perfectly or they don't see a way that it’s gonna be tidy and that they're trying to keep it tidy too, because this stuff is messy and windy and uncomfortable and stretches us.
Tasha Hunter: Right.
Rebecca Ching: But those plans for repair aren't three linear steps to completion.
Tasha Hunter: So then, my question is if you don't have a plan to repair, if you don’t have a plan to address the harm, especially with the person who caused that harm, who and what are you protecting? Because it’s not with the priority of protecting the person that was harmed.
Rebecca Ching: Wow.
Tasha Hunter: Who and what is being protected in that moment?
Rebecca Ching: I think that is a really powerful question that we all need to be asking ourselves when we feel that reflex just to move on and not work on repair. That’s a word right there. Thank you for that, Tasha.
I want to move to another question in the spirit of our conversation around safety, and I’d love for you to share a little bit about you and how you’ve been an unsafe person to yourself. What was the turning point where you moved from comforting your deep pain and unsafe ways and unsafe relationships to caring for yourself with deep compassion and love? I know this is a big part of your story, but I’d love for you to share some of that here.
Tasha Hunter: Oh, my goodness. This question. It’s the kind of question where I kind of winced at it when I read it like, “Ew!” There are so many ways that I have been unsafe to myself, and the first thing that comes to mind immediately upon reading your question is the number of times, still to this day, if I’m honest, when I ignore my intuition. There are so many ways in which I show up and do things and it’s not from a Self-led place and I’m ignoring the whispers, to wait, to not say, “Yes,” to not do a thing. Anytime I violate my own knowing, I am being unsafe to myself, and I am a work in progress forever on this one, and I notice in the times when I haven’t -- because here’s the other thing.
When I don't honor my intuition and then I make decisions, I’m also hurting the other person. I'm also hurting the other person involved because then, at some point, I’m gonna say, “Wait, I shouldn't have signed on for that. I shouldn't have said yes to that. I shouldn't have done this thing,” and now I have to go back and say, “Well,” and then a potential rupture happens because I didn't follow my initial intuition. I’ve been in relationships with people where something said, “Eh, it’s just not a good fit! It’s just -- don’t do X, Y, and Z,” but then my heart -- because maybe they were interested, you know, or they wanted to collaborate with me on a thing, then I said, “Yes.” So, one, by not honoring my intuition. Then the second thing that comes to mind (this is some real truth telling) are the moments when I catch myself creating a story that is literally harming me. I am literally causing my own suffering.
So, when I think about that storytelling, one example is coming onto your podcast I thought, “Oh, I perceive you and this podcast to be for other people that are more put together, that are more professional,” and all of these things like, “Rebecca wants to talk to me? What do I know? What do I have to say on anything? What in the world am I gonna say to her?”
That’s a story from a really vulnerable, tender part (my little girl Tasha). But if I sit too long and listen to that voice, I’m unsafe to myself when I start creating stories that just aren't true. I’m a badass. I’m intelligent. I have just as much to say as anybody else. I probably have more to say because I like to talk. [Laughs]
So it’s like I know who I am. I know. I know my gifts and what I bring, and I know about my ancestors that are carrying me forward, but I am unsafe to myself when I start telling stories about me that hurt me.
Rebecca Ching: And believing them and living from them instead of --
Tasha Hunter: And living -- yes!
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] And living from them. They sneak up on us, though.
Tasha Hunter: Yes!
Rebecca Ching: Those parts of us that are like, “Oh,” that really are still carrying those echoes of the burdens of shame that say, “Who do you think you are? You’ve got nothing to offer.”
Tasha Hunter: Yes. When I live from this space of, “I am not good enough. I’m not smart enough,” now, to answer the second part of your question, I can have that original thought, but I can sit with it, and I can tease it out, and I can just be with it, and I can look at it in the face. Who’s speaking?
Where does that come from? And so, I do a lot more of that, of looking my own fears in the face. And so, now, I am being really safe to myself more than unsafe. There were years where I was really unsafe to myself in a lot of ways, in the ways that I treated my body, in the way that I lived my day-to-day life just being a danger to myself, and it felt like all of the abuse that I experienced as a child, all of the abandonment, like I was abandoning myself. Now it’s much more from a place of, “Tasha, you've been through enough, what does loving yourself look like?” And so, questioning when I get into a mode of wanting to cause or add to my own suffering, how in this moment can I be more loving to me because I have not had enough love, so I plan to spend the rest of my days on this earth loving myself as much as possible and in every way possible.
Rebecca Ching: One of the most powerful ways is discerning safety, not just within but around, and not tolerating it.
Tasha Hunter: Yes.
Rebecca Ching: And, man, that intuition piece, I feel that in my bones. I look back on some of the biggest ruptures, mistakes, cluster F’s that I’ve had because I overrode and minimized the wisdom from within. When I reverse engineer and go, “How did I get here,” that is ground zero. And so, I really appreciate that.
Gosh, Tasha, I feel like we could talk a lot more. I have a feeling I’m gonna want you to come back on the show. We’ve got some more stuff to unpack, but before you go, are you up for some quickfire questions?
Tasha Hunter: Yeah!
Rebecca Ching: Awesome. Okay, what are you reading right now?
Tasha Hunter: So I’m reading Rachel Rodgers, We Should All Be Millionaires, I’m reading Jaiya John’s book All These Rivers and You Chose Love, and then I’m reading The Altar Within by Juliet Diaz.
Rebecca Ching: Just some light and breezy reading, right? [Laughs]
Tasha Hunter: Yeah. [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: You and I both are music people. I’m so curious to know. What song are you playing on repeat right now?
Tasha Hunter: So, there are a lot of songs, but the one that’s coming to mind right now is Alice Smith, her song “Be Easy.” If it’s a particularly hard morning where I’m just needing some tenderness, I replay “Be Easy” over and over and over.
Rebecca Ching: Favorite eighties movie or piece of eighties pop culture?
Tasha Hunter: Ooh, in terms of eighties, I’d have to go the music route because music is so important to me. So, when I think of eighties, I am thinking of B-52 or Cyndi Lauper, George Michael. That’s what I’m thinking of. That's my answer.
Rebecca Ching: We were just playing Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” this morning.
Tasha Hunter: Yes!
Rebecca Ching: So, oh, my gosh, and a little “Love Shack” from B-52 is always good. What is your mantra right now?
Tasha Hunter: I was just talking to a friend before we recorded about I keep seeing on TikTok these women talking about living a soft life, and I am so intrigued because life, previously, has been hard, and I’m ushering in a new way of being at this moment, you know?
And so, I’m intrigued by living the soft life, and so, maybe that’s my mantra, my manifestation, my dream is that I get to live a soft life too.
Rebecca Ching: Wow. What is an unpopular opinion that you hold?
Tasha Hunter: I don't know what to say to this question! But can I give a long answer? I have some friends who are doulas, and either, on one hand, they are birth doulas or, on the other hand, they’re death doulas. The past three-to-four days I’ve really been thinking about the work of a death doula, and so, my stance as a person with many parts and as a therapist is that I know that our job is to prevent suicide, but sometimes I think that a person’s decision to end their life could be the most compassionate and loving thing for them.
Rebecca Ching: And lastly, who or what inspires you to be a better leader and a better human?
Tasha Hunter: Two answers. One, my little-girl self, she inspires me to do so much, and then also my daughter who is the mother of twin girls. Looking at those girls, being with them, they inspire me to keep being the most authentic version of me.
Rebecca Ching: Thank you for today, Tasha. For folks listening, where can they find you if they want to connect with you and your show and your writings?
Tasha Hunter: So, for folks that want to connect, I am on Instagram @tashahunterlcsw. My website is the same: www.tashahunterlcsw.com. I have a podcast called When We Speak. It’s available on all platforms. I’m the author of the memoir What Children Remember. It can be purchased by contacting me individually or on Amazon, and I’m also a contributing author in the book She Lives Her Truth, and that’s available on Amazon or you can contact me directly for a copy of it.
Rebecca Ching: Tasha, thank you so much for your generosity today, for your time, for your trust. I am honored. I know many are gonna get a lot out of this conversation from learning and listening to you, so thank you so much.
Tasha Hunter: Thank you!
Rebecca Ching: Before you go, I want to make sure you remember a few key points from today’s Unburdened Leader conversation with Tasha Hunter. There is so much packed in here, but Tasha reminded us early in the conversation on the potential to be unsafe and do harm is always a possibility when people are present. Harm cannot be avoided 100% when humans are human. [Laughs] Tasha also challenged us by stating we can't be a safe person if we don't cultivate relationships with those who don't look like us, noting that it’s hard to create safety for others if our own personal relationships don't reflect the people we’re trying to protect, sit with that for a moment, all right?
I’m curious for you, what support do you need to increase your capacity for discomfort when harm is done by you or someone around you? What qualities of an unsafe person resonated with you and how do you want to change how you show up in this way? How are you an unsafe person to yourself? Tasha laid out a beautiful blueprint when harm happens that leads to folks feeling unsafe, and she stated we need to move through our discomfort, sit with it, befriend the parts of us that want to lead with defensiveness and make excuses and ignore or bypass the discomfort of harm being done so we can work towards cultivating safety by doing what’s necessary in the moment and all the moments to support those harmed. This is the ongoing work on an unburdened leader.
Thank you so much for joining this episode of The Unburdened Leader. If this episode was impactful to you and you appreciated it, I would be honored if you would leave a rating and a review and share it with someone you think may benefit from it. This is such a big help in getting the word out to the show and helping more people experience these powerful Unburdened Leader conversations. You can also find this episode, show notes, and sign up for the free Unburdened Leader weekly email, and find ways to work with me at www.rebeccaching.com.