Unsafe People

Unsafe People

As I have continued in my journey of recovery from codependency and narcissistic abuse, I have come to two separate concerns when it comes to my relations with others going forward:

  1. Would I be able to identify behaviors that I engaged in that were codependent?
  2. How would I know when I encountered people that weren’t safe / good for me?

My concern isn’t just in contemplation of any possible romantic relationship, but really across the board with people that I interact with. My eyes are open now in a way that they haven’t been before, and that makes me a little timid in my approach because I certainly don’t want to continue doing the same thing every day and expect a different result.

Anyone else with me here? I’m a bit worried that I can’t trust myself in this regard; that I will make bad relationship choices. And I’m not trying to be melodramatic; it seems like a legitimate thought to want to avoid interpersonal relations mistakes again.

I believe that most of the work I’m doing on myself, whether it be through therapy, coaching, reading, praying, or the various accountability partners I’ve put in place will be a good checkpoint for behaviors and patterns of relating that may be codependent. I will continue those things to help alleviate that first concern.

But the second one, gosh- I’ve been really struggling with the fact that unsafe people don’t just come with a flashing neon sign advising you that they are trouble. I’ve read some really great books over the last few years, but I’m not sure anything has been better than the one that arrived at my house on Tuesday and is already 2/3 of the way complete.

Safe People: How To Find Relationships That Are Good For You

Safe People: How to Find Realtionships that are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t, a 1995 self-help guide by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, is one of the most simple and easy-to-follow guides for identifying people that are safe or unsafe. When I look at identification of unsafe people, my chief complaint is always- okay, but what would be the healthy version of that behavior? Is it a sliding scale or is it a hard and fast “safe people don’t do this” kind of thing? Cloud and Townsend break this down by describing a totality of the circumstances analysis to various traits. Today I’ll discuss some of the personal traits that they discuss as being present in unsafe people.


  1. Think they have it all together instead of admitting weaknessUnsafe people have an implied superiority
    • Safe people grow by confessing their faults and weaknesses to each other
  2. Are religious instead of spiritualUnsafe people know a lot of religious language and activities, but lose touch with vulnerability, pain, need for others, and sinfulness
    • Safe people really know God and are relationship who are able to understand and love others and themselves
  3. Are defensive instead of open to feedbackUnsafe people attack the messenger when they don’t like the message
    • Safe people are confrontable; they can hear their sin, respond to our hurt, and own when they are wrong
  4.  Are self-righteous instead of humbleUnsafe people do not identify as fellow sinners and strugglers
    • Safe people seek grace humbly
  5. Apologize instead of changing their behaviorUnsafe people often apologize quickly, but are just sorry they got caught
    • Safe people are motivated by a hunger and thirst for righteousness and a love for the injured
  6. Demand trust instead of earning itUnsafe people take offense to questioning
    • Safe people welcome questioning from loved ones on trustability.
  7. Avoid working on their problems instead of dealing with themUnsafe people act out of their unconscious hurts and then hurt others
    • Safe people work through their problems and develop character
  8. Believe they are perfect instead of admitting their faultsUnsafe people fight, blame and point fingers to try to prove they are perfect
    • Safe people own and share their faults
  9. Blame others instead of take responsibilityUnsafe people choose to blame other people or anything else they can find
    • Safe people take responsibility for their lives
  10. Lie instead of tell the truth Unsafe people see deception as a strategy to cling to and manage life and relationships; they defend instead of give up their lies
    • Safe people own their lies and see them as a problem to change as they become aware of their deception
  11. Remain stagnant instead of growUnsafe people are rigidly fixed and not subject to growth
    • Safe people want to mature and grow over time

Recovering Superwoman: Shame Dies When Truth Is Told in Safe Places

I don’t know how helpful this list of safe vs unsafe was for anyone else, but I feel like I need to print it out on a note card, laminate it, and use it as a checklist as I interact with anyone in my life going forward. I won’t lie, I actually did something like that with some of the major relationships in my life after reading through this section; it’s a healthy examination.

The authors, as I noted, suggest a totality of the circumstances analysis and a sliding scale evaluation. For me, I put each of these things in a 1-10 scale with the unsafe trait at 1 and the safe trait at 10 as I evaluated. I also did this same exercise for myself, which was particularly insightful. I’d be curious to know how some of my loved ones think I fall for each of the categories.

I’m working on a second part of this post, which will cover the interpersonal traits in safe/unsafe people- the traits that are inherently relationship and not just personal characteristics. Look forward to sharing on Friday. Be well!

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By recoveringsuperwoman

Krista is a a corporate attorney and single mom of 3 young kids- Nico, Gabriella and Milana- residing in Orlando, FL.


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