Last week I shared some of the personal traits of unsafe people as outlined in Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s 1995 bestseller, Safe People. As they highlighted in their book, there are personal traits that most unsafe people share. While I’ve gotten better at recognizing those personal traits through the years, I wasn’t so great at figuring out the place where those traits were unhealthy and where they were just… not great. One of my favorite parts of Safe People is that the authors contrast each and every personal trait with the healthy version of that behavior. I find that really helpful.
A later section of the book talks about interpersonal traits of unsafe people. When distinguishing the interpersonal from personal traits, the authors note that personal traits describe who we are, and interpersonal traits describe how we connect with others. So the interpersonal traits are more how people operate within the context of relationships, how they move close and pull away rom others, or how they build or destroy others.
- Avoid closeness instead of connecting.Unsafe people avoid intimacy with others at all costs. Unsafe people make you feel isolated and alone, even when you’re with them. Unsafe people are often those that you have long term relationships with but with whom you still feel far away.
- Safe people are able to be in close relationships with others. Safe people seek intimacy and connections with others in heart, soul and mind. Safe people are open, vulnerable and honest. Safe people are nourishing to the soul.
- Are only concerned with I instead of we.Unsafe people are self-centered. They exploit a relationship for their own ends only.
- Safe people are empathetic and act on their empathy. Safe people show genuine concern for your welfare and make that concern known in concrete actions.
- Resist freedom instead of encouraging it.Unsafe people withdraw emotionally to being told “no,” make others feel guilty when they say no, and are often swallowed up in the needs of others. Unsafe people actively seek to control others through emotional intimidation or manipulation.
- Safe people encourage, value and nurture the separateness of other people. Safe people respect “no” when you say it, and encourage each of you to have a life separate from the other.
- Flatter us instead of confronting us.Unsafe people avoid the truth by excessively praising us. They lull us to sleep by idealizing our specialness.
- Safe people are about trust, support and sharing. They are about truth, righteousness, and honesty. Safe people use loving confrontations to protect us from our blindness and self-destructiveness.
- Condemn us instead of forgiving us.Unsafe people are unable to forgive. Instead, they condemn. Unsafe people won’t let go of the past, use your weaknesses to avoid looking at theirs, and desire justice more than intimacy.
- Safe people are centered and grounded in forgiveness. Safe people love us beyond our wrongs.
- Stay in parent/child roles instead of relating to us as equals.Unsafe people resist adult functioning. They react to your adultness by withdrawing from it. Unsafe people control and criticize. They give advice without asking if you want it, are disapproving, and don’t trust others judgment.
- Safe people take ownership of their life, talents, and values. They are not threatened by your differences. Safe people respect your right to make decisions and adult choices, even if they don’t agree. Safe people love to see others grow up and mature.
- Unstable over time instead of being consistent.Unsafe people write emotional checks they can’t cash. They are not dependable. They commit and commit but don’t come through.
- Safe people are reliable in their emotional commitments. Safe people are anchored in your life over time. They guard your trust as if it were money in a bank. Safe people have a profound understanding of how much time it takes to be there for someone so they think, deliberate and pray long and hard before investing in someone. Safe people have fewer emotional commitments than unsafe people, because they invest deeply in the ones they have.
- Are a negative influence on us, rather than a positive one.Unsafe people may make you feel good – yet wound you emotionally. They may make you act better, but hurt your character. You may think they’re treating you well, but they hinder your growth. Unsafe people are detached, compliant, idealistic, and childish.
- Safe people are not perfect, but they help us progress toward character. Safe people are loving, honest, forgiving and mutual.
- Gossip instead of keeping secrets.Unsafe people are unable to confront people directly so they do it behind others backs; they feel insignificant so gossip makes them feel important and on the inside track.
- Safe people will hold confidences and not use your secrets for their own needs.
In summation, safe people draw us closer to being the people God intended us to be. They aren’t perfect, but as the authors indicate, “the net effect of their presence in our lives in positive.” Safe people are accepting, honest, and present.
It has been so hard for me to discern who safe people are in my life. It’s so much easier to adapt to a way of just not trusting anyone and withdrawing from meaningful relationship. But as someone who craves intimate connection- intellectually and emotionally, particularly- I never wallow in that place of distrust long. I usually overcompensate by seeking out relationships and then over-trusting.
The book advises to look out further for three types of people in your life:
- Abandoners– those that can start a relationship, but can’t finish it. They usually bail when you need them the most. They prefer shallow acquaintances and destroy trust.
- Critics– those that take a parental role with everyone they know. They are judgmental, speak truth without love, and have no room for grace or forgiveness.
- Irresponsibles– those that don’t take care of themselves or others. They don’t consider the consequences of their actions, don’t follow through on commitments, and are like grown up children.
If you are at all interested, Safe People is a really quick read. The chapters are short and the lessons organized easily in a way that makes it easy to comprehend. As I indicated, I feel like I need to hit some takeaways and put them on an index card to carry with me in my wallet.