Safe People Vital Part of Relationships

W. D. "Dub" Rogers, Ph.D

Have you ever noticed that there are some people that you just feel comfortable being around? Then, there are other people that you tend to be more guarded around; they are not as approachable and you feel that you must be careful in what you do or say. These people may be critical, angry or just emotionally distant. Sometimes it feels that relationships begin with the promise of comfort, but then somehow change to that all too familiar, hurtful relationship.

Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend address this very common dynamic in their book, Safe People. They identify the personal and interpersonal traits of unsafe people. All of us possess some of those traits as people with a fallen nature living in a fallen world.

Cloud and Townsend also examine why some people tend to be more drawn to unsafe people. Often people may recognize the problem and try a number of solutions that prove to be unsuccessful.

The final section of the book focuses on safe people, what makes them safe, where they can be found and most importantly, how I can learn to be a safe person.

When we think of unsafe people, the first thought may be of physical violence. The brute that wears the wife beater shirt, doesn't shave, drinks too much and smokes around the kids. Certainly that person would be unsafe. However, if that is the only picture that comes to mind, it is much like equating an alcoholic to the bum passed out in the doorway smelling of cheap wine.

Although there are many different types of unsafe people, the three broad categories are: Abandoners, Critics and Irresponsibles.

Abandoners typically start relationships but can't finish them. Usually they have been abandoned themselves and have difficulty building or maintaining intimacy. They look for the perfect relationship, i.e. one that will meet all their needs. When the other person is not perfect or the "'warts'" begin to show, they leave.

Critics are the one-up people. Rather than "speaking the truth in love," they tend to feel that it is their responsibility to confront error. When you are around them, you may often feel like a child being scolded. The bony finger of the judgmental parent is pointed right at you. Love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness are not exalted but are discounted and may be viewed as weakness.

Irresponsibles are often just big children. They have trouble postponing gratification, considering the consequences of their decisions or actions and fail to follow through on many of their commitments. They may be caring, warm, fun loving people, but if you are connected to them, you end up cleaning up their messes, bailing them out of jams and apologizing to others or making excuses for them. Resentment or nagging are not uncommon responses to these people. Over time, you may even feel guilty because they can appear so empathetic and understanding.

Some of the personal traits of unsafe people consist of:

  • Have it all together vs. admitting weakness
  • Religious vs. Spiritual
  • Defensive vs. Open
  • Self-righteous vs. Humble
  • Only apologize vs. Changing behavior
  • Demand trust vs. Earning trust
  • Blame others vs. Taking responsibility
  • Lie vs. Telling truth
  • Stagnant vs. Growing

Interpersonal traits consist of:

  • Avoiding closeness vs. Connecting
  • Concerned about "I" vs. "We"
  • Resist freedom vs. Encouraging it
  • Flatter us vs. Confronting us
  • Condemn us vs. Forgive us
  • Relate as "parent/child" vs. Relating as equals
  • Negative influence on us vs. Positive influence on us
  • Gossip vs. Honoring confidences

Safe people create an atmosphere that draws us closer to God, closer to others and where we are encouraged to become the real person God created us to be. When people were asked to describe a "safe" person, they would say things like:

  • A person who accepts me just as I am.
  • A person who loves me no matter what.
  • Someone who gives me an opportunity to grow.
  • Someone I can be myself around.
  • Someone who helps me be more like Christ.

Christ is the ultimate picture of a safe person. Scripture says, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." This verse could be applied as one who "connects" with us, accepts and loves us without condemnation (Romans 8:1) and is real or honest with us.

We may not have grown up in a home where people were safe or we may not presently live in a home where people are safe. Certainly, there are unsafe people in the workplace, in church or other groups where safe relationships are expected and desired. However, there are safe people out there and we can increasingly become a safe person.

We can learn to ask for the help we need. To ask is very Biblical, just not very "American." Matthew 21:22, James 4:2 and I John 3:22, all admonish us to ask. We must learn to allow ourselves to need. There are so many "one another" passages in scripture. The body of Christ, the church is compared to our physical body and all the parts are needed. We do need one another. My pastor has said, "In this church, people are either getting on the stretcher or getting off the stretcher. If you are getting off, help the one getting on."

Be aware of your "resistances." What keeps you stuck in patterns of behavior or thinking rather than growing? Address these areas and work through them. Invite the truth about yourself. Ask yourself, "What do I do that pushes others away from me?" "What do I do that draws others toward me?" Enter into forgiveness. Learn to receive forgiveness as well as to extend forgiveness to others. Finally, learn to give to others to help meet their needs, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.