A couple weeks ago, the women in my family started going through Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. So far, I have been both encouraged and challenged. Encouraged — since I am learning that discerning safe from unsafe people is possible. Challenged — because I want to be growing into a safer person myself.
The goal of the Safe People is to help people pick better relationships:
It deals with the problem of character discernment, a skill that many of us lack. And yet the ability to determine good character in people is one of God’s most vital ingredients for our personal and spiritual growth. (11)
Who are safe people? The authors describe them this way:
Safe people are individuals who draw us closer to being the people God intended us to be. Though not perfect, they are “good enough” in their own character that the net effect of their presence in our lives is positive. They are accepting, honest, and present, and they help bear good fruit in our lives. (11)
In the second and third chapters, Cloud and Townsend describe the personality and interpersonal traits of unsafe people. This reference is meant to guide us in our relationships, as well as remind us of who we, as Christians, are called to be. The authors remind their readers that no one is perfect. We are all unsafe at times. But as a rule, these are behaviors to avoid — in ourselves and in our friends.
Personal Traits of Unsafe People
1. Unsafe people think they “have it all together” instead of admitting their weaknesses.
2. Unsafe people are religious instead of spiritual.
3. Unsafe people are defensive instead of open to feedback.
4. Unsafe people are self-righteous instead of humble.
5. Unsafe people only apologize instead of changing their behavior.
6. Unsafe people avoid working on their problems instead of dealing with them.
7. Unsafe people demand trust, instead of earning it.
8. Unsafe people believe they are perfect instead of admitting their faults.
9. Unsafe people blame others instead of taking responsibility.
10. Unsafe people lie instead of telling the truth.
11. Unsafe people are stagnant instead of growing.
Interpersonal Traits of Unsafe People
1. Unsafe people avoid closeness instead of connecting.
2. Unsafe people are only concerned about “I” instead of “we.”
3. Unsafe people resist freedom instead of encouraging it.
4. Unsafe people flatter us instead of confronting us.
5. Unsafe people condemn us instead of forgiving us.
6. Unsafe people stay in parent/child roles instead of relating as equals.
7. Unsafe people are unstable over time instead of being consistent.
8. Unsafe people are a negative influence on us, rather than a positive one.
9. Unsafe people gossip instead of keeping secrets.
As these chapters draw to a close, the authors remind people to keep reading the book. Why?
The reason is simple. Odds are, even with this road map of character to evaluate your relationships, you will still choose unsafe people. You will still find the same painful lapses in judgement. You will still suffer in the same ways.
That’s because the problem is often inside us. We have needs, conflicts, and misperceptions that drive us toward unsafe people ‘as a dog returns to its vomit’ (Prov. 26:11).
To best deal with unsafe people, we first need to understand what causes us to be unsafe. For the problem is not just outside us, it is inside every one of us. As we’ll see, […] unsafety finds it’s origin in sin. And sin — as we know — is everyone’s problem (Rom. 3:23).
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been hurt by unsafe people. They are all around us, and sometimes inside of us. But that doesn’t mean we have to give up. Healthy relationships are possible. We just have to know what we are looking for.
You can preview Safe People here.