Unsafe People: Knowing the Difference From Safe People

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Have you ever started a relationship with someone only to discover along the way – weeks, months, even a year later – that he isn’t who he presented himself to be? The loving promises turned into defensiveness over not keeping promises. What you thought was an honest man is ultimately revealed as a deceiver? You thought he was a safe person…how could you not have seen how unsafe he was??

Perhaps we have all experienced a similar situation at least once in our lives, with a friend or in a romantic relationship. Unfortunately, many have multiple relationships like the one described. Each time they come away from it exhausted, hurt, and feeling betrayed.


The Necessity of Knowing the Difference

Unless we had a childhood that instilled distrust, or a traumatizing event, most of us generally trust people we first meet. We give them the benefit of the doubt. Regrettably, there are those who take advantage of trusting souls.

Therefore, it is necessary and healthy for us to be able to recognize the traits of unsafe people so that we can avoid unhealthy relationships. It’s important to have clear boundaries in place. Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend wrote a groundbreaking book in 2009, which is still handed out or referred to in counseling offices across America today. It’s called Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good For You and Avoid Those That Aren’t.  (https://amzn.to/3iu8cID)

Types of Unsafe People

In Safe People, the authors identify three types of commonly recognized “unsafe people.” Though these types of people are not necessarily abusers, recognizing them as unsafe is still a good first step toward a healthy relationship.

Abandoners. These are people who start a relationship but can’t stick with it. They often leave when you need them the most. The authors say this type of person has typically been abandoned themselves at some point in their life and are afraid of getting too close. Others are simply perfectionists. They leave people when the discover what they perceive as faults.

Critics. These individuals are judgmental without being caring. There is no room for grace or forgiveness. They often jump on doctrinal and ethical bandwagons,  more focused on pointing out others’ errors than they are with making real connections with people. They can make you feel guilt-ridden and full of anxiety.

Irresponsibles. These people are those who don’t take care of their own lives very well. They’re like grown up children. Irresponsibles don’t think about the consequences of their actions, or follow through on commitments. They’re people with whom you will grow to resent after giving them countless chances. You’ll find yourself often making excuses for them.

Learning the Traits of Unsafe People

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but enough to give you insight into a questionable relationship.  If you recognize several traits, consider leaving the relationship for your own emotional health. This person could be someone who needs to work on their own personal struggles, but staying with him will not guarantee him doing so.

However, if you are married, I recommend that you seek counseling. If he won’t go with you, go alone. Afterward, when you feel stronger, ask, again, if your spouse wants a healthier marriage.

Unsafe People:

  1. think they “have it all together,” instead of admitting their weaknesses
    2. are religious, instead of spiritual
    3. are defensive, instead of open to feedback
    4. are self-righteous, instead of humble
    5. apologize, without changing their behavior
    6. avoid working on their problems, rather than dealing with them
    7. demand trust, instead of earning it
    8. believe they are perfect, do not like to admit weaknesses
    9. blame others, instead of taking responsibility
    10. lie instead of telling the truth, (use deception as a way of dealing with problems)
    11. are stagnant, instead of growing

Safe People Traits

Safe means that we feel protected from danger, that we feel cared for and not likely to be harmed. People who are “safe” aren’t out to hurt us physically or emotionally, and these types of people are the ones you want in your life, especially if you have experienced their counterparts—unsafe people.

Dr. John Townsend once wrote, “A safe person is someone who influences you to be the person you were designed to be. It’s just that simple. It’s a person in your life who influences you. They encourage you.”

My husband is one of my safe people. He’s the first person I want to call when I have good news to share…or bad news, for that matter. He has proven over the years that he is a safe person to whom I can entrust my heart. I believe he feels the same about me.

Safe people tell us the truth, even if it’s a difficult truth. They give honest feedback without judging us. Despite our flaws and fears, they accept us and we accept them. In fact, we have a mutual respect for one another.

Characteristics of safe people include:

  • Honesty
  • Gentleness
  • Directness
  • Humility
  • Self-awareness
  • The ability to listen to and receive truth
  • Acts on needs, not just hears
  • Grows and works towards personal improvement

At times, each of us fails in our relationships. However, if there are consistent failures, this is a good time to assess for ourselves – Am I a safe person?

If not, what can I do to become one?

A Parable of The Safest Person

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:11-24, ESV

Final Thoughts

The son left as arrogant, unteachable, demanding. In that culture, by demanding his inheritance early, he was, in essence, telling his father that he wished his father was dead. The son was the quintessential unsafe and unredeemed person.

After the prodigal’s humbling experience, rather than receiving rebuke and humiliation, he received open arms and celebration. To his shock, he was lavished with love and gifts. He was home, safe, in his father’s arms.

That’s the safest place on earth to be. Have you experienced this kind of safety?

You can.


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