Last week I kicked off this series on safety by talking about how we lose our safety (check it out if you missed it!). Today I’m going to start talking about characteristics of unsafe people. These come from the book Safe People by Cloud and Townsend.
As I mentioned in my last post, part of keeping ourselves safe is learning to recognize what an unsafe person looks like. We learn to identify the warning flags, and we learn the best ways to keep those people at a distance, whether that is physically distant or emotionally distant. Here are a few of those warning flags, from the book Safe People:
Unsafe people think they “have it all together” instead of admitting their weakness. When we are in relationship with someone who “has it all together” we can feel one of the following ways: feeling disconnected, feeling “one down” from the other person (the other person is “superior” to us), feeling weaker than one actually is, or feeling dependent on the strong one. People who “have it all together” will likely not be able to accept anything less than “having it all together” from you.
Unsafe people are defensive instead of open to feedback. “All close relationships hurt, because no perfect people live on the earth. But the safe people are the wise ones that can hear their sin and respond to our hurt. In short, they can “own” where they are wrong…Someone who does not own his need to change does not change, and the hurt is likely to continue” (p. 31). It’s frustrating to be sharing with someone how their behavior impacts you, and they get angry, defensive, or even turn the issue back on you! If someone can’t be open to feedback, then we become very shut down in that relationship, and we lose our voice- scary!
Unsafe people are self-righteous instead of humble. This is known as the “I’m better then you” syndrome. When this is played out in relationship, it can create guilt and shame for the other involved. “The ‘not me’ experience- people have a character structure that does not allow them to see certain realities as part of themselves. They project things onto others and cannot own their own flaws” (p. 32). Talk about stressful! This characteristic playing out in relationship can add a lot of frustration and toxicity. This characteristic should also encourage our own self-reflection to determine our own safety!
Unsafe people only apologize instead of changing their behavior. Does the individual just say that they are sorry, or does their behavior reflect an actual change? Safe people change their behavior, while unsafe people will just “talk” their apology. “Repentant people will recognize a wrong and really want to change because they do not want to be that kind of person. They are motivated by love to not hurt anyone like that again. These are trustworthy people because they are on the road to holiness and change, and their behavior matters to them” (p. 33). Unsafe people are more often sorry that they are caught and not sorry for their actual behavior. This is a characteristic that is really critical in healthy relationships! If we don’t change, we stay stuck in our unhealthy patterns instead. Although hard, it’s much better to say we’re sorry and really seek to learn, grow, and change through this.
This is just the start, so I’ll keep sharing on my mental health monday posts! As much as we need to be learning what unsafe people look like to keep ourselves safe, we also need to be looking for these characteristics in ourselves. When we see bits of a lack of safety, it’s best to work it out so that we become safe for others as well.
Now it’s your turn to share! Have you ever been in a relationship with people who have any of these characteristics? What’s frustrating about those types of people? Are you open to feedback, or does it feel threatening when other people point out areas of weaknesses?