Relationships are one of life’s greatest challenges. We all struggle with them. Even healthy relationships can be difficult at times.
This is especially true for people who are in recovery from abuse, addiction, depression, or trauma as they begin again to reach out for companionship. Yet healthy or safe relationships are an essential element in reconnecting and participating in life. They can provide the healing and growth necessary for a purposeful and meaningful life.
Regardless of where we are in our own relationship readiness and health, we need to remain alert and cautious about the people we are letting into our lives, especially if we are just getting back on our feet.
In their book, Safe People, authors Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend have come up with 10 ways for you to determine if the people in your life are safe or unsafe for you.
- Unsafe people think they “have it all together” instead of admitting their weaknesses.
For a period of time, you may admire the person who seems to have it all together. But as the relationship continues, you may come to feel weaker or inferior to this person. You may even become dependent on this person. As you begin to see this person’s “togetherness” as a facade, you may become angry or even hostile towards this person or grow tired of being the open and vulnerable one in the relationship. Unless this person can get real, it may be best to pull away.
- Unsafe people are religious instead of spiritual.
These are the people who use religion as a means of feeling superior to others. They seem to have all the answers. These people may also be critical of you for the mistakes and errors of judgment that are a part of being human. Spiritual people, on the other hand, are authentic and genuine about their own shortcomings and problems.
- Unsafe people are defensive instead of open to feedback
“All close relationships hurt, because no perfect people live on the earth,” say Cloud and Townsend. But the safe people are the ones who have a genuine desire to improve themselves. They are open to feedback and “own” their own bad behavior. Unsafe people deny, minimize, or blame others when their own issues arise.
- Unsafe people are self-righteous instead of humble
Unsafe people will never identify with others as fellow human beings because they see themselves as above others. Generally, they judge and condemn those they deem less worthy. Safe people are humbly aware of their own issues and are forgiving of other people’s.
- Unsafe people only apologize instead of changing their behavior
You know these people well. Often, they apologize for a behavior but that behavior continues to surface time and again. They may be quick to apologize for a mistake but over time you become aware that they do so only to get back into your good graces rather than committing themselves to the change that would make the problem go away all together. Apologies are often stated as “I’m sorry but…” rather than “I’m sorry and…”
- Unsafe people avoid their problems instead of facing them
Problems and the pain they cause us are sure signs that there is something within us that needs to change. When we face our issues rather than avoid them, we can make those changes that make us more emotionally mature and skillful. Unsafe people look away from their pain and problems. As a result, they are frequently emotionally immature. And because they lack awareness of their issues, they “act out of their unconscious hurts and hurt others,” according to Cloud and Townsend.
- Unsafe people demand trust instead of earning it
Anger is often the response of unsafe people when their trustworthiness is called into question. Regardless how that anger is expressed, the unsafe person is essentially saying, “How dare you question my integrity!” Safe people recognize that “none of us is above questioning, and to take offense at it is prideful,” say Cloud and Townsend. Unsafe people are generally insecure and so when a behavior or action is questioned, they become defensive or confrontational.
- Unsafe people believe they are perfect instead of admitting their faults
According to Cloud and Townsend, “Unsafe people are on a mission to prove that they are perfect. Using their work, family, abilities, or religion, they try to project an image of perfection, and their image becomes more important than the relationships they are in.” Love, trust, and respect are the benefits you experience when you can admit and own your faults. Unsafe people can be hurtful because they will “fight, blame, and point fingers” to maintain their delusion of perfection.
- Unsafe people blame others instead of taking responsibility
As long as they blame other people for their problems, unsafe people do not have to do anything to change themselves. Instead, they expect all those around them to change. Denial is favorite defense mechanism for unsafe people. They have convinced themselves that things are not their fault. When pressed to take responsibility, they often lash out.
- Unsafe people lie instead of telling the truth
Does anything more need to be said here?
What I believe are valuable about these 10 traits of unsafe people is becoming aware of them not only in other people but also in our selves. Certainly, we can never become too safe. When working with my life coaching clients, I value the opportunity to help them become safer people as I also increase my own awareness of what I need to work on to become safer myself.
I suspect that we can identify some unsafe behaviors that Cloud and Townsend may not have been aware of when they published this book. Let’s increase each other’s awareness by sharing these examples of unsafe behaviors. Please add those to the comment section below so we can all benefit from your observations.
If you’d like to be free of your addiction, please contact me at ValuesBasedRecovery@gmail.com. I work with people who suffer from alcohol and drug addiction as well as behavioral addictions such as food, porn, and gambling. I work with clients in person or on the Zoom live video platform.
RJ Handley, Addiction Recovery Coach