Handling difficult situations is often distressing. It can be just plain hard on us. Many times we have fears or doubts relating to how we will be perceived, what the best way to handle an issue is, how to be assertive or take a stand but not offend those we have relationships with. Or we may wonder how to confront without attacking.
But sometimes in these situations it is the people we are dealing with who are the real cause of our distress. Some people are just unsafe.
The friend who leaves us when the going gets tough.
The family member who speaks “the truth,” but there is no love that goes with it.
The boss or co-worker who seemingly acts to assist us, but comes out as critical and judgmental instead. Maybe it’s the person who cannot be responsible with sensitive or private information.
Authors John Cloud and John Townsend in their book Safe People: How to Find Good Relationships and Avoid Those that Aren’t let us know that
Safe people are:
- Confrontable– People who can be confronted can actually help us learn about ourselves and even change our own painful patterns. They make us better,
- Empathetic – Empathy is letting go of your opinion and what YOU need in the relationship so that you can enter the world of the other person. Empathetic people also act on their empathy. There is a give and take of caring. Consequently, both people bring their lives, loves, joys and sorrows to the connection
- Can Maintain Separateness-These are people who understand and maintain boundaries! They maintain emotional “property lines” between you and others. Thus, separate people take responsibility for what is theirs-and don’t take ownership for what is not theirs.
- Not Enmeshed– Enmeshment is the opposite of separateness. Enmeshing relationships are ones where one person is swallowed up in the needs of the other. One feels threatened by the individuality of the other and actively seeks to control them by intimidating or manipulating them. In enmeshment, “together” is bliss (for one), and “apart” is hell (for one). This type of person emphasizes similarities and discourages differences in people. Safe people encourage, value and nurture separateness of other people.
So what do unsafe people look like?
- Have a hard time telling the truth
- Are easily defensive and not open to hearing differing thoughts, ideas, opinions
- Don’t admit their weakness
- Believe they are right, and others wrong
- Avoid dealing with conflict
- Tend to be blamers, not taking personal responsibility
- Don’t reconcile unless the other person apologizes
- Cut people out of their life
- Apologize, but don’t change unhealthy behaviors
- Have a lot of “demands” rather than requests
- Have set, or stuck mindsets, are not flexible and adaptable
- Avoid connection and closeness
- Are more negative than positive
- Have a hard time with forgiveness
- Carry bitterness and resentments
You get the idea. The quality of our important friendships can tell us a great deal about how much safety we are receiving.
Questions to ask myself to assess the health of my current relationships-
- Accept me like I am?
- Celebrate my accomplishments and achievements with me?
- Support me in my disappointments and grief?
- Have my back? Are they “there” for me?
- Hold me accountable out of love and friendship?
- Live out what they believe and help me do the same?
- Have the right relationships in their life?
- Love me unconditionally?
- Motivate me to love more?
- Let me be me?
- Help me to grow as a person, parent, worker?
- Touch my life and leave me better for it?
- Encourage me?
Take a minute to think about some of your relationships that seem to be harder rather than easier; ones that have an inordinate amount of distress, conflict or chaos. Are you having to work too hard to have more positive than negative interactions? Evaluate these relationships. If they are a spouse, family member or close friendships, seek help together to make the relationship safe!