Interpersonal Traits of Unsafe People – Part Four

We have looked at…

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

This relational trait is a little more difficult to spot than the previous one. That’s because an unsafe person can make you feel very, very good. And a safe person can make you feel very, very bad. It can get confusing. How can you tell the difference?

Safe relationships are not just about trust, support, and sharing. They are also about truth, righteousness, and honesty. God uses people not only to nurture us, but also to open our eyes to sins, selfishness, and denial in us. Love means saying, “I hold this against you,” as Jesus did when He confronted the churches (Revelation 2:4, 14, 20).

Being confronted on character issues isn’t pleasant. It hurts our self-image. It humbles us. But it doesn’t harm us. Loving confrontations protect us from our blindness and self-destructiveness. Just as a mother rushes into a busy street and grabs her child out of traffic, the loving confrontation stops us from walking into disaster.

There is a major difference between confronters and strokers. Confronters (safe ones, not critical-parent types) risk our leaving them to tell us a needed truth. They jeopardize comfort to give us honest love. Strokers, in contrast, lull us to sleep by idealizing our specialness. As long as you feel good, they are happy. This is more addictive than loving. And it certainly isn’t safe.

This isn’t a diatribe against praise. We all need it: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2). But praise affirms the truth. Strokers, however, avoid the truth by exclusively praising.

Beware of people who only tell you your good points, justifying it by a desire to be “positive.” They aren’t loving you enough to tell you when your attitude or behaviour is driving your life over a cliff, even though you desperately need to know it. 

5> Unsafe people condemn us instead of forgiving us

When people care about each other, forgiveness restores and reconciles. Forgiveness is the glue of love, making it possible for love to do what it does best: to “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7 NASB). These tasks are absolutely impossible without forgiveness. We are just too hard to live with otherwise.

The Bible talks about forgiveness as a legal term. It means to “cancel a debt.” This is the central idea behind Jesus’ death for us: He paid the penalty for our sins so that we would not have to.

Safe relationships are centered and grounded in forgiveness. When you have a friend with the ability to forgive you for hurting her or letting her down, something deeply spiritual occurs in the transaction between you two. You actually experience a glimpse of the deepest nature of God Himself.

People who forgive can – and should – also be people who confront. What is not confessed can’t be forgiven. God Himself confronts our sins and shows us how we wound Him: “I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes, which played the harlot after their idols” (Ezekiel 6:9 NASB). When we are made aware of how we hurt a loved one, then we can be reconciled.

Therefore you should not discount someone who “has something against you,” labeling him as unsafe. He might actually be attempting to come closer in love, in all the way that the Bible tells us we are to do.

When we are forgiven by a safe person, several things happen:

    • He knows our failings
    • He neither minimizes nor excuses our sin
    • His love for us is greater than our transgressions
    • He marks “paid in full” and lets it go
    • He stays close to us and doesn’t abandon us

That’s why the forgiving person is safe. He sees our wrongs, yet loves us beyond it. And that love helps heal and transform us into the person God intended. Receiving forgiveness when we know we’ve truly blown it is a humbling and growth-producing experience. It’s the only thing better than forgiving someone else.

On the other hand, an unsafe person who is unable to forgive can be very destructive. Instead of forgiving, she condemns:

    • She centers on my failings
    • She won’t let go of the past, even when I’ve confessed, repented, and made restitution
    • She uses my weaknesses to avoid looking at hers
    • She sees me as morally inferior to her
    • She desires justice more than intimacy

Unsafe people are often good at identifying your weaknesses. They can quote the minute and hour you hurt them, and recall the scene in intimate detail and living colour. Like a good attorney, they have their entire case mapped out. And you are judged “guilty.”

Yes, we need to be confronted with our weaknesses. Unsafe people, however, confront us not to forgive us, but to condemn and punish us. They remove their love until we are appropriately chastened. This, obviously, destroys any chance for connection or safety. 

Interpersonal Traits of Unsafe People – Part Three

We have looked at two interpersonal traits of unsafe people…People who are not the best to be building a relationship with and who will not permit the relationship or friendship to be beneficial to both you and them. 

Jesus was a “safe person” and like all safe people He did three things:

1> He drew people closer to God

2> He drew people closer to one another

3> He encouraged people to become all that God created them to be

Unsafe people, however, have a number of interpersonal traits that warn us that this will not be a beneficial relationship:

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

This interpersonal trait is easy to note in a person. Simply ask yourself, “What does this person do with my ‘No’?”

Love protects the separateness of other people, the right to say ‘no’ and remain separate from the other person. To be an individual that has an identity separate from the other person. When we are in relationship, the “we” is still “you and me.” A safe connection involves two people trusting, opening up, and being honest with each other. Yet the second great theme of relationship, after connection, is separateness.

Separateness is the ability to maintain spiritual and emotional property lines, called boundaries, between you and others. Separate people take responsibility for what is theirs – and they don’t take ownership for what isn’t there.

When we are separate, we bring good things close to our soul, and keep bad things away from us. God created us to stand against what is not from Him: “No one who practices deceit will dwell in My house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in My presence” (Psalm 101:7).

Love withers and dies without separateness. It’s simply impossible to connect if you are not free to disagree. That kind of love is compliance and people-pleasing. It is not real love. “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?” asks Paul. “Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

The opposite of separateness is enmeshment. Enmeshing relationships are those in which one person is swallowed up in the needs of another. In enmeshment, one person feels threatened by the individuality of the other, and actively seeks to control the other by intimidating or manipulating him. In an enmeshing relationship, “together” is bliss (for one), and “apart” is hell (for one). Enmeshment emphasizes similarities and discourages differences in people. 

Safe people encourage, value, and nurture the separateness of other people. They understand that they need their own free choices – and that they need to protect the freedom of other people, too. You will always find that the best connections embrace the individual concern of the other person.

Here are some things to look for in determining safety in this area:

  • Do they respect my “no” when I state it?
  • Do they withdraw emotionally when I say no”
  • Do they get hurt and “make” me feel guilty when I say no?
  • Do they have a life (interests, hobbies, friends) separate from me?
  • Do they encourage me to have a separate life too?

Now, you may have never said no in your relationships! This problem may be more your issue than your friend’s. So test the waters. Disagree. Be honest. Tell the truth. Choose a value, event, or emotion distinct from his. And see what happens. You will learn a lot about the level of safety in your relationship and wether this person is “safe”. 

Interpersonal Traits of Unsafe People – Part Two

We are looking at the interpersonal traits of unsafe people. The last time we saw that:

1> Unsafe people avoid closeness instead of connecting

And we began looking at:

2> Unsafe people are only concerned about “I” instead of “we”

Here we say that empathy is an important factor in any safe relationship. We need to be able to engage in the other person’s life, feeling what they are feeling and understanding what they have gone through and where they are at currently in their journey. We saw that ‘safe people are empathic.’ Let’s continue that today by looking at the fact that ‘safe people act on their empathy.’

Empathy leads to action. When you see the pain of others, you want to help. God created you that way. We spend time listening to a friend’s struggle not because that will make them like us, but because they need to be understood. We help someone with a problem not so that we will feel better, but because they are in trouble and can use our help.  

If you want to know how safe someone is, ask yourself: “Is this person with me for him – or for us?” It is no sin to bring your needs to the connection. But it is a sin to exploit the relationship for your own ends only.

Look for these warning signs:

      • When he helps me, he uses it later to get something from me
      • I never hear from her unless she is in trouble
      • I feel like a mirror, as if my job is to listen and approve
      • I’m constantly on the giving end (financially, time, resources)
      • When my needs come up, he treats them superficially and then comes back to himself 

When there’s trouble, it will generally show in one person being the chronic “giver” and the other being the chronic “taker.”

Love seeks the good of the other: It is “not self-seeking” (1 Corinthians 13:5). When you evaluate your relationships, look for people who show genuine concern for your welfare, then make that concern known in concrete actions. 

So, as we draw the week to a close… We have looked at two interpersonal traits of unsafe people…

1> Unsafe people avoid closeness instead of connecting

2> Unsafe people are only concerned about “I” instead of “we”

Next time … Unsafe people resist freedom instead of encouraging it. They don’t respect established boundaries. 

Interpersonal Traits of Unsafe People – Part One

We want to continue speaking about relationships. We just finished a short series on the inner character traits of an unsafe person. Now let’s look at the the interpersonal traits of an unsafe person. In other words, the relational trends you will see when in relationship with an unsafe person. Personality traits (see the previous blogs) describe “who we are,” interpersonal traits describe “how we connect.” These interpersonal traits are about how people operate in relationships, how they move close or pull away, and how they build up or destroy.

1> Unsafe people avoid closeness instead of connecting

We were created for intimacy, to connect with someone with heart, soul, and mind. Intimacy occurs when we are open, vulnerable, and honest, for these qualities help us to be close to each other. We know each other at deep levels when we share our real feelings, fears, failures, and hurts. This kind of sharing helps us to feel that we are not alone in the world. We are meant to have intimacy with God and with people. If we do not, we experience isolation, even if we are in some kind of relationship.

Time with someone does not a connection make. Only true sharing and intimacy create a connection. You need to question long-term relationships in which you do not get to know the other person. If you spend significant amounts of time with an individual and still feel far away from him or her, something is wrong. You do not have a connection that is nourishing to the soul. Furthermore, this can be a signal that real danger is present. People who are not able to get close often act out that isolation in affairs, two-faced betrayals, broken confidences and trusts, addictions, and a whole host of other problem dynamics.

This isolation is like “a vacuum in the inner parts of the relationship.”

Many marriages have this dynamic at work. Like a silent killer, this lack of intimacy eats away at the foundation of the relationship. Because there are no apparent overt problems, nothing is said. Things are “fine.” But then one spouse discovers that the other one is having an affair, or has an addiction that surprises everyone. When this happens, the external structure of the relationship – the one everyone thought was good – breaks down.

Usually spouses know deep inside that things were not really all that good. They had a nagging feeling of disconnection, but they did not know exactly what to do about it. So they continued to go along the same direction in life, until  the catastrophe brought everything tumbling down. 

If you are uneasy about a relationship, ask yourself, “Does this relationship breed more togetherness or more isolation within me?” If you feel alone in the relationship, that’s not a good sign. But remember: the first person to look at is yourself. Your sense of detachment may be from some block inside of you. Sometimes our own fears and conflicts make it difficult for us to feel connected to someone. The problem can be ours. It can be theirs. And it can be both, 

2> Unsafe people are only concerned about “I” instead of “we”

If unsafe people are self-centered, safe people are relationship-centered. And that priority shows itself in the all-important action of empathy.

Safe people are empathic … a genuine connection is a mutual give-and-take of caring that flows between individuals. Both people bring their lives, loves, joys, and sorrows to the connection. Each brings his needs – yet has a deep interest in the life of the other person.

In safe relationships, empathy is a large part of the equation. We literally “enter the other person’s head” and attempt to understand how he feels, what he believes, and how he thinks. Empathy is walking in the moccasins of another person, and not judging them until we can see what suffering he has been through to get to the point he is at.

Empathy is not easy. It involves letting go of your opinion and what you are needing in the relationship so that you can enter the world of the other person, if only for a brief time. We can’t stay in the empathic position permanently, because we would lose ourselves. But empathy is what makes a relationship real – and safe.

Jesus taught about empathy, but in a surprising way: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) This is a startling teaching, because He didn’t condemn our needs as selfish. Instead, He used them as a starting point for learning how to love. In other words, He was saying, “You know how terrible you feel sometimes? That’s also how others feel. You know how being loved and understood by another person helps you deal with those feelings? That’s also what helps others. Give them what you’re also needing.”

If we are all taking our needs to safe people, and those safe people are taking their needs to us, love is created – and the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled.

Next time … “Safe people act on their empathy” (the conclusion to point two)

Unsafe People – Part Seven

As we bring this part of the series on unsafe people to a close, let me remind you of where we have been as we discussed the personal characteristics of an unsafe person – a person that is not someone you should chose to build a deep, personal relationship with.

1> Unsafe people think that ‘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 behaviour

6> Unsafe people stay in parent/child roles instead of relating as equals

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

In a relationship, honesty is the bedrock foundation of a safe relationship. To the degree that there is deception, there is danger. Often we have heard spouses and friends talk about someone that they “thought they knew,” only to find out that this person was living a whole other life they did not know about. 

There was a report recently about a man whose entire well-being in finances was now gone because he was deceived in a business relationship. He invested the majority of his money with a con artist.

And there are many whose emotional and spiritual security has been wiped out for the same reason. They invested all they had with someone who was deceiving them and found out that their relationship, or their family, or their faith was built on smoke and mirrors. They trusted someone’s love to be real, and found out that the person was deceiving them all along to get things from them.

We are all deceivers to some degree. The difference between safe and unsafe ‘liars’ is that safe people own their lies and see them as a problem to change as they become aware of their deception. Lying gives way to truth, confrontation, humility, and repentance. Unsafe people see deception as strategy to cling to and to manage life and relationships. They defend instead of giving up their lies. And there is no way a relationship can prosper and grow if one person is a liar.

11> Unsafe people are stagnant instead of growing

Each of us has both fixed aspects of our character and things that we can change. For example, a naturally aggressive person will not change to be naturally passive. But that person can learn to channel that aggression in acceptable ways. This kind of change is part of the sanctification process that we undergo as we place ourselves under the Lordship of Christ.

Safe people know that they are subject to change. They want to mature and grow over time. But unsafe people do not see their own problems; they are rigidly fixed and not subject to growth.

Proverbs 17:10 “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding

than a hundred blows into a fool.”

These people can be dangerous, and they will only change when there are enough limits placed on them that they are forced into great pain, humility, and loss. Without this confrontation, unsafe people will remain defiant and unchanged.

A concluding comment…

Remember, as we look at these 11 character traits of an unsafe person … realize that no one is perfect. Safe people will at times stumble and be ‘unsafe’ for after all, they are sinner too. So do not expect perfection. 

Instead, when you are measuring someone’s character, look at these traits in terms of degree. Everyone lies at some time or in some way, but not everyone is a pathological liar. Look for degrees of imperfection. If a person seems willing to change, forgive him graciously and work with him. But if he resists you, proceed with caution.

Next: Interpersonal traits of unsafe people …

Unsafe People – Part Six

8> Unsafe people believe they are perfect instead of admitting their faults

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 to them than the relationships they are in. If someone threatens their image, they will attack that person, for they must keep up their image at all costs.

Love, however, depends in part on our ability to own and share our faults. The one who is forgiven much, loves much (Luke 7:47). “Perfect” people cannot internalize grace, so they will not feel loved at a deep level. Therefore, as Jesus pointed out, they do not have a lot of love to give to others. All they have is their “perfection,” and that is pretty shallow and not very nourishing. In addition, relationships with perfect people are very hurtful, because they dodge any ‘badness’ that appears in the relationship. They will fight, blame and point fingers – anything that will put the badness onto the other person so that they can remain blameless.

9> Unsafe people blame others instead of taking responsibility

Safe people take responsibility for their lives. Unsafe people don’t. When we become aware of our problems and character issues, God holds us responsible for dealing with them and facing the tough changes that we need to make. Instead of doing this, however, unsafe people will often choose to blame other people, their past, God, sin, or anything else they can find. This tendency to blame others first appeared in Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:12-13), and we have continued it to this day. It is called externalizing our problems. In other words, we give the responsibility of whatever we are saddled with away to some outside agent. 

“I did it because I had to”

“I had no choice”

“I can’t change because my mother abandoned me when I was five”

“You are ruining my life”

God has it in for me”

And on and on…

If I walk out of my office today and get hit by a drunk driver, that will not be my fault. But it will be my responsibility to deal with the outcome. I am the one who has to go to the doctor and get surgery. I am the one who will have to grieve. And I will be the one who has to work through the anger and do the forgiving. Those things are all my responsibility, even though I did not choose to get hit by a drunk driver.

Unsafe people do not do that hard work. They stay angry, stuck, and bitter, sometimes for life. When they feel upset, they see others as the cause, and others as the ones who have to do all the changing. When they are abused, they hold on to it with a vengeance and spew hated for the rest of their lives. When they are hurt, they wear it like a badge. And worse of all, when they are wrong, they blame it on others,

Denial is the active process that someone uses to avoid responsibility. It is different from being unaware of sin. When we are unaware, we do not know about our sin. Denial is more active than that. It is a style and an agenda, and it can be very aggressive when truth comes close. People with a style of denial and blaming are definitely on the list of unsafe people to avoid. 

Unsafe People – Part Five

We are looking at the personal characteristics of a person who is not safe to invest relational time in. These are people who do not form safe relationships. Having a relationship with them usually ends with you feeling used and abused and definitely unfulfilled and disappointed.

To review, we have discussed six character traits of an unsafe person…

1> Unsafe people think that ‘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 behaviour

6> Unsafe people stay in parent/child roles instead of relating as equals

7> Unsafe people demand trust, instead of earning it

Some people feel that they are entitled to trust. We often hear of someone saying, “So you don’t trust me.” Or “Are you questioning my integrity?” Or “You don’t believe me.” They get defensive and angry because someone questions their actions, and they think they are above being questioned or having to prove their trustworthiness. But none of us is above questioning, and to take offence at it is very prideful.

Even the most trustworthy man of all time – Jesus Himself – did not demand blind trust. He told the Jews who were challenging Him, “Do not believe Me unless I do what My Father does. If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38) In other words, Jesus told them to test what He said by His actions; His miracles proved His words to be true.

If, like Jesus, we are truly trustworthy, we would welcome questioning from our loved ones on our “trustability.” We would want others to see our deeds and actions so that they would feel more comfortable. We would want to know what gives them suspicion or fear and try to do everything to allay those fears. Above all, we would want to make people feel comfortable with us.

In a sense, we should always be open to an “audit” from the ones we care about. If we are truly serious about growing, we want to know if we are unknowingly doing something wrong.

Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart!. Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

Hidden sins and problems are destructive to us, and if we long to grow, we would want them exposed and healed.

Often when someone does something wrong in the relationship they are quick to regret their actions and say that they are sorry. Remember, regret is not repentance. Then they become angry because we no longer just automatically trust them. After all, they said they were sorry. They have to be confronted and reminded that trust has to be earned and trustworthiness must be demonstrated over time. It is a sad commentary that some husbands and wives are more disturbed but the fact that their spouse won’t trust them than they are at whatever they had done to create that level of mistrust.

In short, we are in no way “entitled” to perfect opinions of us by others. These opinions are earned. Be weary of people who say, “How dare you question my integrity!” They are not safe people. 

Unsafe People – Part Four

As we continue our look at the personal characteristics of an unsafe person … a person with whom you might not want to invest a great deal of time building an in-depth relationship … let me remind you of the points we have already covered.

Personal characteristics of an unsafe person…

1> Unsafe people think that ‘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 behaviour

6> Unsafe people stay in parent/child roles instead of relating as equals

Safe people respect our right to make decisions and adult choices. Unsafe people resist our adult functioning. They “don’t agree with our right” to an opinion, a value, or a decision. Unsafe people react to our adultness by withdrawing from it and refusing to deal with it.

This is the opposite of how safe people relate to us. Safe individuals love to see us grow up and mature, and they rejoice when we carry out our responsibility to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). They want to see us develop our God-given gifts and talents and use them. Safe people love to see adults being formed.

This is true in all relationships, and especially in parenting. When the Bible tells us to “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6), this doesn’t mean you should decide where the child is to go. Instead, you should help the child discover God’s path for her – even if that means a path that you might not have chosen.

The same is true in our friendships. Your closest relationships are, at all times, actively working either for or against your growth. In the list below, the first two ways of relating hinder your growth, and the last one encourages it:

      • I feel like a kid around them
      • I feel like I have to be their parent
      • I feel equal wth them

Let’s look at these three ways to relate.

A> I feel like a kid around them

In this first type of relationship, you often feel controlled or criticized. The parental person acts as if you can’t make decisions for yourself regarding values, money, job, theology, sex, or politics. He feels resentful when you attempt any major decisions without his approval. So he withholds approval of your decisions until you again resign yourself to being his child – even if you are in your middle-age years.

Authority roles often lend themselves to these kinds of dynamics. For example, bosses, teachers, doctors, and police often act parental, as in “the boss put me down again and made me feel like a child.”It’s important to separate roles from character here. Where some parental-types do seek out roles where they can push people around, some just want to do a good job.

Here are some things to look for in the parental person:

      • He gives me advice without asking if I want it
      • He doesn’t trust my judgment
      • He things I need his help in navigating through life
      • He is critical
      • He is disapproving
      • He withdraws when I make adult decisions with which he disagree

B> I feel like I have to be their parent

You can also have the opposite type of relationship. Here, the roles are reversed. You’re trying to relate to a person who wants you to be the parent. Here’s a hint that there’s a problem: They are neither under eighteen years old nor under your legal guardianship.

When this second subtype of unsafe, your friend is afraid of adulthood with its responsibilities and risks. Can’t fault him for that. But the problem emerges with what he sees as your role: you become either the approval-providing parent, or the authoritarian controller in his head.

For example, he may pressure you to tell him what to do: what clothes to buy, where to work, and what women to date. He may ask you to interpret the Bible for him. On the other hand, he may act like a rebellious adolescent around you, constantly challenging you and accusing you of being controlling.

Neither of these child positions are mature. Both are unsafe. One is over compliant, and one is overreactive. And they can hurt you by not allowing you simply to be an adult: You be you and I’ll be me, and we’ll respect each other. There’s always a power struggle going on.

So, we are looking at the 6th characteristic of an unsafe person… They stay in parent/child roles instead of relating as equals

There are three ways this is worked out in practical every day life…

I feel like a kid around them

I feel like I have to be their parent

I feel equal wth them

The only healthy alternative is “I feel equal with them”…

The safe person doesn’t make you become either a child or a parent. He takes ownership of his life, talents, and values.He wants to “seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) on his own, but with your consultation – not your approval. And he wants you to flourish in your life – without needing his approval. Even if you disagree.

You know you’re around a safe, adult person by the following characteristics:

      • She is not threatened by your differences
      • She has standards, values, and convictions she’s worked out for herself
      • At the same time, she doesn’t have a ‘right way’ and a ‘wrong way’ for everything
      • She functions at least on the same level of maturity as her same age peers
      • She appreciates mystery and the unknown
      • She encourages me to develop my own values

Remember that we want our efforts to be approved by God (2 Timothy 2:15), not people. Find people who want the same goal for you. 

Unsafe People – Part Three

We are looking at relationships and who is safe to build relationally with and who is not. We are currently looking at the character qualities of those who are not safe for you to enter into a relationship with. In the last two blogs we have seen the first four character issues of unsafe people…

1> Unsafe people think that ‘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 behaviour

Often an unsafe person will apologize for their behaviour or words. They will say, “I’m sorry” but there will be absolutely no change in their behaviour. Or, at the end of an argument they will say, “I love you” when really that is not true. They love themselves so much that they are not willing to change and won’t change. In fact, they expect you to change, and only you. Words are easy to say and often don’t have any substance, depth, or truth in them.

A person who is truly sorry will repent of their behaviour and not repeat it. To repent means to change one’s mind and to turn around and be transformed. In other words, to repent means to change. Before Jesus’ ministry began, John the Baptist sternly preached repentance to the Jews: “He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7-9)

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 behaviour matters to them.

People who apologize quickly may act like they are sorry or as if they are interested in changing and becoming more like Jesus (holiness), but they are really leading someone on. They may say all the words, and some are taken in by their tears and ‘sorrow.’ But in reality they are more sorry about getting confronted and caught. They do not change, and the future will be exactly like the past.

The issue is not perfection. People who are changing still are not perfect and may sin again. But there is a qualitative change that is visible in people of repentance that does not have to do with guilt, getting caught, or trying to get someone off their back. 

The prognosis for change is always better when it is not motivated by a “getting caught” episode, but by real confession and coming to the light about what is truly and really wrong about their behaviour. Sometimes, when someone is “caught,” they will repent and change, but that repentance can only be tested over time.

The general principle is to look whether the “repentance” is motivated from outside pressure or from a true internal desire to change. Getting caught or adapting to someone’s anger is not a long lasting motivator. Eventually the motivations must be a hunger and thirst for righteousness and love for the other person, the person they are injuring. 

Unsafe People – Part Two

We are looking at characteristics of people who are really not safe to build relationships with. Last time we saw:

1> Unsafe people think that ‘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

When a person that you relate to has something that needs to be addressed, and you need to confront him or her, if they refuse to take your criticism and input resulting in actual change this is a key warning sign that you are dealing with an unsafe person. If instead of responding correctly and discussing the issue, they become defensive, start making excuses, and often attack you thus turning the spotlight off of themselves and putting it on you – then you are definitely dealing with an unsafe person. 

A safe person would respond correctly, receiving the input and wanting to change to improve their relational skills. They would be more interested in doing what was right than appearing ‘right’ in heir own eyes. 

This is one of the marks of a truly safe person: they are confrontable. Every relationship has problems, because every person has problems, and the place that our problems appear most glaringly is in our close relationships. The key is whether or not we can hear from others when we are wrong, and accept their feedback without getting defensive. 

Time and again, the Bible says that someone who listens to feedback from others is wise, but someone who does not is a fool. As Proverbs 9:7-9 says, “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.”

The Bible is clear about the need to be able to hear rebuke from others (Matthew 18:15). Confrontation helps us learn about ourselves and change destructive patterns in our lives.

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. If, however, someone has the character trait of defensiveness, when we need to confront him, we are going to be struck with all the hurt that his natural imperfections cause in the relationship. Someone who does not own his own need to change does not change, and the hurt is likely to continue.

4> Unsafe people are self-righteous instead of humble

The Pharisees of Jesus’ time were notorious for taking pride in their own righteousness. In fact, Jesus told a parable that poked fun of their attitude: 

Luke 18:10-14 ““Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The tax collector did not see himself as righteous. Instead, he sought grace humbly, for he knew that only through God’s grace could he be loved and accepted. The Pharisee, however, saw himself as good, and others as bad. He believed – wrongly – that all ‘badness’ was outside of himself.

Unsafe people will never identify with others as fellow sinners and strugglers, because they see themselves as somehow “above all of that.” This “I’m better than you” dynamic produces a lot of shame and guilt in people who are associated with this type of unsafe person. It significantly blocks intimacy because the two people are never on ‘even ground,’ which is where human intimacy takes place. It sets up comparisons, competitive strivings, defensiveness, and alienation.

Psychologists call this dynamic a “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. Unfortunately, many Christians have this mentality about sin in general. They will talk about the people ‘in the world,’ as if they are somehow not able to identify with them. 

More next time…