It’s Not Me, It’s You! – The Bob Principle – Part One

Have you ever known a person who had problems follow him wherever he went? And, that the problems often, if not always, seemed to be that he had a hard time getting along with people? 

There is a relational truth that I learned from a mentor many years ago. Let’s call our person Bob. And the principle The Bob Principle. The Bob Principle goes like this: If Bob has problems with Bill, and Bob has problems with Fred, and Bob has problems with Sue, and Bob has problems with Jane, and Bob has problems with Sam, then Bob is usually the problem. Because Bob seems to be incapable of looking inside himself and recognizing that he has problems that need to be dealt with … he doesn’t just cause problems for himself. He causes problems for everyone with whom he comes into contact. 

Anyone who is like our Bob would have some or all of the following four characteristics:

1> Bob is a problem carrier

The Bobs of the world carry around problems, and these problems affect others. Many years ago when first starting my ministry we were making a major change in the life of a local church. One of the leaders came to me and told me that everyone was upset with the change we were announcing and planning to make. It was a small community and the church had about 15 families who attended regularly. So, I went to each family, had coffee, and discussed the change we were proposing. As it turned out – only the man who came to speak to me had an issue with the change. And, he had been making the rounds of these families working to get people to agree with him and vote against the change. He was a Bob.

The lesson I learned – not only did I find out that we had one very vocal person, but I discovered that problem carriers spend their poison far and wide. I also learned that when someone tells you there are “lots of complaints,” then find out the source. It may turn out to be one person doing lots of complaining.

2> Bob is a problem finder

Bob also likes to find problems and expose them to others. He subscribes to Chisholm’s Second Law, which says, “Any time things appear to be going better, you have overlooked something.”

Because some people have this tendency, it is good to make a rule. My rule, again learned from my mentor … anyone who brings me a problem must also bring three possible solutions to solve it. It doesn’t take great talent to see a problem. In fact, if you look hard enough, people can find a problem in every situation. It takes great talent to solve problems. Most Bobs have no interest in doing that.

3> Bob is a problem creator

Bob always creates problems, and he usually involves others in what he’s doing. So, we have two choices every time we encounter a Bob or anyone else creating a problem. Every problem starter is like a fire lighter. And each of us is like a person carrying two buckets. One is filled with water and the other with gasoline. When we see the spark of a problem being lit, we can choose to douse it with water and out it out. Or we can throw gasoline on it and make it worse. If we want to control the amount of damage Bob can do, we need to use the water.

4> Bob is a problem receiver

Bob is usually a recipient of problems from others, and he encourages people to bring him more. In this case people see Bob as a garbage dump. Garbage trucks take their loads of trash to a place that accepts garbage. And people with problems take their gripes, gossip, and grumbling to someone who will listen and accept what they have to say. Bob allows people to dump on him and makes no effort to stop them when they are sharing. So, they keep dumping. And, they won’t stop until Bob tells then that they are not welcome any more. 

Part two next time…

Take a Look in the Mirror

People unaware of who they really are and what they do often damage relationships with others. The way to change that is to look in the mirror and see who you really are. It is something all of us must do – discover the real “me.” Consider what it is we will learn by doing so. 

1> The first person I must know is myself – Self-Awareness

Human nature seems to endow people with the ability yo size up everybody in the world but themselves. They simply don’t have a clear image of who they are and thus how other people see them. 

Some people are endowed with natural self-awareness. These kinds of people possess interpersonal intelligence. They are naturally aware of who they are, how they come across to others, and how this impacts their relationships. 

However, becoming self-aware does not come easily for most people. It is a process – sometimes a slow one – that requires intentionality.

2> The first person I must get along with is myself – Self-Image

If you’re not comfortable with yourself you can’t be comfortable with others. In fact, we can take that even a step further. If you do not believe in yourself, your will sabotage relationships.

Self-image is a relational ceiling. Your image of yourself restricts or enables your ability to build healthy relationships. A negative self-image will even keep a person from being successful. And even when a person with a poor self-image does somehow achieve success, it won’t last because he will eventually bring himself down to the level of his own expectations. 

Psychologist Phil McGraw states, “I always say that the most important relationship you will ever have is with yourself. You’ve got to be your own best friend first.” How can you be “best friends” with someone you don’t know or don’t like? You can’t. That’s why it is so important to find out who you are and work to become someone you like and respect. 

3> The first person to cause me problems is myself – Self-Honesty

Jack Parr stated, “Looking back, my life seems like one big obstacle race, with me being the chief obstacle.” He was making a joke, but what he says is still true for most of us. If we could kick the person responsible for most of our troubles, we wouldn’t be able to sit down for weeks. What can save us is the willingness to look in the mirror and get honest about our short-comings, faults, and problems. 

This is the insight I realized early in my ministry and return to often. In most situations, I am the problem. My mentalities, my pictures, my expectations, form the biggest obstacles to my success. If you want to keep from becoming your own worst enemy, you have to look at yourself realistically. 

4> The first person I must change is myself – Self-Improvement

People who often experience relational difficulties are tempted to look at everyone but themselves to explain the problem. But we must always begin by examining ourselves and being willing to change whatever deficiencies we find that we have. 

Critic Samuel Johnson advised that “he who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief which he purposes to remove.”

5> The first person that can make a difference is myself – Self-Responsibility

If you want to make a difference in this world, you must take responsibility for yourself. Stop blaming others for your problems. Start taking ownership of your attitude, emotions (especially anger), your actions, your words. It is time to grow up and realize that you cannot go through life blaming everything and everyone for what is happening. 

Psychotherapist Sheldon Kopp believes “all the significant battles are waged within the self.” As we examine ourselves, we discover what those battles are. And then we have two choices. The first is to be like the man who visited his doctor and found out that he had serious health issues. When the doctor showed him his X-rays and suggested a painful and expensive surgery, the man asked, “Okay, but how much would you charge to just touch up the X-rays?”

The second choice is to stop blaming others, look at ourselves, and do the hard work of resolving the issues that are causing us problems. If you want to have better relationships with others, then stop, look in the mirror, and start working on yourself. 

Begin with yourself…

In the crypts of Westminster Abbey, the following words were written on the tomb of an Anglican bishop who lived in the eleventh century:

“When I was young and free my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I are older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country. But it, too, seemed immovable. As I grew in my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it. And now as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realized: If I had only changed my self first, then by example I would have changed my family. From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have even able to better my country and, who knows, I may have even changed my world.”

People who often experience relational difficulties are tempted to look at everyone but themselves to explain the problem. But we must always begin by examining ourselves and being willing to change whatever deficiencies we have. 

I am in my early seventies and am still continuing to grow and change. I realize that there is a lot that I don’t know or understand when it comes to healthy relationships. In fact, I am sure that there are many things that I need to learn about many aspects of life. Yes I am wiser than I was ten or twenty years ago. But, I have not arrived. No one ever does. And, if you have stopped changing and growing because you “have arrived” you are deceived; self-deceived but nonetheless deceived. So, I am still working hard daily at knowing myself and improving who I am and how I live and relate to others. It is a daily challenge.

Critic Samuel Johnson advised that “he who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief which he proposes to remove.”  

If you want to make a difference in your world, you must know yourself and then take responsibility for yourself. It is up to you who you become and what you accomplish in your life. 

A former mentor of mine writes: A few years ago when I travelled to New Zealand to do a conference, I stayed in a hotel in Christchurch. One evening I was thirsty and started looking for a Coke machine. When I couldn’t find one and I saw a door marked “Staff,” I figured I’d go in and see if anyone in there could help me. I didn’t find a hotel worker or a drink machine there, but I did observe something interesting. As I approached the door to go back out into the hall, I found that the door had a full-length mirror with the following words: ‘Take a good look at yourself. This is what the customer sees.’ The hotel’s management was reminding employees that to fulfill their purpose, they needed to take a look at themselves.”

And that is true for us too. Psychotherapist Sheldon Kopp believes “all the significant battles are waged within the self.” As we examine ourselves, we discover what those battles are. And then we have two choices. The first choice is to be like the man who visited his doctor and found out that he had serious health issues. When the doctor showed him his X-rays and suggested a painful and expensive surgery, the man asked, “Okay, but how much would you change to just touch up the X-rays?”

The second choice is to stop blaming others, look at ourselves, and do the hard work of resolving the issues that are causing us problems in life and in our relationships. If you want to have better relationships with others and a more fulfilling life, then stop, look in the mirror, and start working on yourself. 

Remember: Coping with difficult people is always a problem, especially if the difficult person happens to be you.

So, a question to ask yourself: Have I examined myself and taken responsibility for who I am?

Interpersonal Traits of Unsafe People – Part Eight

As we draw this series on the international traits of an unsafe person, let me remind you of the territory we have already covered:

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

5> Unsafe people condemn us instead of forgiving us

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

7> Unsafe people are unstable over time instead of being consistent

8> Unsafe people are a negative influence on us, rather than a positive one

9> Unsafe people gossip instead of keeping secrets

We all have experiences, thoughts, emotions, or behaviours that we don’t feel safe telling the world. We need someone in whom to confide. Some of us have secret sins that plague us. Others haver been victimized or abused. Still others simply need a person to tell our private stories to.

Few things are more bruising than having your secrets betrayed. If you have ever entrusted part of yourself to another, and then heard about it from a third party, you have been triangulated. Triangulation occurs when person A tells a secret to person B, who then tells person C about it. Triangulation is a form of what the Bible calls “gossip”. “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret” (Proverbs 11:13).

Often, a triangulator will try to justify his untrustworthiness by different excuses, such as:

      • It just slipped out
      • It wasn’t that serious. You’re overreacting
      • It was for your own good
      • They made me tell

But just as often the truth has more to do with the unsafe person. He was unable to confront people directly, so he does it behind their backs. He may feel insignificant, so gossip give him the sense that he is important and on the “inside track.” He may be pitting one person against another in a repetitive pattern from childhood. Or he may simply lack a sense of empathy for the terrible pain that gossip brings to others.

No matter what, this is nothing but destructive. We all need a place for our secrets to be held and respected. Secrets don’t get well without relationship. We are all looking for safe relationships where someone knows all of our parts. So, when you divulge a private matter with another, it’s a big deal. You are taking a risk with an important part of your soul. And when confidence is broken, so is trust, hope, and healing.

Not only this, but also relationships can be torn apart between friends. Persons A and C can be alienated by the triangulator. This is what people mean when they say, “She came between us.” A triangulator has been at work. 

A safe person will hold confidences. He will not use your secrets for his own needs. “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28).

The eighteeth-century English preacher George Whitefield is a good example of a safe person. With John Wesley, Whitefield was one of the founders of the Methodist Church. Yet he disagreed heartily with Wesley’s theology, and the two men were well known for their differences.

One day a reporter asked Whitefield, “Reverend, do you think you will see John Wesley in heaven?” This question was an invitation to triangulation between two opponents.

“No, I do not,” replied Whitefield.

“Why is that?” Asked a surprised reporter.

Whitefield answers, “Because I believe that John Wesley will be so close to the bosom of God that we will not be able to see him for the surrounding glory.” 

George Whitefield would not attack a person who was not there to defend himself. Look for people who can hold your secrets. They would be a safe person for you. 

Interpersonal Traits of Unsafe People – Part Seven

We are looking at the interpersonal traits of unsafe people. So far we have seen:

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

5> Unsafe people condemn us instead of forgiving us

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

7> Unsafe people are unstable over time instead of being consistent

8> Unsafe people are a negative influence on us, rather than a positive one

When a person has such an influence on you and your life that you are becoming more and more like them – this person is an unsafe person. When having a relationship with this person means other healthy relationships you are in are neglected and even suffer then this person is unsafe. 

Safety breeds safety. And safe people make us better people for being around them. This is Jesus’ “fruit test”: “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit” (Luke 6:43). We cannot fail to be influenced, for better or worse, by the people in whom we invest. It will always show: “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). And good company builds up our hearts and releases us to build other relationships as well.

An unsafe person may make you feel good – yet wound you emotionally. She may make you act better, but hurt your character. And you may think you’re being treated well, but she may be hindering your growth. Fruit is about character issues – not symptoms. 

The woman who is swept off her feet by an insincere charmer is a good example of this. She feels wonderful: loved, pursued, intoxicated by the attentiveness and flattery of the charmer. Her infatuation may make her more caring for her friends, more patient and forgiving. Her cup feels so full that she can give more.

But the reality is that while she feels and acts better, she is in the middle of a fantasy that will someday come crashing down around her. She is not being prepared for a real relationship, in which you deal with the imperfections of yourself and the other person. So she falls very hard, and sometimes she can’t trust again for a long time. 

Safe people are not perfect, but they help us progress toward Christlike character in the four major areas of spiritual growth. Ask yourself these questions about the people with whom you relate.

As a result of spending time with this person, am I

        • more loving or more detached?
        • more honest or more compliant?
        • more forgiving or more idealistic?
        • more mature or more childish?

Deciding whether a relationship is good for you will take time and some long, hard, coldly objective analysis. And it will probably take a friend’s detached eye. But look at your relationships over the long haul, and judge them for how they have changed your life – for better or worse.

Interpersonal Traits of Unsafe People – Part Six

7> Unsafe people are unstable over time instead of being consistent

Are you the romantic / naive type? If so, you’re particular vulnerable to unsafe people because you tend to trust people immediately instead of putting them through the test of time. As cliched as it may sound, time is indeed the best judge of character.

Who we are and what we do are very, very related. Character cannot be completely hidden over a lifetime; it leaks out sooner or later. As Jesus said, “Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12:3). So hiding and pretending aren’t ever going to pay off for us.

And time tends to prove out the truth. As time passes, spouses, for example, learn the truth about each other’s ability to love, to listen, to be responsible, and to forgive. No matter what one says, the other one has years of memories that will either confirm or deny that person’s words.

Those who are not safe are those who are “relational sprinters” as compared to a “marathoner.” A sprinter is there for you if you are there. But, out of sight is out of mind. So, he may promise something and then never come through with what he promised. This trait makes the person unsafe with friends and family. You cannot depend on him. He commits and commits and commits – but he does not come through. If you ask him to return the lawnmower he borrowed last week, don’t block out your mowing hours on your schedule anytime soon.

He is not a bad person, nor is he insincere. But he loves the intense warmth of being close to a person in the here-and-now. It gets somewhat addictive to him, and he can’t delay gratification to help a person who isn’t around, when another, in-the-flesh person is available. And so he routinely disappoints himself and his friends. He flunks the time test. 

Safety isn’t like that. People who pass the test of time are “timeless” people. They guard your trust as if it were money in the bank. They are stable and reliable in their emotional commitments.

That’s why time-friendly people tend to make fewer emotional commitments than an unsafe person. They have a profound understanding of how much time it takes to be there for someone, so they think, deliberate, and pray long and hard before they decide to invest in a relationship. You might think they are aloof or uncaring. They’re not. They are, instead, unwilling to write bad cheques, emotionally speaking.

Look for people who are “anchored” over time. Don’t go for flashy, intense, addictive types. A Ford that will be there tomorrow is a lot better than a Maserati that might be gone. There are stable Maseratis. But it’s best to drive them awhile, that is, test out the relationship over time, to make sure.

Here are some traits to look for in your relationships:

      • Are they living up to their commitments to me?
      • Are they here for me only when I’m here?
      • Do they tell me no when they don’t have time?
      • Do they make promises they can’t keep?
      • Am I the last or most recent in a string of broken relationships?
      • Do others warn me about their pattern of relating?

Love is abiding, timeless, and unchanging, just like its Author. Find people who love you, and love you well over time, like He does: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). 

Interpersonal Traits of Unsafe People – Part Five

We are looking at people who are not safe relationally. People who do not make good friends or members of your support team. Unsafe people are common and often we waste time building relationally with them only to see the relationship crash at a time when it is most needed. 

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

5> Unsafe people condemn us instead of forgiving us

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 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.

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 tell us to “Train 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 you might not have chosen.

The same is true in our friendships. Your closest relationships are, at 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 (Unsafe person)
        • I feel like I have to be their parent (Unsafe person)
        • I feel equal to them (Safe person)

I feel like a kid around them (Unsafe person)

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’re in your middle-age years.

Authority roles often lend themselves to these kind 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. While 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 thinks I need his help in navigating through life
      • He is critical
      • He is disapproving
      • He withdraws when I make adult decisions with which he disagrees

Now suppose you are exquisitely sensitive to critical people. When they confront you, you immediately question your decisions. Put this character problem, with a parental-type person – and you have major problems.

I feel like I have to be their parent (Unsafe person)

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 their parent. Here’s a hint that there’s a problem: They are neither under eighteen years old nor under your legal guardianship.

With this second subtype of unsafety, your friend is afraid of adulthood with its responsibilities and risks. Can’t fault him for that. But the problem emerges in 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 here.

I feel equal with them (Safe person)

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. 

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.