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.