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.