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…

Unsafe People – Part One

Everyone needs a “safe person” in their life. Someone who is there for them, treats them well even in the tough times, and is willing to speak into their life so that they can hear the truth. Jesus was a safe person and had these three traits – Presence, grace, and truth. (see the two blogs – “Safe People”)

However, many people have others in their life who are not safe. Individuals I would call “unsafe people.” Let’s look at some of the characteristics of unsafe people. 

Unsafe people have personal character traits that make them extremely dangerous to other people. They act as if they “have it all together.” They are self-righteous. They demand trust. And when their facade of perfection is stripped away, they blow up or disappear. 

In my life they have what I call “huff and puff” as in the three pigs and the big bad wolf who huffed and puffed and blew the house down. These people raise their voices, get angry, yell at you, accuse you of things that are not true, and always work to turn the tables and make the conversation about you and not them. They refuse to take any personal responsibility for the situation or their life and so they “huff and puff” to blow you off the issue you were addressing. 

1> Unsafe people think they “have it all together” instead of admitting their weaknesses

So, in the relationship, one person is open and real letting the other person in to their world, their hurts, and their issues. However, it is a one way street. The other person in the relationship, for whatever reason, does not share what is happening in their life and what areas they too are struggling with. And, everyone has struggles even if they won’t admit it.

When someone “has it all together,” that person’s friends will suffer some very predictable results:

Feeling disconnected. Intimacy is built on sharing weaknesses, and friendship involves sharing vulnerabilities

      • Feeling “one down.” There is an implied superiority in the one who thinks and acts like they have no need for the other.
      • Feeling weaker than one actually is. The vulnerable one plays the “weakness” role in the relationship. There is no balance, for they are not allowed to be strong.
      • Feeling dependant on the “strong one.” The weaker one thinks they need the stronger one to survive. 
      • Feeling anger and hostility at the “together one.” The vulnerable person grows tired of the “together” facade of the stronger person.
      • Feeling the need to compete to reverse the role. The weaker person feels stuck in their role and fights to change it. 

The “weak” one may try to be the “strong” one is some other relationships to compensate for their lack of strength in their primary relationship. Instead of suffering through only one bad relationship, they may end up with several unbalanced, unsafe relationships. They would do better to balance elements of strength and weakness in each of their relationships.

This pattern also keeps the “strong” one from growing spiritually and emotionally. We grow in part by confessing our faults and weaknesses to each other (James 5:16; Ephesians 4:10). If we are always being strong and without needs, we are not growing, and we are setting ourselves up for a very dangerous fall. 

2> Unsafe people are religious instead of spiritual

A true testimony… I remember when I first became a committed Christian. For a long time, I really looked up to people who were religious. I admired their dedication to God and their Bible knowledge. They seemed so strong and “together” that I wanted to be like them.

For about five years, I hung around these kind of people. During that time I grew a lot and learned a lot of theology, but unknowingly, I also was getting father and farther away from being a real person. I became more and more “religious,” and less and less of what I now understand to be spiritual. I was losing touch with my vulnerability, my pain, my need for other people, my sinfulness and ‘bad parts,’ and many other aspects of what it means to be a real person.

The wake-up call came when I had a series of failed relationships. I had to begin to look at why I could not get close to people and trust them at a very deep level, and why I knew more and more about God but felt farther and farther away from Him.

In my graduate studies I got into a group where people were real and they started confronting me in the areas where I was faking it. I learned to open up about my pain and inadequacies, and I got closer to others as I was more vulnerable and needed them more. As the safe people around me loved me just like I was, I learned to open up about my struggles, sinfulness, and imperfections. And I started to really grow as a person and learned a lot more about God than I had known when I had been so “religious.”

After that, I was able able to recognize people who weren’t “real,” although they seemed very spiritual. And I found that I was able to pick better friends, people who really knew God and His ways instead of a lot of religious language and activities, truly relational people who were able to understand and love others and were honest about themselves and about life.

More tomorrow….

Safe Relationships – Part Two

The best example of a safe person is found in Jesus. In Him were found the three qualities of a safe person: dwelling, grace, and truth. As John wrote: “The Word became flesh and lived for awhile among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Here we see the three key qualities of a safe person…

    • Dwelling
    • Grace
    • Truth

Dwelling … Dwelling refers to someone’s ability to connect with us. The Greek word here in John’s Gospel means to ‘encamp’ or ‘reside.’ It says that the origins of that word have to do with the human body as the place where the spirit resides. What all of this means is that safe relationships are an aspect of the incarnational qualities of Jesus, for Jesus became present as a man, in the flesh. 

A safe person then is able to “dwell with us in the flesh.” They are able to connect in a way that we know they are present with us, that they are for us, and that they will continue to walk with us regardless of what happens. They are engaged in the details of our life. They embrace your life with you and do not walk with a sense of detached attachment. They are there for you. 

Grace … The second safe quality that Jesus exemplifies is grace. Grace is “unmerited favour.” It means that someone is on our side, that they are ‘for us’ even when we really don’t deserve their loyalty and support. Grace implies unconditional love and acceptance with no condemnation (Romans 8:1 and Ephesians 4:32). 

Relationships in which people do not accept us without shame or condemnation are ultimately hurtful and do not produce personal growth. They require us to be different than we are in order to be accepted, and we are unable to use love that we must earn.

Grace does the opposite. It says the you are accepted just like you are and that you will not be shamed or incur wrath for whatever you are experiencing. 

Truth … The third quality that Jesus embodied for us was truth. Truth implies many things, but in relationships it implies honesty, being real with one another, and living out the truth of God within the relationship or friendship. 

Many people think that safe relationships are relationships that just give grace without confrontation, but these relationships are ultimately destructive as well.

We need people in our lives who will be honest with us, telling us where we are wrong and where we need to change. We need friends that walk according to the truth and live out the principles of God with us. That does not mean that they are not accepting, but it means that in their acceptance of us that they are honest about our faults without condemning us. 

Ephesians 4:15 “Speaking the truth in love…”

Galatians 6:1 “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

True safe relationships are ones where we can speak the truth to one another, confronting one another as needed. Grace and the absence of condemnation allow us to do this with less fear than would occur in a condemning relationship. 

The calling of the Bible is that we need to be the kind of people to each other that Jesus is with us, people who dwell with each other in grace and truth. So a safe person will be one who is there for us and through whom we experience grace and truth. 

Safe Relationships – Part One

I have come to appreciate having a “safe relationship.” I have a friend and we have been working at building a solid and powerful relationship now for over a decade. A relationship that is beneficial to both of us and enables us to be simply and seriously ourselves when around each other. He is what I call a “safe relationship.” He understands what it means to listen, to care, to engage with what I am sharing. He accepts me as I am for who I am. He is helping me be everything God created me to be. And, everything I share is kept in strictest confidence and never shared with others. He is a safe person.

A safe relationship is one that does three things:

1> Draws us closer to God

2> Draws us closer to others 

3> Helps its become the real person that God created us to be

The Bible refers to these three areas of spiritual growth. We fulfill the greatest commandment, to love God (Matthew 22:37-38). We keep the second command, to love each other (Matthew 22:39). And we grow into the particular person that God created us to be, accomplishing the tasks He has designed for us – first learning who we are and then loving this person (Mathew 22:39; Ephesians 2:10).

By survey, when asked to describe a safe person, people gave the following descriptions:

    • A person who accepts me just as I am
    • A person who loves me no matter how I am being or what I do
    • A person whose influence develops my ability to love and be responsible
    • Someone who helps release love and good works within me
    • Someone who gives me the opportunity to grow and helps me in the growth process
    • Someone who helps me to know myself and love the “me” that I am discovering
    • Someone I can be myself around 
    • Someone who encourages me to release the real person in me for others to see
    • Someone who allows me to be on the outside what I am on the inside
    • Someone who helps me to become the me that God intended
    • Someone whose life touches mine and leaves me better for it
    • Someone who touches my life and draws me closer to who God created me to be
    • Someone who helps me be more like Christ
    • Someone who helps me to discover the real me hidden and buried under so much of life
    • Someone who helps me to love myself and then to love others more

We all want people in our lives that help us in these ways. But the problem is, how do we recognize them? What do they look like?

We all struggle on different sides of the “safe relationship” issue. Some do not even think we need relationships with other people. They think the Lord is enough and that you should only trust in Him. Others think that they must depend only on themselves. Still others believe that the Bible teaches the value of relationships, but then they find themselves in hurtful relationships over and over again. They pick hurtful friends, spouses, churches, work partners, spiritual leaders, and dating relationships. They seem to not have the ability to find and like safe people. Having a seemingly astounding talent for finding people that will ultimately hurt them, they repeat patterns over and over again, and then become discouraged about relationships in general.

So, to help people to utilize safe relationships, we need to understand what a safe person is and why we need that kind of safety.

The best example of a safe person is found in Jesus. In Him were found the three qualities of a safe person: dwelling, grace, and truth. As John wrote, “The Word became flesh and lived for awhile among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

We will look at these three aspects of a safe person who then allows us to develop a safe relationship tomorrow.