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.