Have you ever begun a relationship with someone only to find out several weeks, months or even years later that this person was not who you thought they were? Perhaps even more upsetting is the realisation that they are just like all the other people you’ve dated and you have found yourself in the same unfulfilling relationship pattern. If you are a sensitive person, you are particularly vulnerable to entering into unsafe relationships because you tend to be trusting, open, honest and compassionate by nature. Many people will unfortunately take advantage of this and leave you feeling exhausted, hurt and betrayed. The solution is not to try to change them or even to change yourself, but to recognise the difference between a safe person and an unsafe one.
In their book, Safe People, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend outline the personality and behavioural traits of both safe and unsafe people. Knowing the difference between them means that you can enter into relationships with people who are good for you and avoid those that aren’t. Without this kind of knowledge, it is very easy to become mislead by promises of future happiness, assurances of trust and faithfulness, and even a genuinely nice person who is simply struggling with their own issues. Just because someone is a nice person doesn’t make them a good partner. Recognising the following traits of unsafe people will keep you and your relationships safe:
• Unsafe people do not like to admit their weaknesses. Being open and vulnerable is essential to a relationship. Sometimes people will try to hide their weaknesses by focusing on your weaknesses instead. Putting you down is an easy way to build themselves up. If you are the one with the problems, then they can feel superior.
• Unsafe people are religious instead of spiritual. People join religious groups for many reasons, but if someone is clinging to it and its principles as a way of avoiding their own issues, they will never learn what they need to about themselves.
• Unsafe people are defensive. A self-assured person is always open to feedback, expressions of concern and even criticism, especially by people who love him. If you confront someone with your concerns and he gets upset or angry, he is not able to hear you and not willing to take responsibility for his actions.
• Unsafe people are self-righteous instead of humble. These people see themselves as above everyone else and refuse to see their own negative qualities, often by projecting their own flaws and insecurities onto others.
• Unsafe people apologise without changing their behaviour. A common pattern in unsafe relationships is expressions of regret and apologies and promises to change. But apologies and promises need to be followed by real behaviour modifications. Safe people will do so not because they feel they have to, but because they truly want to help themselves and the person they love.
• Unsafe people avoid facing their issues. It is far easier for an unsafe person to blame others for their problems than admit they have a problem or take steps to deal with those issues themselves. Furthermore, they treat others with a lack of empathy when they are upset, find fault in others, and often fail to forgive others for their mistakes.
• Unsafe people flatter you instead of talking to you. Someone who truly cares about you will share their concerns about you and will be honest with you. Someone who only tells you your good points is trying to keep you liking them.
• Unsafe people demand trust instead of earning it. Trust can only be built over time. It grows when we experience repeated and consistent caring behaviour. Unsafe people often believe that you should trust them right away and act hurt or defensive if you don’t. But trust must be earned.
• Unsafe people lie. Everyone tells untruths sometimes, but unsafe people see deception as an effective way of dealing with problems. Safe people admit their deceitful side and work at being more honest.
• Unsafe people don’t grow. We all have aspects of ourselves that need improvement or behaviours that inhibit our personal well-being and safe people try to learn and grow over time. Blaming others, responding defensively and failing to change inhibits personal growth and keeps a person at the same emotional level throughout life, without changing themselves either for their own benefit or anyone else’s.
Any of these characteristics are a red flag, whether they appear in a romantic relationship, or with a friend, family member or co-worker. No one is perfect and change takes time. But if you notice that someone is resistant to hearing your concerns, becomes angry or defensive, blames you for their behaviour and does not show signs of wanting to change, you have to proceed with caution and perhaps find someone else who will be both a safe person and safe for you as well.