I recently read the book Safe People by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. I have been reading books like this for a few reasons; first, for my own personal growth and development. I know that I have some traits that keep me from connecting with people and I want to be open to recognizing these patterns and changing them. Another reason is that I want to grow as a pastor in how I deal with difficult and unsafe people. These are the individuals that tend to take up the most bandwidth, emotional energy, time in churches from elders and pastoral staff over the most trivial of things. What is unfortunate is that many people (pastors and laypeople alike) naively approach the church community and think, “This is the church, everyone in here must be safe and so I can give myself fully to anyone and I won’t get hurt.” It’s a rude awakening when you start to experience hurt because you trusted someone that turned out to not be a safe person.
I am intrigued by the types of “unsafe people” that they identify and can think of stories of people who have had problems in community because of each of these. What’s difficult is that these “types” of people are usually completely unaware of their shadow side and are not open or able to hear any feedback.
-Often, abandoners have been abandoned themselves. Sometimes, afraid of true closeness, they prefer shallow acquaintances. Others are looking for perfect friends, and they leave when the cracks start showing.
-Critics are more concerned with confronting errors than they are with making connections. They often confuse weakness with sinfulness, and therefore condemn others when they have problems.
-Irresponsibles are people who don’t take care of themselves or others. They have problems with delaying gratification, they don’t consider the consequences of their actions, and they don’t follow through on their commitments. They are like grown-up children. For every irresponsible, there is an enabler, someone who protects them.
The authors also give some very helpful indicators of unsafe people. These are important to recognize when asking the question: “Who can I really trust? Who can I connect with on a friend level?”
- Unsafe people think they “have it all together” instead of admitting their weakness.
- Unsafe people are defensive instead of open to feedback.
- Unsafe people are self-righteous instead of humble.
- Unsafe people only apologize instead of changing their behavior.
- Unsafe people avoid working on their problem instead of dealing with them.
- Unsafe people blame others instead of taking responsibility.
- Unsafe people are stagnant instead of growing.
They write a good caution in thinking through safe people: “One of the things that we want to emphasize throughout this book is that no one is perfect. Safe people will at times stumble and be “unsafe” for, after all, they are sinners too. So don’t expect perfection. Instead, when you are measuring someone’s character, look at these traits in terms of degree. Everyone lies at some time or in some way. But not everyone is a pathological liar. Look for degrees of imperfection. If a person seems willing to change, forgive him graciously and work with him. But if he resists you, proceed with caution.”
This is a helpful book with great wisdom for those who are looking to increase their relational intelligence and own personal awareness.