If I had to narrow down what my biggest passion might be in terms of relationships it is probably this concept—safe people. What does it mean to be a safe person? Am I a safe person? Are you a safe person? Am I in a partnership with a safe person? There is a lot to ponder here but when I think about what my personal definition of a safe person is, I think about specific character qualities a person possesses. What comes to mind for me is:
Characteristics of a Safe Person
- The ability to listen to and receive truth
- Acts on need, not just hears
- Grows and works towards personal improvement
When I think of Unsafe People I Think of These Traits:
- Withdraws or stonewalls
- Keeps secrets
- Flatters but does not confront with truth
- Apologizes but does not change behavior
- Lacks personal insight and awareness
(Much of the insight I received on this is from the book “Safe People” by Cloud and Townsend—check it out!)
Am I in an Unhealthy or Abusive Relationship?
One of my biggest light bulb moments while I was in graduate school was the realization that I had been in some very unhealthy and even abusive relationships. I was blown away by this. I recognized and acknowledged the unsafe traits I had experienced and lived with and the tremendous impact it had on me and the relationship. I also had to admit that at times I possessed some of these same unsafe traits—sometimes as a response to the unhealthy relationships I was in. Other ways they showed up were my own learned ways of being and interacting with people that I had developed over time. Wow. Talk about the bittersweet pearls of self-awareness!
Now the subject of safe people has become one of my top therapy passions and focuses. As much as I love the art and work of psychotherapy, I think inherently I have always been a researcher. I was the kid in school who loved coming home to watch after-school specials depicting family and relationship conflicts. I was always so curious about how these people came to be, who they were, how their problems developed and how they would resolve the complex problems they were facing. I was always intrigued by people. I am still intrigued! I have discovered overwhelmingly that the concept of unsafe people is a pervasive issue in many cases of reported emotional upset and poor well-being. If I probe long enough, I usually can find unsafe people in the lives of my clients. To be fair, some of us do not realize we are unsafe. We have developed unhealthy ways of acting and being over time that have harmed others as well as ourselves. When we know better though, we can do better. It is possible to learn new ways and patterns of relating and interacting that can greatly improve the quality and integrity of our own lives and relationships.
Your Relationships Can Improve!
How about you? Can you imagine how our relationships would improve or change if we were all set on the goal of becoming safe for our partners and loved ones? How would it feel to know that you no longer had to walk on eggshells around your partner? That you intrinsically knew you could tell them the truth without fear? That your feelings and experiences would be welcomed and validated? That when you asked for what you needed in the relationship, intentional action would be taken and not just lip service? I wonder if we realize that while we are unsafe people, over time it actually breaks down the relationship. It hinders our vulnerability. We hide our emotions rather than share and express freely. Intimacy cannot thrive or grow in the presence of fear.
Whether or not we think about it much, I think most of us can say we deeply desire safety and trust in our relationships—especially if we have been betrayed or violated. It will take much time and effort to regain these, if they were ever present in the first place. Surprisingly, for many of my clients, becoming a safe person emerges as the primary foundational goal for them. What a joy to assist in this! It is a valuable and worthy pursuit that will reap significant long term benefits for everyone involved.
What are your thoughts? Comment below
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