The book Safe People by Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend is still one of my top 5 books of all time. The information they provided in their pages truly changed the way I approach, manage, and interact in relationships.
I went LIVE last week to chat more about this topic. Here is a quick recap:
Why is safety so important?
Relationships are our primary way to heal. Without safety we will never truly feel comfortable enough to authentically show up. Safe relationships allow us to feel supported, stretched and connected. We can explore and try new things, play/experience intimacy, and build trust when we have SAFETY.
What happens when we don’t feel safe?
Humans are wired to search and seek out threats in the environment. It is part of our survival skill set. When a person feels unsafe, their body responds as if a life threatening danger is present. Here you will see a person enter a fight/flight mode (aggression, detachment, etc), or a freeze mode (shutdown). Often adults struggle with being “stuck” in one of these modes due to an insecure attachment style from childhood. (I will go into attachment theory this week!) The only way to climb out of these physiological responses of fight/flight/freeze modes and back to regulation is to connect socially. This takes SAFETY, and is the key to healing so that unhealthy coping mechanisms aren’t used and wounds aren’t transferred. If you are interested in diving deeper into these modes, check out the Polyvagal Theory. I particularly enjoy listening to the Polyvagal Podcast.
There are a number of red flags to look for when you are in relationship with an unsafe person. Here are the main ones:
You feel isolated more than together after being with them.
They keep score (IOU’s).
They aren’t receptive to your boundaries.
They manipulate or withdrawal when conflict arises.
They can’t confront you without being critical or passive aggressive.
You don’t feel yourself around them, and walk on egg shells often.
What are safe people then?
First of all, we ALL carry unsafe qualities. No one is perfect. However safe people are those who leave you feeling encouraged, seen and heard. They are growing and learning in their own life.
Below is an inventory list to keep handy:
A safe person is:
Present and connected.
Confronts with honesty and love.
Clear, consistent and reliable.
And respectful of boundaries.
The above inventory list is something you can use to assess not just the people in your life, but yourself too. The best way to advocate for (and extend permission) to others about being more safe is by modeling these traits in your own life first. Awareness is key.
What do I do if I have to interact with an unsafe person?
I understand you can’t just stop interacting with unsafe people. This person may be your boss, and ex spouse, or an extended family member. Boundaries are your number one ally when navigating a relationship with an unsafe person. It is important to remember, you do not have to prove, explain or apologize for your healing journey. Be clear, consistent and firm with your boundary setting.
Safety breeds safety.
People need to earn a right to hear your story. They must prove they are safe to reserve a spot close to you. If you feel the need to pick up old armor while around someone (people pleasing, perfectionism, gossiping, negativity, etc) than you may want to reconsider that relationship.
Whether you are working to heal because you are motivated to not pass on the wounds of your childhood to your own children, or you simply want to show up as the true, authentic you in your relationships and set the armor down for good, understanding the traits of unsafe people will help you do just that.
Safe people are your people. Unsafe people aren’t “bad” people, they just aren’t healthy for you right now on this journey and can’t give you what you need. Honor the instincts you feel, and lean into those who elevate, grow and bring out the best in you.
Yours in healing,