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Home / Articles / Relationships / Recognizing 'Unsafe People'

Recognizing 'Unsafe People'

Authors identify three types of people who often spell trouble

  • By
  • Jan 06, 2016
Recognizing 'Unsafe People'

Safe means that we feel protected from danger, that we feel cared for and not likely to be harmed. People who are “safe” aren’t out to hurt us physically or emotionally, and these types of people are the ones you want in your life, especially if you have experienced their counterparts—unsafe people.

In the book Safe People, authors and therapists Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend describe safe people as “individuals who truly make us better people by their presence in our lives.” The authors say that we often tend to notice the outside of a person first, which makes sense. We determine if someone is attractive, and then, based on that, we decide whether or not to get to know them. But if we looked more closely at a person’s character first, we may save ourselves some time and trouble. “Quite often, unsafe people appear winsome and promising, and their character problems are often subtle,” write the authors.

In Safe People, the authors identify three types of commonly recognized “unsafe people.” Though these types of people are not necessarily abusers, recognizing them as unsafe is still a good first step toward a healthy relationship.

Types of Unsafe People

Abandoners. These are people who start a relationship but can’t stick with it. They often leave when you need them the most. The authors say this type of person has typically been abandoned themselves at some point in their life and are afraid of getting too close, so they prefer shallow relationships. Others are simply perfectionists and leave people in whom they find “faults.”

Critics. These individuals are judgmental without being caring. They have no room for grace or forgiveness, say the authors, adding that critics often jump on doctrinal and ethical bandwagons and are more focused on pointing out others’ errors than they are with making real connections with people. They can make you feel guilt-ridden and full of anxiety.

Irresponsibles. These people are those who don’t take care of their own lives very well. They’re like grown up children, say the authors. Irresponsibles don’t think about the consequences of their actions, don’t follow through on commitments and are just generally flaky. They’re people with whom you will come to resent after giving them an endless number of chances. You’ll find yourself often making excuses for them.

Traits of Unsafe People

You can recognize a type of unsafe person or a character trait that raises a red flag. Below are a handful of the traits the authors’ say should raise a skeptical eyebrow when you come across them in a new acquaintance.

Unsafe people can be …

  • … defensive instead of open to feedback.
  • … self-righteous instead of humble.
  • … apologetic without changing their harmful behaviors.
  • … the type to avoid working on any problems they have instead of dealing with them.
  • … quick to blame others instead of taking responsibility for their decisions.
  • … liars.

The authors warn, “Look at these traits in terms of degree. Everyone lies at some time … but not everyone is a pathological liar.” The best thing to do when a red flag appears? Take the relationship slow. They advise looking for whether or not a person is willing to adjust their behavior. If they resist, “proceed with caution.”

To learn more about finding safe relationships, read “Dating After Domestic Violence.