His name is Mr. Pudding, Pud for short. He was one of our rent-a-cats, as we affectionately called them. While we were renting for a year, we lived in a beautiful completely remodeled 160 year old house. You know, the kind that has 2 staircases. Loved that house!
Anyhow, the week we showed up so did Mr. Pud and his 2 buddies. This cat wheedled his way into the house via an injured paw and then set up camp.
He loved us and would follow me around in the morning meowing til I would sit down so then he could sit in my lap. The most affectionate cat you ever met, and he was even willing to let my daughter dress him up whenever she pleased.
But sadly, Mr. Pud had some major flaws. He was not a “safe” person (er… cat). He expected to be the only cat in your life. And with 5 other cats on the premises this became a problem as he would terrorize the other cats if they came anywhere near the house.
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This reminded me of a book I read years ago called, Safe People: How to Find Relationships that are Good for You and Avoid Those that Aren’t by Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud. The book details how critical it is to be able to distinguish what a safe person looks like.
For years, I worked at an agency that provided advocacy and support for those who had or were experiencing domestic or sexual violence. So many times I would hear a client say that they just “had bad luck”. Others would wonder why their current relationship was so toxic stating that they had known to avoid a person who was an alcoholic or drug user, as if excluding that one character flaw or addiction would ensure a safe person.
A safe person is more than an absence of an addiction or one specific character flaw. It is the overall character of a person. We all have flaws and struggles so what are some characteristics of a safe person.
7 Characteristics of a Safe Person
- Responsive to your feelings. The quickest way to discover if you are in a relationship with a safe person is to share your thoughts or opinions. A safe person will typically listen and respond by taking your feelings into consideration. That may not be their immediate response, because we all tend to try to defend ourselves, but a safe person will overtime consider your feedback.
- Admits when they are wrong. Ugh, I struggle sometimes to say, “I messed up.” It is hard to admit we made a mistake or that we should have left a situation well enough alone. But a healthy person is able to admit when they made a mistake AND helps to clean up the mess. So not only will they do the hard work of apologizing, but they will try to correct the situation. They won’t simply say, “I’m sorry” and leave you with the consequences.
- Responsible for their part of the relationship. A safe person will take action in the relationship NOT for all the relationship because that would not be healthy, but they are willing to own and be part of the relationship. If you find that you are constantly “working” to keep a friendship or relationship then chances are something is wrong. A healthy friendship includes both parties giving and taking. Sometimes you are the one supporting them and other times you are receiving the benefits of a listening ear or helping hand.
- Willing to grow. Everyone makes mistakes. You know what one of the biggest differences is in a healthy person? They learn from their mistakes and continue to grow and move forward. They are interested in learning and setting goals. Mistakes and failures in life don’t define you. What you choose to do with those setbacks does. So many people get stuck in a destructive pattern. Instead of changing they decide to continue making those same poor choices. A healthy person will gradually be moving forward each year, challenging themselves to become a better version of themselves.
- Works to keep open communication and trust. A safe person should make you feel…well safe! You should feel like you can rely on them and trust what they are saying. They also understand that it may take time for you to trust them. I always tell my relationship groups that you should move forward in life trusting people, but don’t feel like you need to trust a person with your emotions and money until they have earned it.
- Takes responsibility for their own emotional, mental and spiritual health. They have their own interests and friends. They want to be with you but don’t need to. Remember Mr. Pud. Bless his little heart…he demanded absolute loyalty. He did not like you to pay attention to other cats. It was exhausting, and he was just a cat!! At times it felt good, since we all like to be wanted and appreciated, but a relationship that is built upon this dynamic will drain you. A safe person will take ownership of their own self-care. They aren’t constantly looking to someone else to focus on them 100% of the time.
- Encouraging of YOU. In healthy relationships, you will feel accepted for where you are right now, but also encouraged to become a better version of YOU. It is a fine balance. Some people will like you for who you are, but then feel threatened if you want to grow or try new things. Others tend to make you feel like you are always slightly less than. There needs to be both elements: acceptance in the present and joy in your future growth process.
Examine your current relationships. You will probably find that you have a variety of relationships in your lives, some healthy and some perhaps not so healthy. Work at identifying safe people and realizing that it take many elements for a person to be healthy, not just the absence of one addiction or flaw.
The big key is do you recognize the difference? And most importantly…which relationships are you giving your time and energy?