By Kathi Bush MA, LCPC

Welcome to Part Three of this blog. In Parts One and Two, we introduced the five points I believe are essential to building trust, and discussed the first point, building trust takes time. Now let’s move on to point number two: Trust should happen with “safe” people.

Trust should happen with “safe” people.

*Some of the ideas below can be found in the book Safe People (1995), by Christian psychologists Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. It’s a great book for practical learning in this area. The term refers to people who are safe emotionally and relationally. In this blog, we won’t address situations in which people are unsafe due to physical abuse, verbal abuse, or emotional abuse.

We should trust safe people. Not perfect people … safe people. We are all a work in progress, and at times we all stumble and act in ways that don’t feel emotionally safe to others. A safe person will on the whole, though, feel safe. Here are some traits of both safe and unsafe people.

Unsafe people make you feel unheard, not listened to, misunderstood. They may be unempathic and feel overly critical or harsh. They lack a spirit of grace and forgiveness. They are not in their own self-learning and growing process. They are either unaware of or do not admit their weaknesses or faults. They rarely, or half-heartedly, apologize. In the relationship, there is no reciprocity, give and take is unequal. They seek you out primarily when they need or want something.

They may be overly controlling, angry if you don’t do something the way they want you to. When you tell them “no” in response to a request, they don’t respect your “no.” Instead, they withdraw emotionally or attempt to cause you to feel guilty. When you point out a problem in the relationship, they become defensive and point blame at you or others.

In contrast, safe people cause you to feel heard, listened to, understood. They are empathic and compassionate. They have a spirit of grace and forgiveness about them. They are self-reflective and in their own learning and growing process. They are humble, admitting their faults and weaknesses. They work on their issues, take responsibility for them, and deal with relationship problems between you. They ask for forgiveness.

On the other hand, they’re not a “doormat,” taking blame or over-apologizing for things in which they’ve done no wrong. There is mutual give and take in the relationship. They respect your “no” in response to a request. When you share your struggles, they cause you to feel accepted rather than overly self-conscious or ashamed, so it encourages you to keep trying to improve. When you ask for input on your own struggles, they are truthful while at the same time kind, forthright without causing you to feel belittled.

Cloud, Henry PhD and Townsend, John, PhD. (1995). Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

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