friendship: safety & boundaries aren’t dumb psychology words

kathyescobar friendship, relationships, the refuge 16 Comments

friendship blog safe people* this is the next post from friendship summer camp.  it’s interesting that even as i share these here i can hear a voice that says “where’s the scripture in here? are we really going to talk about psychology stuff? come on, let’s talk about theology and church instead!” (hmm, mind-reading?).  but i will hold to what i keep learning–this stuff doesn’t drop out of the sky.  these skills help us become more loving human beings and i think that was always the idea!

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we use the word “safe” a lot at the refuge; it doesn’t mean easy & comfortable & whatever-goes.  it means becoming people who are healthy enough to hold painful real stuff, strong enough to say hard things, and present enough to create security.   becoming a safer person & finding safe people to be in relationship with is no easy task. most of us weren’t taught these things in church or our families so we’re trying to figure it out as grownups, often the hard way.  these skills aren’t pop psychology or non-biblical; rather, they are practical reflections of loving relationship.

there are some characteristics of safe people and unsafe people that we need to look out for as we form and nurture friendships.  in these moments i think it’s way easier to point the finger at other people and say “they’re not safe or they’re not this or that” instead of heeding Jesus’ advice to consider the log in our own eye first.  every day i am reminded of how much i need God’s help & wisdom to become a safer person.  that really was the challenge at sacred friendship summer camp–what is God stirring up in us personally related to being a friend?  not–how can other people be better friends to us?

also, just because we or another person possesses unsafe qualities (or not enough of the safe ones) doesn’t mean we should write them off completely.  we are all learning and a work in progress.  but it does mean that we need to be aware of them so we can engage from a place of maturity instead of defaulting to unhealthy patterns.

here are some characteristics of unsafe people, adapted from henry cloud & john townsend’s excellent book, safe people:  

unsafe people:

  • think we ”have it all together” instead of admitting our weaknesses
  • are defensive instead of open to feedback
  • are self-righteous instead of humble
  • only apologize instead of changing our behavior
  • avoid working on our problems instead of dealing with them
  • demand trust instead of earning it
  • blame others instead of take responsibility
  • lie instead of tell the truth
  • remain stagnant instead of growing
  • resist freedom instead of encouraging it
  • can’t take no for an answer
  • flatter us instead of confronting us
  • condemn us instead of forgiving us
  • stay in parental roles instead of relating to us as equals
  • unstable over time instead of being consistent
  • gossip instead of keeping secrets

while it’s important to reflect on how we “don’t” want to be, it’s more important to cultivate the good stuff.  here are the qualities of safer people.

safer people: 

  • accept us just like we are
  • love us no matter how we are being or what we do
  • influence us to develop our ability to love and be responsible
  • give us an opportunity to grow & stretch & practice
  • help us feel comfortable being “ourselves”, to be on the outside what we are on the inside
  • allow us to become the us that God intended
  • use their lives to touch ours and leave us better for it
  • help us be more like Jesus
  • help us to like & love others more
  • make the relationship more important than opinions
  • receive instead of just give
  • are humble & willing to say what we need
  • are honest, kind & don’t pretend
  • work through resistances instead of giving up

when i read through this list, i am reminded of how grateful i am for the people in my life who have shown me what safer looks like and keep challenging me to walk in this direction.

one critical of safe people is that they honor boundaries properly.  boundaries are where we end and others begin. a lot of us have really cruddy ones because we confused no-boundaries with love or we have been shamed into believing we have to give all of ourselves or we’re not being godly enough.

here are some things that we sometimes think about boundaries:

1. we are bad or mean or unloving for setting them.

2. we will not get the love we want & need if we set them.

3. others will reject us if we set them.

4. we really have no idea what’s appropriate and what’s not when it comes to boundaries in friendship.

there are many types of boundaries, but some of the primary areas include:  personal space, words (yes, no, what we want to share and don’t want to share), time, and emotional connection.

some of us have really fuzzy boundaries and need to learn to tighten them to have healthier friendships; and others of us have really tight boundaries and may need to loosen some of them to pursue greater connection with others.

just talking about safety & boundaries always helps me re-group a little.  i read the book boundaries 18 years ago and still every time i pick it up i’m convicted, in a good way, because it reminds me that this process of becoming a healthier person takes a lifetime. it’s part of our ongoing spiritual transformation and we can keep getting better at relationship through practice & God’s help.

what are you learning about safer people & boundaries these days?