I’ve had my fair share of being the person on both ends of a crisis; having been both the person sitting with someone in the depth of their struggles and, conversely, the one turning to others for support at my lowest time of need.
As Brene Brown quotes, “It’s as if we’ve divided the world into those who help and those who need help, but the truth is that we’re both.”
In any given set of circumstances, we can find ourselves on either side of life’s challenges. I constantly find this both humbling and sobering. At one point or another, we find ourselves faced with a friend, loved one, or someone we simply care for, who has been brought to the worst end of their circumstances- whether it be consequences of their own actions, a victim of someone else’s choices, the lows of a mental health condition, or just stuck and confused about what steps to take next.
You don’t have to be a therapist or counselor to suddenly find yourself in this position of support. We’ve all been there. And we may not always have the right answers, but even just having the right heart and attitude can bring a world of healing at the moment a person needs it the most. In turning to individuals I trusted throughout my own journey over the years, I’ve personally shared both toxic and incredibly healing experiences, in the church and in my natural environment.
I’ve thought a lot about these experiences, how their approaches were handled differently, and the impact they had on me. This comes alongside what evidence-based research in the psychology world has shown to be the most effective qualities of a therapeutic relationship, which has been critical for successful outcomes when it comes to therapy and treatment. They mainly encompass empathy, genuineness, trust and respect. You don’t have to be a therapist to adopt these attitudes in your own life or personal ministry.
I think the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 covers it well and many of these evidentially supported characteristics are the natural outcome of abiding in a Christlike spirit or pausing long enough to realign your spirit:
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.”
Surely, no one is perfect and we’re all growing; not to mention we handle things differently especially based on our cultural backgrounds and upbringings. Some people like to hear direct, hard truths because they know that’s what it takes to get them to wake up and get things together. It speaks their language. Others may not receive this type of communication effectively. It may create more shame, hostility or defensiveness and build a bigger barrier, especially if they feel unheard or for a variety of reasons relating to where they are present in life. The bottom line is, if we want to be fruitful as a reliably trusted person of support in times of need, we should consider meeting people where they are, instead of projecting on them where we are.
Active listening is a great place to start. The person in front of us is our greatest teacher of themselves.
So who are safe people? Safe people are the ones we know can be trusted to turn to, to share our present reality with and be heard, understood and many times nudged in the right direction, which can be pivotal moments in our lives. They are genuinely healing and life-giving people to be around, not because they have all the answers or pretend to, but because they live from most of these qualities to the point that it’s just their nature.
I’ve encountered some of these “safe people” through mentors or small group friends at church and unexpected friendships in life that have grown over time through an exchange of vulnerability and trust. You may be able to think of a couple of people that you know of right now who feel like “safe people”. And if not, it may be time rethink our circle and invite more safe people in, by getting more involved in our friendships, church or community and most of all growing in these characteristics ourselves. Safe people often notice what other safe people look like because they have a grounding sense of humility, respect, and healthy boundaries.
I believe these are 5 qualities of those we feel are “safe people” who become foundational catalysts of healing, even in the unseen spaces, in the church and in our world.
They’re not judgmental and pursue the willingness to understand.
At the core, safe people intrinsically view other people, no matter their choices or struggles, as an equal human being in worth and value. They may disagree with a person’s choices but can still engage them with basic human respect and decency. They don’t have an air of self-righteousness. They don’t rush to judgments or assumptions. They’re empathetic and can share in another’s experience that has brought them to the place they’re in. They’d rather understand where you’re coming from and go from there.
They are a fellow traveler through the challenges of life, as one flawed but growing human being to another. As believers, we understand that we are imperfect and humanly flawed and there’s nothing we’ve done or can do to justify ourselves outside of God’s saving grace, an unearned gift. This is even more of a reason to humbly approach those whose lives we walk into.
They’re not controlling or manipulative. They have healthy boundaries and allow for autonomy.
Safe people are not trying to push their own agenda in an attempt to make another person more like how they want them to be. They’re not taking on a “fixer” mentality or the total responsibility of someone else’s journey, which usually becomes a sign of codependency; many times, out of their own need to feel significant and valuable through “fixing”. Pre-set agendas usually lead a person to “play God” in the lives of others, trying to control and manipulate their choices and outcomes. This happens often with emotional and/or spiritual abuse.
This opposing type of personality is usually ego-centric. They’re not trying to help others grow through their own make-up and in the likeness of Christ, but in the likeness of themselves. They rigidly project decisions a person should make based on their own experience as if it’s the only right way.
A person can usually feel this because it becomes overbearing and they no longer feel the autonomy to make their own choices or choices that fit them or where they are in life. A lot of times a person will be made to feel belittled or like they can’t trust themselves and therefore lose connection from their basic convictions and common-sense wisdom.
Safe people want to empower others to be led to make their own healthy choices, which often comes through learning from mistakes as a part of life. They give them the space necessary to grow through their experience. They don’t act as if they’re the sole carrier of the answers for the person in front of them or need to prove themselves as the expert of all things. They understand their limits and are happy to refer to other people or resources that may be more fitting so a person can actually receive effective help. We have to trust that God is ultimately in control, and we are not God.
They won’t exploit your struggles or overshare personal information.
We’ve all seen situations where someone has the habit of disguising their usual gossip as “concern” and takes personal information to people outside of those the original person has disclosed to. Not only will that person almost never trust you with information again if it gets back around, but it shows a general lack of consideration and a lack of boundaries. And more than likely, those you’ve shared the information with won’t trust you because they’ve witnessed how you handle things firsthand.
I personally notice and re-think sharing information with people who have the tendency to overshare information that’s not theirs. In today’s culture, we have things like “sub-tweeting” where people take jabs at others through underlying messages, in some cases where you clearly know it’s directed toward a specific person. All of this creates a barrier marked “unsafe”.
If you know someone or you’re someone who has this habit, realize that this may be a way you compensate for trying to make connection with others because it can create an instant engagement- especially in areas where you may not feel secure enough in belonging just as yourself. It’s a tempting illusion to feel instantly close to people by creating a form of intimacy, even if it’s the unhealthy kind.
You can trust that a safe person has the integrity to keep private information private, as they’d want someone to do the same for them had the roles been reversed. Because they provide this neutral and safe space there are more opportunities for true healing, true connection and true growth for others.
They don’t project their wounds onto you as truth.
We’re all constantly in this cycle of healing and growing, but unhealed advice is usually tainted- tainted by pain, bitterness, and resentment. They tend to make sweeping, overgeneralized and black and white statements about certain groups of people, what people should do and how they should view the world. At the core, it’s another self-centered perspective.
For example, a person who’s been repeatedly heartbroken or disappointed by their own experience might tell you to, “Never trust any man/woman.”
Or give you negative and self-destructive advice about your own relationship, based on how toxic their relationship is or how it ended for them.
These may be from people who are loyal friends or family who does care for you, as far as their own capacity can take them. However, in these areas, we can recognize they’re usually not going to be the best people to manage this type of information, which could be crucial to your relationships or livelihood.
Safe people are usually undergoing some level of self-reflection and cautious of how their experiences have shaped them. They’re interested in doing the work of undoing some of the lies these wounds have created so that they can be healthier people who are more fruitful in the lives and personal ministry. Because of this, they’re less likely to spew negative generalizing advice or comments to you not based in any objective truth.
They speak life and truth.
Being considerate and understanding isn’t the opposite of truth-telling, as some may believe. Now I do think that some forms of “truth-telling” can be ineffective no matter how right you may be, and ultimately miss the mark. Unwarranted advice, rigidly telling someone what they need to do without them having turned to you, could be one of them- especially if you barely have a relationship.
I believe in the idea of a relationship bank. The level you put in and invest in a person with time, care and trust, is around the level at which you can genuinely withdraw from that relationship, or in this case, take something that may not feel good at first but ultimately benefits in the long run.
A number of people may debate that the truth is the truth and a person needs to hear it whether they like it or not, which I agree with part of that. We may not always like the truth even when it’s good for us, but the bigger question is, what is our goal at the end of it all? Is it true change and healing and restoration for the other person? Is it based in genuine love for the other person rather than our own self-righteousness? Because if so we’d at least want to consider what would prove most fruitful for the person in front of us.
Safe people also lovingly hold someone accountable to growth steps that you’ve mutually talked about and considered holding each other to. They’re discerning to the timing of their approach. Sometimes it’s never a good time to share harder truths but there are usually more sensitive times where it’s least beneficial and we can be aware of that by genuinely tuning into those around us.
They remind you of who you are and who you were made to be when you can’t see yourself. Their words build instead of tear down. They’re not perfect but they generally benefit you by having them around.
There are so many more point I believe could be made here, but I’d love to hear from you! Are there any other qualities you’ve experienced that you would add to this list? Drop them in the comments below!