I just finished reading the book “Safe People” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend (the same authors who wrote “Boundaries”) and thought I would share a brief review.
I confess the title led me to believe it was going to be about how to get rid of all the unsafe people in your life. And I think the authors titled it that way intentionally; even the tag line of the book gives that impression.
As I read the book, though, and the descriptions of unsafe people at the beginning, I realized that a few of those traits even describe me. 😳 I think that’s the authors’ point: the line between “safe” and “unsafe” people isn’t so black and white. Because we’re all sinners, any of us might be “unsafe” or fall into “unsafe” behavior patterns from time to time. You can fall into them without even realizing it.
After describing the characteristics of unsafe people in part 1, the authors go on to examine the reasons we may be drawn to unsafe people in part 2. I found this section very revealing as well, for I saw a number of the tendencies they described in that section in myself. The last chapter of part 2 asks why we isolate ourselves, which is one of the tendencies that makes us more vulnerable to unsafe relationships. That chapter hit me right between the eyes. I do tend to isolate myself. They said some people isolate because they’ve lost the ability to feel their hunger for relationships. Ouch. That describes me more than I wanted to admit.
The final section of the book, part 3, describes the characteristics of safe people, and why we need them in our lives. They bring home the point that if we tend to isolate ourselves this really isn’t what we need; it’s a self-protection mechanism (my words) but it keeps us from getting what we really need, which is relationships with safe people. The book then goes on to look at how we can find safe people, and how we can become safe people ourselves.
In the last chapter of the book the authors ask the question: So what about the unsafe relationships in your life? Do you need to get them completely out of your life, or should you instead try to repair and rebuild those relationships? I started the book just wanting to get the unsafe people out of my life, but the authors make a strong case that this is never the ideal. They talk about how God is so much about relationships and how God goes out of His way to pursue relationships with broken, hurtful people, and the authors admonish us to follow God’s example.
The authors recommend ways to try to repair unsafe relationships. The main thing they advocate is: instead of simply abandoning the unsafe person, we should take a stand for our needs and values in the relationship. They say that often the person who’s being mistreated in a relationship can bring change to the way the other person treats them by standing up for themselves. So the authors recommend that ending a relationship is a last resort and should only be chosen as the solution when every effort has been made to stand up for oneself and hold the other person accountable, and still there is no change. They also recommend trying this for some amount of time rather than giving up at the first sign that it’s not working. They talk about how longsuffering God is toward us and say that we should be longsuffering toward one another as well.
In conclusion, “Safe People” is not an easy read. If you read it prayerfully with an open mind and heart, it will prod you to look more at yourself than at the people in your life who are causing you problems. It has definitely given me a lot of food for thought and prayer.