Notes from both weeks “Recognizing Unsafe People” videos

These two videos offer in-depth looks from chapters 2 and 3 of the book “Safe People” by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. In these two videos, Dr. Townsend talks through twenty indicators or “red flags” that can help us identify unsafe people just by observing them. The Chapter 2 video covers eleven personal traits you can watch for, and the Chapter 3 one lists nine interpersonal traits. You can see the most recent version of the complete “Safe People” series – including a shorter look at the two chapters – here.


Eleven Personal Traits of Unsafe People (“Safe People” book chapter 2) with Dr. John Townsend

1.   Unsafe people think they “have it all together”
instead of admitting their weakness

➜ Doesn’t mean that being self-sufficient or strong is a bad thing
➜ Our society tells us we shouldn’t need anyone
➜ Show someone a little weakness – be a little vulnerable – for a look at the person’s character

2.   Unsafe people are “religious”
instead of spiritual (meaning relationships) 

➜ spiritual people know the rules of relationships
➜ spiritual people do them

3.   Unsafe people are defensive
instead of open to feedback 

➜ we all have blind spots about ourselves
➜ unsafe people resist feedback
➜ safe people welcome feedback

4.   Unsafe people are self-righteous
instead of humble

➜ proud is easy, humility is hard
➜ humble people live in reality
➜ unsafe people are often very invested in the perception of being good

5.   Unsafe people only apologize
instead of changing their behavior

➜ good relationships include lots of apologies
➜ apologies by themselves are not enough
➜ “words are nice but only a change in behavior matters”
➜ don’t forgive too easily after an apology if behavior doesn’t change
➜ there’s help out there

6.   Unsafe people avoid working on their problems
instead of dealing with them

➜ safe people want to change and grow

7.   Unsafe people demand trust
instead of earning it

➜ when you’re at fault, you have to be ready work – a lot – to regain trust
➜ love is free, but trust must be earned

8.   Unsafe people believe they are perfect
instead of admitting their faults 

➜ some people have a “grandiose self-image”
➜ sometimes they’re trying to escape their consciences
➜ sometimes they really believe they’re perfect (entitlement)

9.   Unsafe people blame others
instead of taking responsibility 

➜ the fault is never inside themselves
➜ their stories can be very creative and elaborate
➜ we have to “carry our own crosses” (mistakes, weaknesses, failures) – but only ours

10.  Unsafe people lie
instead of telling the truth 

➜ there are big lies and little lies
➜ sometimes we divert 
➜ beware the little lies and gray areas
➜ up your standards about truth

11.  (the last trait for this week) Unsafe people are stagnant
instead of growing

➜ support groups and small groups help us encounter ourselves
➜ unsafe people have no interest in – or knowledge about – growth, or are hostile to it


Nine Interpersonal Traits of Unsafe People (“Safe People” book chapter 3) with Dr. John Townsend

1.  Unsafe people avoid closeness
instead of connecting

➜ We’re focusing on people that won’t connect (as opposed to people that can’t for mental health reasons)
➜ Safe people know they’re not perfect and want to improve

2.  Unsafe people are only concerned about “I” and “me”
instead of “we”

➜ Some people lack “empathic attunement”
➜ Try playing back what the other person says, and vice versa

3.  Unsafe people resist freedom
instead of encouraging it

➜ Freedom is essential in a healthy relationship
➜ We may fear inside that with freedom someone will leave
➜ Do you want to be with someone that doesn’t want to be there anyway?

4.  Unsafe people flatter us
instead of confronting us

➜ Positive affirmation is great, but… we all need correction sometimes
➜ Unsafe people tell us what we want to hear because they have another agenda
➜ Watch for flattery vs. praise

5.  Unsafe people condemn us
instead of forgiving us

➜ Ever been sent to the doghouse and never let out?
➜ Good relationships include mistakes and forgiveness
➜ Unsafe people keep a permanent scorecard

6.  Unsafe people stay in parent/child roles
instead of relating es equals

➜ Unsafe people will try to be a controlling parent
➜ … or try to rescue us as if we were children
➜ Is it love? or is it rescue? (or from another of our videos, “am I doing something for this person that the person should be able to do from him/herself?”

7.  Unsafe people are unstable over time
instead of being consistent

➜ “Say vs. do” (words are nice but sustained action matters)
➜ “intermittent reinforcement” (this is a huge insight into human behavior all by itself)

8.  Unsafe people are a negative influence on us,
rather than a positive one

➜ Sometimes un unsafe people leaves you with a “sugar hangover”
➜ “I’ve been slimed”

9.  Unsafe people gossip
instead of keeping secrets

➜ beware the Perpetrator/Victim/Rescuer triangle (look it up!)
➜ in a disagreement, go to that person, not someone else
➜ If someone starts to share gossip with you, you can choose not to listen