Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Unsafe ‘friends’
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
Have you ever pondered …
“I need to learn to pick better friends.”
“I keep choosing people who let me down.”
“What is it about me that seems to attract losers?”
“Why am I so drawn to the wrong types?”
The reality is that many people have a difficult time with character discernment – that is, being able to tell the “sheep from the goats” and finding those people who have quality character from those who have little or no character at all.
This dilemma seems to really rear its head when considering romantic attractions. I have counseled many people who are searching for ways to find the “one who is good for me – kind, respectful, honest and humble.”
Sometimes, after heartbreak or disappointment, hindsight provides clarity on all the character flaws we may have missed – duplicity, dishonesty, irresponsibility and/or self-centeredness.
In corny comic books, the “bad guy” is easy to figure out – he or she wears a black hat, perhaps twirls a handlebar mustache, and has a menacing voice that screams “villain!”
In real life, however, the bad guys are not that easy to spot. They may be handsome or beautiful, charming in their presentation, and charismatic in their speech while the relationship seems promising, fulfilling, winsome – that is, until reality hits you over the head with a boulder of truth.
So how can we know more, up front, before we invest in someone who will end up being hurtful, difficult and unsafe? Here are some traits to be aware of in the early stages of a relationship:
- Unsafe, unhealthy people seem to have it all together, have all the answers and rarely will own their weaknesses. Of course, over time, it will seem that you are the one who hasn’t figured out life because this “friend” is so superior. Anytime a friend makes you feel inadequate or subpar, that person has just jumped into the category of unsafe.
- Unsafe people will seem dependent on you to feed their own inadequacies. Constantly seeking affirmation, reassurance and justification, this person will drain you of energy. Initially, it feels good to know you are helping someone, but after awhile it just becomes overwhelming because the dependency is an unhealthy one.
- Unhealthy/unsafe people demand love and trust without having earned them first. And, if you should question the trust, the unsafe person will immediately make it seem that you are flawed because you don’t trust.
- An unsafe person will not admit personal faults; rather, s/he will turn it back to you – and will sound pretty convincing while doing it! Somehow an issue identified as a problem will get quickly turned back to YOU as the problem – every time.
- An unsafe person shows passive-aggressive tendencies, which can keep you reeling. The unhealthiness of this type of relationship is that you never really know what to expect. Needs are not addressed head-on; you don’t have honest, direct conversations; nothing ever gets resolved. For example, a passive-aggressive person may say yes, but his/her behavior screams NO. They may try to sabotage your wants, needs and plans. This is obviously an unsafe person.
Yes, it’s easy to get ensnared in an unhealthy and unsafe relationship. So what should we look for? What exactly is a “safe” person? Consider …
- A person who accepts you just as you are (and doesn’t try to change you).
- A person who makes it easy for you to be yourself (and not wear a mask as to how you “should” be).
- A person who encourages growth (and doesn’t become envious).
- A person who accepts their own personal shortcomings in certain areas (and doesn’t always seem “put together perfectly”).
- A person who is quick to laugh and quick to show empathy (and doesn’t make you feel “weird” for having emotions of your own).
- A person who shares life with you (but doesn’t only “share life” when you can do something for them).
- A person who is trustworthy (and doesn’t betray your confidences).
Unfortunately, people don’t wear signs that say “safe” or “unsafe.” But everyone is worthy of having those friends and relationships that enhance life … and don’t subtract from it! Sometimes we just need to adjust our “pickers” – so that the persons we pick to share life with are worthy of our investment of friendship!