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“Chronic illness wouldn’t be as terrible as it is if it were just the illness we were dealing with.” I’m not sure who said this statement, but it’s a fairly accurate statement. There isn’t an area where chronic illness doesn’t touch. It touches our work, relationships, the body of Christ and how they interact with us, and more areas than maybe we even recognize ourselves. But the area of concern that I hear about the most with people with chronic illness is in the area of relationships- which is why I’m delving into the matter more in depth here.
Since we already talked about a more specific topic with the family as it relates to chronic illness here, here, and here, I wanted to take the time to look at an overview of what exactly makes a person safe and unsafe. I can’t take the credit for this term of “Safe People.” Cloud and Townsend who are two psychologists developed the term to denote someone who is safe to keep close to you in your life and who needs to be kept at a fairly safe distance.
What an Unsafe Person Looks Like, Adapted from the Book Safe People
Unsafe people assume a perfect facade and refuse to admit any cracks in their perfect veneer.
Unsafe people know how to be religious, but they don’t know how to have a relationship with God.
Unsafe people will defend themselves and will refuse to be open to correction.
Unsafe people puff themselves up instead of having an air of grace and humility.
Unsafe people may say “I’m sorry,” but they don’t show the fruit of repentance (changed behavior).
Unsafe people neglect areas of personal growth in their life and instead, drift through life relatively unchanged because they’re not seeking to grow.
Unsafe people demand that you trust them, instead of showing to you over time that they have earned it.
Unsafe people are looking to scapegoat other people or circumstances, anything or anyone except taking blame when necessary.
Unsafe people are dishonest and manipulate the truth.
What a Safe Person Looks Like in the Life of Chronic Illness
A safe person will regard what you can contribute with your low energy as a treasure to be valued- as if you used all of your pennies in your piggy bank to spend on them. An unsafe person will tell you it’s not enough and demand that you try harder, viewing your illness as a personal inconvenience to them.
A safe person will actively listen as you discuss your chronic illness, appreciating your risk of vulnerability. An unsafe person will see this discussion as a nuisance or unnecessary to their life, so they ignore it, demonstrating in act and speech that they never cared to hear you out.
A safe person will see your journey of chronic illness as the illness itself being inherently bad, but a story that can be used for good. An unsafe person will regard your journey as a pesky intrusion to them in their life.
A safe person realizes that they have to earn the right to lend advice. And when the advice is extended it is offered with the notion that it can be turned down if it’s not helpful to you (i.e.: think of all of those supplement advice you’ve received;) An unsafe person will think they are entitled to offer unsolicited advice and will try to direct and control your behavior in sometimes emotionally abusive ways.
A safe person is like a welcoming home. They make you feel comfortable to come to them about any concerns you have (even if that includes them). Since they know they haven’t arrived, they’re not threatened by gentle confrontation that seeks peace. An unsafe person will bristle at confrontation, feeling as if you’re challenging their ego.
A safe person respects your “no” and chooses to respect your unique independence. They will not use phrases like “you need to_______” or “you should do _________” but instead, will provide suggestions when they’re helpful and appropriate. An unsafe person will try to usurp your free will- which can be made apparent by the controlling types of phrases I just mentioned. These phrases will be used as an attempt to micromanage your words and actions. (You can read further on this topic with the book, Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend.)
A Final Note on Safe People and Chronic Illness
It’s important to remember that even safe people can have slip-ups into unsafe behavior at times since none of us have arrived. What’s the difference between a generally unsafe person and a person who is safe but has fallen into unsafe behavior? A person who is safe and has fallen into unsafe patterns will be open to correction and may simply not be aware of his/her actions. They will apologize and self-correct. Or a generally thought to be safe person may have undergone a serious trauma of which they may need time and counseling to recover from.
Have you had a more difficult time in the area of finding safe people in your life since developing a chronic health condition? Can you see ways in which your chronic illness can make you a safer person for others?