Safe People

This is an outline of the book by John Preston and John Townsend called Safe People.  It is an excellent Bible study for believers seeking to grow in relationships.

Safe People

~how to find relationships that are good for you and avoid those that aren’t~

Who are unsafe people?

  1. The Abandoners
  2. The Critics
  3. The Irresponsibles

Personal Traits of Unsafe People

  • Unsafe people think they “have it all together” instead of admitting their weaknesses.
  • Unsafe people are religious instead of spiritual.
  • Unsafe people are defensive instead of open to feedback.
  • Unsafe people are self-righteous instead of humble.
  • Unsafe people only apologize instead of changing their behavior.
  • Unsafe people avoid working on their problems instead of dealing with them.
  • Unsafe people demand trust instead of earning it.
  • Unsafe people believe they are perfect instead of admitting their faults.
  • Unsafe people blame others instead of taking responsibilities.
  • Unsafe people lie instead of telling the truth.chalk
  • Unsafe people are stagnant instead of growing.

Interpersonal Traits of Unsafe People

  • Unsafe people avoid closeness instead of connecting.
  • Unsafe people are only concerned with “I” instead of “we”.
  • Unsafe people resist freedom instead of encouraging it.
  • Unsafe people flatter us instead of confronting us.
  • Unsafe people condemn us instead of forgiving us.
  • Unsafe people star in parent/child roles instead of relating as equals.
  • Unsafe people are unstable over time instead of being consistent.
  • Unsafe people are a negative influence on us, rather than a positive one.
  • Unsafe people gossip instead of keeping secrets.

How We Lost Our Safety

God Created a Safe World – John 17:21& 22…unity and relationship

The sad truth is that sin came into the world…1. Sin by us 2. Sin against us 3. Sin in the world 4. Satan’s strategies.

  1. Sin by Us
    • We are envious.
    • We think we are self sufficient.
    • We think we are entitled to special treatment.
    • We transgress against God’s laws.
  2. Sin Against Us
    • Our bonding was disrupted.
    • Our boundaries were not respected.
    • We were not seen as whole people, with good and bad traits.
    • We were not allowed to mature into adults.
  3. Sin in the World
    • Romans 8:21
    • Romans 8:22
  4. Satan’s Strategies
    • Accusing
    • Tempting
    • Sifting Luke 22:31

Do I Have a Safety Deficit? 

Check out the list of questions here!

Do I have Enough Safe People in My Life? – Psalm 141:5

    1. Relationships – Quality
    2. Functioning – Work, activity, fun, recreation – Luke 4:16, Gen. 1:27-28
    3. Physical Health
    4. Spiritual Life – Job 6:14

 Why Do I Choose Unsafe Relationships?

  1. Why can’t I Find Safe People?
    • Inability to Judge Character
    • Isolation and Fear of Abandonment – Matt 18:17, I Cor. 5:11-13
    • Defensive Hope
    • Unfaced Badness – Mark 10:18
    • Merger Wishes
    • Fear of Confrontation
    • Romanticizing
    • Need to Rescue
    • Familiarity
    • Victim Role
    • Guilt
    • Perfectionism
    • Repetition
    • Denial of Pain and Perceptions – Heb. 5:14
  2. A Necessary Part of Sanctification

False Solutions

Look at the things that haven’t worked in your relationships – and save time so you don’t make further mistakes in the same area.  False answers are much of the reason people begin giving up on love and intimacy. These are false solutions that don’t work in finding safe people.  They don’t work, and they aren’t helpful.

  1. Doing the Same
    • Am I having the same conversations with different people?
    • Are the problems and conflicts similar, such as abandonment, control, guilt, irresponsibility, rage?
    • Are my friends telling me there’s a problem?
    • Am I becoming able to predict the end of a relationship?
  2. Doing the Opposite
    • Falling in love reactively:
      • Someone who is reserved and quiet to someone who is out of control.
      • Someone who is isolated to someone who is all emotions.
      • Someone who is irresponsible to a control freak.
    • Choosing friends who are opposite from your family or origin:
      • Controlling family – impulsive friends.
      • Chaotic family – rigid friends.
      • Abusive family – permissive friends.
    • Choosing religious settings in a reactive manner.
      • Liberal to legalistic
      • Overconservative to anti-doctrinal
      • Intellectual theology to experience-based theology

3. Doing Too Much

  • Are you staying in functional areas instead of connecting with others?
  • Dancing, Sports, Music, Art, Spiritual Bible studies, Worship, Missions, Career, Masters
  • Most people are investing their time, energy, and money for a skill-based or function reason. Worshiping God, Feeding Orphans, Learning dance, etc.
  • Connecting with you is incidental, not a priority. If they are trying to get the function completed they may avoid connecting.

Jesus explained to Martha that her sister Mary had “chosen what is better” (Luke 10:42)  Task completion is good, but closeness to God and others must always take precedence.

4. Doing Nothing

  • Scheduling weekly activities – and omitting relationships.
  • Becoming discouraged because no one calls – and forgetting that your phone can make calls as well as receive them.
  • Chronically being too exhausted to make contact with others.
  • Being unable to feel lonely, therefore not making plans to connect (like avoiding the dr. til you have chest pains.)
  • There are two kinds of “nothing doers”.
  • Aggressive Conflict – people who have an internal war that revolves around things like risk-taking, action, making changes, and follow-through. abandonment b. punished for taking initiative
  • Passivity – people who are “waiting”. They just don’t get around to it.
    • a. Being trained to do nothing until someone gives an order.
    • b. having a “do everything” parent who didn’t allow you to learn responsibility.
    • c. developing a fantasy life in which you are rescued from your circumstances by others, instead of solving your own problems.
    • d. believing that you are incompetent, and so giving up.
  1. Doing for Others
    • If you want love – give love….However, not considering that you’re doing out of the wrong motivation.  We are to give out of a grateful, overflowing heart.
    • Don’t resist being humbled.
    • Recognize: 1. your loneliness, 2. inability to ask for comfort, 3. helplessness, 4. feeling of being one down.
  2. Doing “Cosmetic Personality Surgery”
    • Going to cultural events you have no interest in.
    • Participating in sports you don’t like.
    • Going to churches that are good meeting places, but which don’t give you anything spiritually.
    • Hanging out with people you don’t like because they might be good referrals for other contacts.  Eph. 4:16
  3. Doing Without
    • This may birth from a false judgement on you.  (from yourself or from others)
  • You aren’t meant for safe people.
  • You don’t qualify.
  • You’ve been asking for too much.
  • You can’t get it right.
  • You are too damaged to have relationships.
  • You aren’t spiritual enough.
    • These people bury themselves in work, service, or other worthwhile venues.
    • The disconnected part of you will die gradually and wither away like a starving infant.
    • God hurts for your aloneness.  He feels what you are going through.  Even more, he wants to remove you from these deadly false solutions and set you on a new path.  Ps. 16:11


Why do I Isolate Myself from People?

  • A Broken Heart
    • Abandonment
    • Inconsistent Attachment
    • Attack
  • Self-Sufficiency
    • I take care of my own problems.
    • I don’t burden others with my problems.
    • I can handle my problems myself, thank you.
    • I’m fine, really.
    • No really, I’m fine.
    • You also describe yourself as responsible, independent, and grown-up.
    • You don’t have to experience your incompleteness, which is painful.
    • You don’t have to go to the trouble of finding people to love you.
    • You don’t have to show other people the hurting, imperfect parts of yourself.
    • You don’t have to look anyone in the eye and  say, “I need you.”
    • You don’t have to risk asking others to comfort and support you.
    • You don’t have to humbly receive what they offer, in gratitude.
    • AND You don’t have to do it again and again and again.
    • Confession and telling the truth will bring the unloved parts of you to the places of love.  God will help you.
  • Inability to Experience Hunger
    • I am uncomfortable with people and relaxed when alone.
    • I don’t get “lonely”, whatever people mean by that.
    • I spend time with people out of obligation, or for functional reasons (tennis partner, commuting to work.
    • My fantasies of vacation always involve my doing something fun by myself.
    • God wants to wake up that sleeping part of you! Matthew 5:5
  • Devaluation
    • When I have a loss, I quickly find reasons that the loss didn’t matter.
    • When I lose a relationship, I think of that person’s negative qualities to help get me over it.
    • When people talk about wanting something (new house, to see a movie, a relationship), my mind moves to what’s wrong about what they want.
    • When I anticipate receiving something, I keep from getting excited by devaluing it.
  • Realize that you were created to need. Matt. 23:37
  • Begin to observe the devaluing things you say and think. Ask friends to give you feedback.
  • Observe the patterns. Maybe you do it more when it’s more important to you.
  • Work on bringing your needs to relationship.
  1. Perfectionism –For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. James 2:10
    • You might disqualify a friend before really getting to know her.
    • You might be enormously hurt and disappointed when someone fails you, and withdraw.
    • You might have impossible standards for people.
    • You might become so self condemning that you avoid connections.
    • You might have a string of failed friendships behind you and you’re ready to give up.
    • Here’s what you can do:
  2. Understand that you’ve turned ideals from goals into demands.
  3. Begin to study what the Cross actually accomplished: we can be both loved and flawed at the same time.
  4. Find out where you learned to be a perfectionist. It could have been a conditional relationship, a perfectionist parent, or a legalistic background.
  5. Seek out people who also admit their faults and have no need to judge you.
  6. Begin to allow others to both know and love you. Most perfectionist can’t do both: they either feel loved and unknown or known and unloved.  Remember that the antidote to perfectionism isn’t being good.  It’s being loved.
  7. Give up your sense of entitlement.
  8. Begin to do what God does with these issues: Take your needs off the Cross – and nail your perfectionism and isolation up there.


  1. Merger Wishes – Love minus boundaries
    • Possible Thoughts you’re having…
  • I want the connection with _____ to be wonderful.
  • I want us to have no conflicts or misunderstandings.
  • I want _____ to understand me, and me him, totally.
  • I want _____ to comfort me and help me feel better.
  • What if _____ is in a bad mood?
  • What if _____ doesn’t understand me the way I need it?
    • Back on the road of choosing connections:
  1. Realize your trait is probably the result of a relationship in which you were abandoned and made helpless. People who struggle with merger wishes often have been punished for being aggressive and reinforced for being compliant.
  2. Begin to make separateness your friend. Distinguish separateness from abandonment, and aloneness from loneliness.  Understand how letting others be separate frees you up to make choices yourself.
  • Find people whom you can practice setting boundaries.
  • Be honest with safe people about the merger wish. With time separateness with no longer feel like abandonment.
  1. Passivity – it can be hard to stand by and watch a friend’s entire life go down the drain until they finally have lost everything and everyone they love.
    • Sometimes passive people will spiritualize their condition.  They’ll wait for God to… Find them a job. Find them a mate. Solve relational problems. Find them a support group. Heal emotional pain.
    • God never reinforces passivity.  He always presents out growth as a partnership with him.  He does what only God can do, and we do out job: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). To avoid responsibility is never a spiritual act.
    • Passivity is hazardous to our health.  If you are passive, you may find that It’s too hard to reach out and take initiative in relationships.  Hebrews 10:38
    • Don’t let life pass you by as you shrink back.  Find people who want to help you enter the world, encourage you to take action, and support your attempts to regain control over your life and relationships.



These are the reasons you choose to get into unsafe relationships.  There are also reasons you avoid developing relationships at all. 

What are Safe People?

  1. Safe People Are:
    1. Draws us closer to God.
    2. Draws us closer to others.
    3. Helps us become the real person God created us to be.
  • A person who accepts me just like I am.
  • A person who loves me no matter how I am being or what I do.
  • A person whose influence develops my ability to love and be responsible.
  • Someone who increases love within me.
  • Someone I can be myself around.
  • Someone who allows me to be on the outside what I am on the inside.
  • Someone who helps me to deny myself for others and God.
  • Someone who allows me to become the me God sees in me.
  • Someone whose life touches mine and leaves me better for it.
  • Someone who touches my life and draws me closer to who God created me to be.
  • Someone who helps me be like Christ.
  • Someone who helps me to love others more.
  1. Jesus is the best example of a safe person: John 1:14
    1. Dwelling – Someone’s ability to connect with us.
    2. Grace – Unmerited favor. (Romans 8:1; Esp. 4:32)
    3. Truth – Ability to be honest and living out the truth of God.


Why Do We Need Safe People? 1 Peter 4:10

  1. The Church – God’s agent to answer prayers, healing, and development.
    • I John 4:20
    • 22:37-40
  2. Fuel – Tiredness is caused by disconnection and isolation from other people.
    • 2:19
    • Good old-fashioned support is basic fuel to be able to face and deal with life as it presents us with trials and discouragement.
  3. Comfort – God sends us friends.
    • 2 Cor. 7:6
    • Romans 12:15
  4. For Strength in Setting Boundaries – emotional and spiritual health is about having healthy boundaries.
    • 18:15
    • 12:12-13
  5. Foundation for Aggression – Passive people do not know how to use their God-given aggression to go out and attack life and accomplish the goals that God has put before them.
    • Unfulfilled dreams and unmet responsibilities leave people frustrated.
    • Role-models from supportive friends can help us learn to be strong and face life.
  6. Encouragement and Support – Fighting the good fight.
    • Romans 15:4
    • 2:1
    • 6:21-22
    • 4:9-12
  7. Modeling – Friends that teach and model God’s ways.
    • Deut 6:7
    • 22:6
    • 1 Cor. 4:7
    • God gives us the body of Christ to parent us and other people to teach and mentor us. (1 Cor. 4:16-17; Titus 2:3-8)
  8. Healing – A safe place to grieve…love that will never be realized, painful losses, dreams that are crushed.
    • Matthew 5:4
    • Matthew 16:25
    • 2 Cor. 6:11-13
  9. Confrontation and Discipline – Friends can see patterns of relating and should be able to help us change.
    • Gal 6:1
    • Matthew 18:15-18
    • 12:5; 15:5; 17:10
  10. Good Deeds – Being exposed to new levels of service to others.
    • Heb 10:24-25
    • We need others around who help us see and become who God made us to be.
  11. Rooting and Grounding – Get permanently connected somewhere.
    • John 17:11, 22
    • 2:2
    • Matthew 7:24-25
  12. Love – Relationships teach us love. We receive it and this teaches us how to love. 1 John 4:19
    • John 13:34
    • 1 Peter 4:10


Where are the Safe People?

  1. A real truth- the church is not a perfectly safe place.
    1. Two Perceptions:
      • Reality as People Find it.
      • Reality as the Bible Describes it.
    2. Wisdom and Character
      • Make good choices.
      • Avoid getting pessimistic.
      • Face weaknesses.
    3. God has gifted people to heal each other (1 Peter 4:10; Eph 4:16)…Let’s find em.
      • Safe Churches
      • Restorative Friendships
      • Support Groups
      • Individual Therapy


Learning How to Be Safe

  1. Learn to Ask for Help. Matt. 21:22, James 4:2, 1 John 3:22
    • When we ask, we develop humility.
    • When we ask, we are owning our needs.
    • When we ask, we are taking initiative.
    • When we ask, we are developing character.
    • Asking increases the odds that we’ll get something!
  2. Learn to Need
    • Confess your inability to need.
    • Don’t fake it.
    • Keep your boundaries.
    • Confess the need that you can’t experience.
    • Pay attention to what evokes our hunger.
  3. Work through Resistances – Rom. 7:15
    • Identify your resistances.
    • Bring them into the relationship.
    • Meet the needs underlying the resistances.
    • Do the opposite of what the resistances tell you.
  4. Invite the Truth about Yourself.
    • What do I do that pushes you away from me?
    • What do I do that draws you toward me?
  5. Enter into Forgiveness
    • Learn to receive forgiveness.
    • Learn to give forgiveness.
  6. Give something back (Eph. 2:10, 1 Peter 2:2)
    • Understand what you’ve gained.
    • Learn your friends’ “need signals.”
    • Ask to help.
    • Be there.
    • Tell the truth.
    • Go into the world.
    • Practice these 6 things over and over again and keep building the skill.


Should I Repair of Replace?

The chief theme of the Bible is Reconciliation with Unsafe People.

  1. Here’s how God does it!
    • Starts from the LOVED position. John 17:24
    • Acts Righteously. No spiritual laziness.
    • Uses others to help. God doesn’t act by Himself – nor should we.
    • Accepts Reality, Forgives us, and Grieves His expectations.
    • Gives Change a Chance.
    • Is Long-Suffering Ex. 34:6-7
  2. Separation: The Final Option
    • Matthew 18:17
    • 1 Cor. 5:9-12
    • 2 Peter 3:9
    • There is no clear-cut answer!!!
      • Don’t go it alone.
      • Are you contributing to the problem?
      • Forgive – Grieve
      • Get these skills practices and use them.
      • Be long-suffering


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