For much of the past few years, I have scrutinized (okay, judged) people, and then placed them into one of two categories: SAFE and UNSAFE.
I think I have done this all of my life, but it started as a conscious process when I was seeing a counselor and working on healing from childhood verbal and physical abuse. I have always been one who feels deeply and wears my heart on my sleeve. Pair that with poor boundaries and a faulty verbal filter, and I found my raw heart spilling out like so much vomit whenever some asked how I was, looked into my eyes, or just happened to sit or stand next to me. As you might suspect, this method of sharing my heart was not only unproductive, but my intense emotional sharing was off-putting to my friends as well as the total strangers who happened to be within target range. My counselor wisely encouraged me to hold some things close to my heart, to purposely choose with whom I share, and to ask three or four close friends if they would be willing to be my support people during crisis. (Having more than one support person during a crisis is helpful because it is a lot to ask of one person to bear your burdens. It also takes the pressure off of having to rely only on one person to be there all the time, and one can benefit from the differing perspectives and wisdom of each person.) I was also encouraged to purposely choose with whom I share my heart – not everyone is worthy of my story.
Although I am not in crisis mode at this time and have worked through years of healing and growth, I continue to label people in my life as safe and unsafe. I have some great friends with whom I can share the deepest secrets of my heart – my failures, doubts, imperfections – and they love me and accept me and even call me out on my bullsh*t from time to time. These friends are a priceless treasure.
It is fairly easy to tell which people in your life are unsafe. These are the people who do not listen. They gossip. They judge or criticize when you share your heart. They tell your secrets, or worse yet, they use them against you. These are the people with whom you share cautiously, if at all.
Safe people are more difficult to find, but once you find them, they are precious.
These are the people who truly listen. They hold close the secrets of others. They listen with and open heart, and do not judge or shame. They do not offer unsolicited advice, and if they do offer advice, it is with love and in your best interest.
They tell the truth in love, and with a dose of hope.
You feel free when you share your heart with them – like you have been released. And they just ‘get’ you.
In the past couple of years, I have hurt and been hurt by those whom I considered the safest people in my life. Recently, many of my main circles of safety have deeply wounded me – these are my closest bosom friends, my dearest family.
My safe people have become unsafe. Or have they?
Maybe they have just become . . . people.
As much as I would like to think that I am a safe person for others, I have wounded others in much the same way.
My safe people have done unsafe things, and so have I.
We have shared information given in confidence that purposely hurt another friend, used knowledge of a painful situation to shame someone and get revenge, did not listen when someone was sharing their heart, and then gave advice that led to even more heartbreak. We choose to refuse to reconcile a broken relationship despite repeated attempts to make amends, refused to take steps to make amends while attempting to manipulate someone into continuing to be victimized, allowed someone to continue to victimize others, and then defended their behavior. Rather than showing remorse and making a sincere attempt to reconcile, we do not take responsibility and own our own behaviors. We offer unapologies such as “I’m sorry you felt way” or “I’m sorry you saw things that way” rather than “I was wrong and I am sorry“.
There is a danger in labeling people as safe. Because – people. We are people.
And as much as we try to love one another perfectly, we just cannot.
What happens when your safe person, or people, are unsafe? What happens when we unsafe and cause someone pain. Does that mean we are without hope? Must we look for new safe people – who we will trust until they, too, prove themselves imperfect? And how do we keep trusting, sharing our heart, just showing up, when our safe people have let us down?
What if we stop labeling people safe/unsafe? Maybe people are not only safe or unsafe. Maybe they are just people who are sometimes safe, sometimes not.
Some people who are more unsafe than others, and they may not deserve the honor of your story. There are people who are more safe than unsafe – but they are people, and at some point, they may not be perfect. Because they are people. And so am I. And so are you. So what do you do when your ‘safe person’ lets you down? The rug is pulled out from under you. You have lost your safety net.
What if it is a primary relationship, like a best friend? A sister? A parent? A spouse?
And this is where I find myself today. Hanging off a cliff without a safety net.
How do I move from being a mere warrior to a survivor? How can I be brave and open my heart again? How can I be a safe person for others, and how do I make amends when I have blown it?
How can I drag myself out of the pain of heartbreak and disappointment to just show up when all I really want to do is run screaming from the room and hide in bed under the covers? I don’t have all the answers, but here is what I do know: People are always going to be messy, but God is always good.
People are always messy.
God is always good.
I would love to write “Here are the steps on how to keep showing up when you’ve been wounded” but I am still thinking this one through.