Wouldn’t it be great if every safe, trustworthy person wore a sign on his or her back that said so?
That might qualify as an adoptee fantasy of the highest order!
However, there are certain characteristics that define safe people, and once we learn them we’re much more likely to make wise decisions regarding with whom we share our deepest selves.
THEY REQUIRE A TWO-DIMENSIONAL RELATIONSHIP.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand to be in any kind of conversation or relationship in which one person dominates. It absolutely drives me nuts! After the conversation is over, I feel like I’ve been bound, gagged, and shoved in a corner.
These are the kind of people I befriended before I learned about trust. I was a co-dependent, thinking I could rescue them and help them by not sharing my thoughts, but just listening.
That’s far from the kind of relationship we’re looking for. There has to be a natural give and take, kind of like playing a graceful game of tennis. One shares and then the other responds in a continual, flowing manner.
A key to this kind of relationship is what David Augsburger calls “equal hearing.” I love this..
I will claim
If I yield
my right to speak,
if I do not claim my time for sharing,
if I do not express what I want in equality,
I am squandering
my privilege of
I will respect
You are you.
to hear you.
If I usurp
your right to speak,
if I use up
your time for conversing,
if I do not listen
for what you want in
I am stifling
your privilege of personhood.
If we’ve located someone who’s not a dominator, but equally as interested in us as he is in himself, we can look for the second characteristic, which is a nonjudgmental attitude.
THEY’RE NOT JUDGMENTAL.
Don’t you hate having someone point his or her long, bony finger at
you and tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing? In my opinion, this is nothing short of playing God.
I love the saying: “If you can spot it, you got it.”
It has helped me immensely to learn about the psychological dynamic of projection. My layman’s understanding of it is that if someone says something judgmental about me, they’re really saying that is how they feel about themselves. Try that next time someone throws a judgmental thought at you. It diffuses your reaction so that you can respond responsibly and not emotionally.
It is my belief that we are all of equal worth and are on a horizontal playing field. One of the most effective ways I can spot people who judge are those who give unsolicited advice or counsel. Yes, they may be well-intentioned and even knowledgeable. However, unsolicited counsel is nothing more than a glorified put-down.
Augsburger created a diagram about relationships that I have made myself accountable to for years, and it has literally changed my life. It has helped me sidestep the judgers as well as keep my own attitudes and behavior on track. Notice as you review the diagram that “talking with” is the correct way of relating to others.
give and Talking with hearing and
take being heard
Once we’ve weeded out judgmental, self-appointed counselors from our lives, we can put out feelers by observing the reactions of others to our words and feelings. Safe people desire to build up, to reassure us that they care enough about us to invest something of themselves in our lives through words and actions.
THEY BUILD UP THROUGH WORDS AND ACTIONS.
Here are some attitudes and actions of people who build up:
They accept us as we are—they don’t try to “fix” us.
They recognize our potential.
They believe in us and tell us so.
They encourage us to “aim high.”
They assure us that they will always be there for us.
They seek to neutralize our fears.
They make us laugh.
They tell the truth when we need to hear it, and they admit their
own mistakes readily.
They give us the freedom to screw up and make mistakes…to be human.
In my book, these basic characteristics are “givens” in finding safe people. Being in their presence is like being in the hollow of a tree — we are safe from the storms of life and safe to tell it like it is.
As we apply what we’ve learned in this chapter to our lives, we will gradually gain the ability to identity safe people and then develop relationships with them.
To begin searching for safe people, put out feelers, and take a risk.
(This is an excerpt from chapter 8 of 20 Life-Transforming Choices Adoptees Must Make).