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Dealing with Emotionally Unsafe People 

Our world has become very contentious, polarized and at times downright ugly.

 

What happened to people having differing opinions coming together to just care for each other and calmly listening to why or how someone thinks differently than us? Was that ever a thing? 

 

We can learn a lot from one another if only we are willing to remember we are still standing before a fellow human – flawed and imperfect just like us.

 

But what about when someone’s unsafe emotional behavior is happening on a more personal level…. When there is someone you live with, work with or are friends with that  too often does not feel good to be around?

 

It’s one thing to turn off the TV or disengage from an acquaintance with differing views, but when someone’s behavior causes you to be harmed or feel bad about yourself, that falls into a whole other category.  

 

Toxic or unsafe people often behave in ways that cause us to feel intense negative emotions, but sometimes we may not even be sure what we feel or why.

 

That alone is something to pay attention to. When we are with people we feel emotionally safe around, we will often feel calm, relaxed, and perhaps even joyful.

 

When we are around someone who is unsafe for us, if we are paying attention and tuning inwardly, we may notice we feel tense, anxious, confused, bewildered, betrayed, demeaned, criticized, blamed or shamed.


It is important  to be aware and tuning inwardly to notice  what it feels like in our body; our thoughts, sensations  and our emotions when we are in the presence of someone who is unsafe.  Our own body will give us clues if we are willing and able to pay attention.

 

Important to note.  People who behave in unsafe ways, do not necessarily behave that way ALL the time, which can make it very confusing being on the receiving end of these behaviors.  In fact, many abusive relationships are characterized by people who seem friendly, outgoing, kind to the point of even going out of their way to do things for you, but then a switch flips and you are suddenly faced with someone who is mean, uncaring, unkind and destructive to your wellbeing.

 

Abusive or unsafe relationships have phases or stages to them.  While this may look different at home or work, many of these relationships follow similar patterns.

 

I know I was in one. Since then, I’ve helped hundreds of people ( often women) recognize the feelings, thoughts and signs that they are in one too.


People who are toxic will come off ( initially) looking like they are an answer to prayer. In a romantic relationship, they may “love bomb” you with intense emotions, doing things for you and /or showering you with gifts.  This can feel wonderful especially if you are vulnerable and have been longing for a helpful partner. This can make single moms particularly vulnerable to partnering with someone who is ultimately unsafe.

 

The relationship will often feel intense and whirlwind, with the unsafe person making excuses for every time they act out in unsafe ways.  Once a person has convinced herself/ themself that this is the person for them, they will often accept the weak excuses for poor behavior- I was tired, I was stressed, after an episode of name calling, or demeaning, accusing, blaming, criticizing or controlling behavior.

 

While many relationships are safe and healthy, when you are in one that is not, it is important to recognize it for what it is. Equally important is being honest with yourself and being willing to look at how your partner’s behavior is affecting you.  Here are some of the signs to look for.

 

The unsafe person frequently:

-              Has to be right.  This person will fight ‘til the end until you “admit” that they are right. They may try to lie, convince, or  argue until they feel like they have won.

-              Dominates the conversation until you don’t have a voice.  When this occurs, which usually happens over time, It feels like the relationship only has room for one. 

-              Will take control of all that they can.  This may mean financial, sexual, physical or verbal abuse to control you and the household.  They will often manipulate, create drama, and exert their will in every situation ignoring your thoughts, feelings or needs.

-              Is often highly manipulative.  They will often go to great lengths to look like they have it all together, and to create the façade that their way is the one and only right way.  They will manipulate whoever and whatever to get what they want.

-              Acts out with angry outbursts.  These may or may not be accompanied by physical or verbal/ emotional abuse, but often will be directed at the partner.   This is another way they control – through fear- but they also genuinely lack the ability for emotional regulation.

-              May demean, shame or blame only behind closed doors, or may do so around others. These behaviors can be occasional, or they can turn into a way of speaking on a regular basis.  Either way their words are sharp and cutting and intended to control and shatter your self esteem.

-              They justify their acting out behaviors.  You will often hear a lame excuse or an empty promise of how they are just stressed and they’ll never… talk to you that way, hit you, or verbally berate you again. And often because people fear the end of the relationship, they want to accept the excuses in the hope that maybe this time the person means it.

 

Healthy safe people do not behave in these ways.

 

Safe people are able to be curious, flexible and understanding of differences.  They want you to have a voice, to share your thoughts and opinions, and you won’t feel threatened, manipulated, coerced or betrayed in their presence.

 

This does not of course mean that there are never disagreements. Quite the contrary.  Many healthy relationships have many disagreements!  The difference is when two or more people can remain open, curious and wanting to both know the other person more, as well as peacefully resolve conflicts for the benefit of all.

 

It is important to recognize and admit to yourself if you are in an unsafe relationship.

 

If your unsafe person is in your workplace, perhaps it is time for a transfer or new job altogether.  Or if there is someone who can stand in the gap for you, explore that as well.

 

If the unsafe person is in your home, or is someone you are dating, consider whether the perceived benefits of staying are worth your health and wellbeing.

 

We are affected physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually ( and other ways as well) when we remain in a toxic or unsafe relationship.  

 

If this is you, we urge you to seek help.  There are many counselors and therapists in the area that can help.  Or call the national domestic violence hotline at 800-799-7233.

 

We can only thrive when our physical and emotional environment is safe.

 

You are not alone.  Reach out for help if you need it.

Another good resource is Psychology Today to find local mental health professionals in our area.

 

There are also people who can help that are part of the Live Well Kitsap family of businesses.  Find them at www.livewellkitsap.com/mind-your-health.

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