Iron Sharpens Iron
I can still remember the first time a friend told me that my actions and words hurt her.
Growing up, relationships were hard for me- from a place of insecurity, wanting to be loved and being emotionally damaged from numerous unhealthy interactions with others bred in me an ignorance toward what healthy relationships could be.
I did not know how to receive constructive criticism, and it was super painful to own up to my own mistakes.
For years I simply lived by my emotions and lived out of a place of unrealistic expectations- as it was all that I knew.
I had made some wrong turns in choosing friends throughout my teenage years that led me to a place of not really knowing what a true friend looked like.
I had been hurt in friendships, lied to, used and emotionally abused- but in response to those relationships, I had unfortunately contributed those aspects towards people too. I reflected what I experienced.
It pains me when I look back over those awkward teenage years knowing how much of a mess I was in the inside.
The most painful thing I see when I look back is that I wish someone older had taken the time to teach me what a healthy/safe friend was. I was operating out of the only thing I knew- which was not necessarily the safest friend, but deep inside I was wanting to grow and learn.
So what might have been perceived as unsafe in my actions was not coming from an intentionally unsafe person, as I truly came from a place of ignorance in this area.
In my first year of college a lot of growth took place. Much needed growth. I can remember one night as I was sitting at my computer, talking with friends on MSN Messenger (just aged myself there lol), and my computer dinged with a new message from Petra.
I do not remember the exact words, but it must have taken a lot of courage when she messaged letting me know that I had said something that day that had really hurt her, and that this behaviour in me was not safe or friendly for her.
Petra’s courage gave us an opportunity to talk through the hurt and pain and to process, grow and heal.
I will never forget the courage Petra took that day because she helped me open my eyes to actions that felt unsafe in a friendship and it propelled me to the resources I needed to become safer, to have realistic expectations and become a friend of worth.
Where would I be today had I not had a friend in my life who took that step of courage, and listened to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to sharpen me and our friendship?
Reflecting on this, what if we were courageous enough to let the people we are in relationships with, who did not understand how their actions or words are hurting others, know how their actions are affecting us?
What if they were operating as unsafe people but did not know how to operate in a safe way but truly wanted to be safe?
What if we could come alongside these people and have an accountability conversation around what safe and unsafe people look like?
The book of Proverbs in the Bible is known as the book of wisdom. It was written by King Solomon where he shares his wealth of wisdom over many topics; in Proverbs he discusses that in friendships we have the opportunity and privilege to help our friends grow.
“Iron is made sharp with iron, and one man is made sharp by a friend.” Proverbs 27:17 (NLV)
God calls us to sharpen each other and to help our friends grow; now I will be the first person to admit that growth is painful. Trudging through the mistakes and owning the unfortunate actions that led us to these deep conversations is not easy- but it is worth it.
The richer, deeper friendships that have come out of these sharpening seasons are a beautiful gift from God.
So where can we go from here?
Sometimes in friendships we sense these red flags stirring in our spirit and we feel a caution- but we are not sure what is going on, or sometimes we simply accept these unsafe actions in our lives because we do not really understand what makes a safe person.
Sometimes we just live in what we know.
In order to know if you or your friend is operating as an unsafe person, it is important to know what those characteristics are.
The following is a summary from Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend's book, Safe People.
• Unsafe people do not like to admit their weaknesses. Being open and vulnerable is essential to a relationship. Sometimes people will try to hide their weaknesses by focusing on your weaknesses instead. Putting you down is an easy way to build themselves up. If you are the one with the problems, then they can feel superior.
• Unsafe people are defensive. A self-assured person is always open to feedback, expressions of concern and even criticism, especially by people who love him. If you confront someone with your concerns, and he gets upset or angry, he is not able to hear you and not willing to take responsibility for his actions.
• Unsafe people are self-righteous instead of humble. These people see themselves as above everyone else and refuse to see their own negative qualities, often by projecting their own flaws and insecurities onto others.
• Unsafe people apologize without changing their behaviour. A common pattern in unsafe relationships is expressions of regret and apologies and promises to change. But apologies and promises need to be followed by real behaviour modifications. Safe people will do so not because they feel they have to, but because they truly want to help themselves and the person they love.
• Unsafe people avoid facing their issues. It is far easier for an unsafe person to blame others for their issues than admit they have a problem or take steps to deal with it themselves. Furthermore, they treat others with a lack of empathy when they are upset, find fault in others, and often fail to forgive others for their mistakes.
• Unsafe people flatter you instead of talking to you. Someone who truly cares about you will share their concerns about you and will be honest with you. Someone who only tells you your good points is trying to make sure you keep liking them.
• Unsafe people demand trust instead of earning it. Trust can only be built over time. It grows when we experience consistent caring behaviour. Unsafe people often believe that you should trust them right away and act hurt or defensive if you don’t. But trust must be earned.
• Unsafe people lie. Everyone tells untruths sometimes, but unsafe people see deception as an effective way of dealing with problems. Safe people admit their deceitful side and work at being more honest.
• Unsafe people don’t grow. We all have aspects of ourselves that need improvement or behaviours that inhibit our personal well-being, and safe people try to learn and grow over time. Blaming others, responding defensively, and failing to change inhibits personal growth and keeps a person at the same emotional level throughout life, without changing themselves either for their own benefit or anyone else’s.**
Do you see yourself struggling in any of these areas?
Are you in a relationship with someone who may be carrying out some of these attributes?
What is one thing you can do this week to have a conversation with either yourself or your friend about the effects of this unsafe characteristic?
Are iron sharpens iron, so does a friend sharpen their friend.
Disclaimer: some people are beyond the ability, capability or willingness to change their unsafe habits, and these are not the people for you.
Please note I am not a licensed Therapist or a certified Counsellor. These are characteristics attributed by Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud in their book, Safe People. For further help in these areas I suggest reaching out to a clinical therapist or counsellor.