Most of us have been in a relationship where secrets were spilled, or a friend withdrew with no explanation. In order to bond with others taking a risk is imperative.

Being vulnerable allows us to make friends, even if they turn out to be unsafe. But, life is about learning. Learning makes us grow. It is painful when we lose a friend but, to stop the process, we must recognize the warning signs.

Here are some suggestions for recognizing unsafe people. First off, be cognizant of people who lack friends. There is usually a reason for this.

Be wary of people who avoid being vulnerable. They are avoiding intimacy, communicating only on a superficial level. They withhold parts of themselves hoping you will believe that they have it all together.

Unsafe people cannot tolerate criticism even when it's constructive. Unable to admit fault, they justify their actions and focus on yours. When you try to tell them you are hurt by their behavior, they make it about them and refuse to see the situation from your point of view.

They lie to you instead of telling you the truth; in spite of this, they demand your trust. They gossip about you, instead of keeping your secrets confidential. They run from one person to another "stirring the pot" and telling each person what they want to hear.

Unsafe people are inconsistent. They don't live up to their commitments. They make promises they cannot keep. They lack integrity. They are out to get their needs met, without considering the needs of others.

You can be assured that you are in an unhealthy relationship when it is one that resembles that of a parent/child. For example: They give you advice when you don't ask for it. They don't trust your judgment. Critical and disapproving, they are quite certain that, without them, you will not make the right decisions.

Enmeshment is also quite common in an unhealthy relationship. This occurs when the unsafe person wants nearly all your time, and is competitive and jealous when you have other friends or other interests.

So, how do you create a healthy relationship? What do safe people look like? They are honest, supportive, loyal (they have your back), trusting, able to give as well as receive (although they don't keep score), and they encourage you to have a rich, full life (instead of holding on and smothering you).

Healthy people respect your ideas. They recognize that their way is not always the right way. They stand up for you when you have been wronged. They respect you as an individual, and celebrate your differences. They accept you for all facets of your personality; the good, the bad and the ugly.

Quite simply, a healthy person encourages you to be the best person you can be.

For more information about safe people, see Dr. Henry Cloud's book, "Safe People."

• Dr. Kristina Welker is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Ahwatukee. She is a Christian life coach and member of the Ahwatukee Behavioral Health Network. Reach her at (480) 893-6767 or

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