How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t



If you are an adult survivor of emotional child abuse, you probably have a hard time differentiating the “safe” people in your life from ones that are crazy-makers or harmful to your well-being.

In fact, you may not even grasp the concept of “safe people.”

That’s not your fault.

Raised by toxic people, you weren’t taught the vital skills of setting boundaries with people nor of discerning “safe people” from harmful ones. And in lacking those skills, you probably ended up in painful relationships, wondering how you’ve chosen yet again someone who has let you down, criticized you continually, or used you.

“Our blindness to who is good to us and who isn’t can cause tragedies like depression, compulsive behaviors, marriage conflicts, and work problems.” (Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend)

I’ve received emails from The Invisible Scar readers lamenting this “curse” or supposed “destiny of failed relationships.”

But you are not cursed, not destined for poor, unhealthy relationships. You just haven’t acquired the skill set to choose “safe people” or identify the unsafe ones nor looked deep into your past to find the common factors linking your relationships together. You haven’t acquired the skills yet.

The good news: You can learn these skills. You can break the cycle of painful relationships.

Put This Book on the Top of Your To-Be Read Pile

I strongly recommend the book Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend for adult survivors of emotional child

The book takes the reader on a journey from identifying unsafe people and harmful behavioral patterns to understanding one’s need for safe people and how to find them.

The book is divided into three parts:

  • Unsafe people | Who they are, 20 identifying traits
  • Do I Attract Unsafe People? | Get to the origin of your problem and find out how to repair the issue.
  • Safe People | Who they are, why you need them, how to meet and relate to safe people

Each chapter briefly offers a real-life example of character-discernment issues, questions to help the reader dig deep inside him/herself to get to the heart of the issue, and well-grounded advice. (Note: The authors are Protestants, and the book is packed with Scripture verses and the authors’ beliefs. That said, non-Christians need not be put off by this angle, for the real-world advice is solid and comes from a psychologically sound place.)

Moreover, the advice in the book is very clear about people’s very natural and healthy need for one another. This might be shocking to adult survivors who—after enduring myriad painful relationships—decide to isolate themselves or vow from close relationships so that they can avoid being emotionally hurt.

“Many of you have tried again and again to connect with safe people, only to find pain and failure,” Drs. Cloud and Townsend recognize. “And now you’ve simply given up. You’ve stopped the attempt and the search.”

But don’t give up. An emotionally healthy relationship is worth fighting for.

The Natural Need for Relationships

“Our most basic and primary need is to be loved by God and people,” the authors suggest. “We can put that need off, we can meet it in crazy ways, and we can try not to feel it, but it’s a spiritual reality.”

Often, people will say that they are done with relationships or that they will just cut themselves off from people and focus solely on God. They say they are “strong enough” or “self-sufficient enough” to go through this life without close relationships. But that’s not being strong or self-sufficient.

We are social beings. We are made for community.

The Safe People book—for all its advice regarding awareness of unsafe people—is also a guide for the present, a book of hope for better and healthier relationships to come.

Do not despair about past relationships. Read Safe People to understand why you chose those types of toxic people and how you can stop doing so.

Edited to add:

If you find it difficult or triggering to read this book due to its Evangelical slant (for the sad reality is that sometimes abusive parents distort religion—of any kindto wield it against their children), you may enjoy these articles as a springboard for thinking about healthy relationships:

Onward to healing and an emotionally healthier life.

* The author of this article didn’t receive any monetary compensation for this review.

[photo credit]

19 thoughts on “How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t

  1. My gosh. I have gotten to the point where I have given up on ever finding safe people. My family of origin made me the scapegoat and the responsible older child. I don’t ever remember having a childhood. I have been told by past so called friends and therapists that my expectations are set too high. I can’t seem to win for losing. I am a good friend to others, but when the time comes and I might need a shoulder to lean on, I am abandoned. I had this “friend” who was having stress because her father was ill. I was there for her, I watched her children, I listened to her pain and hugged her when she cried. When my own mother was dying of cancer, she told me, “If I keep being depressed and acting sad, no one wants to be around me, because I am a downer.” My mother passed and I grieved alone. I have said that I must have a sign on my forehead that says, “I’m a doormat, use me.” I know lots of people but have no friends. I really don’t know what to do anymore. I just wish I didn’t seem to attract so many users. I guess I need to read this book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Raine,

      I’m sorry for all that you’ve gone through… but, yes, I highly recommend the book. Your comment is so similar to other emails I’ve received, and I want to say, “No, no, don’t give up on people! It’s going to be OK!”

      Do give the book a try. It’s a hard read in that it requires readers to look inside themselves for the origins of this issue, find the pattern in their lives… but once that is discovered, readers can start learning new skills and, in time, find friendships with safe people. It’s a journey, but the book is an excellent road map.



    • I’m so sorry for all that you’ve gone through with people abandoning you. I can totally relate. I just recently had a “best friend” break up with me because I’m not happy enough for her constantly and abnormally optimistic self. To hear her talk, you’d think she’s never had a sad or painful feeling in her life. She literally couldn’t even handle me telling her I’m depressed. No details, just saying that I’m depressed made her give me a lecture about how I have to pick myself up, work hard, and think positively.


    • Those people who always expect us to be the sun in their life while belittling our pains aren’t worth our time and love. I’ve had enough of them, and now, I think I know a little better. That said, my circle of friends is very, very small; and yes, it can be lonesome sometimes. However, if I compared my situation now with what it was before – having more friends who liked me because they could use me – then, I’m more at peace now.


    • Raine, you’re being used, and that’s what they like you for. With them, it’s your kitchen door that’ll always be open, your shoulder they’ll always seek. But they’re not exactly people in need. I suspect many are emotional parasites. They might magnify their needs beyond what they actually are, just to keep you anchored to them.

      When you first begin the process of slowing things down or ending things with these friends, it’ll be rough on you – the loneliness, the hurt from their accusations etc. You might even doubt what you suspected about them. But I think it’s part of the goodbye, and that pain is good for it brings with it life.

      Don’t give up, Raine. There are good people out there. I will pray for you.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I know what you say is true. I think that’s why I have gone into a stage of dormancy as to say. I am currently taking a Mindful meditation class, I really want to know my own strength and kindness and to grow from this place of really learning myself. I think I had been taught and brainwashed for so long that I am only here to fulfill other’s needs, and that my needs are unimportant. I think many people in this world haven’t an understanding as to how families can really damage a person and their esteem. I believe it’s why so many people wander around lost. Thanks so much for your reply. I am learning. I’m just for the time being, keeping to myself. My list of user’s is really long. It is so hard to hold back and not reactively volunteer to help or try and take away someone’s pain. I think in looking back, I have become super efficient at setting myself up for using, and I didn’t really know it or understand the mechanics behind it. Now, I’m going slow and taking my time to LEARN. THanks again!!!


    • When you look back on it some day, this journey of self-discovery you are embarking on will be a beautiful one. Everything you learn about yourself, good or a little less so, will be something to be treasured because it’s something You learned on your own. I see a lot of strength in your words. Clarity of thought. I also think you are meant to love and care for others, but as your say, you need to find yourself first, and be strong in that before you reach out to others. You’re a survivor, Raine. And you have friends here, so drop by whenever you need to. God bless you.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Raine,
      I want to give you the encouragement that as you face your pain and go through your healing process, you will begin to attract different kinds of people. The more aware we become of our tendencies, attractions, and patterns, the more we are able to move forward and realize what we truly want and deserve. Keep fighting the good fight–your life is worth it. Hang in there, and know that you are not alone. I am someone like you, going through a very similar journey.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for the book recommendations. I want to warn anyone else who might be interested in them, however, that they are Bible-based. Because of this, I will not be reading or buying them to use in my psychotherapy practice. I am always looking for good information and research about family of origin abuse that applies to all populations and demographics. Everyone deserves to heal from abuse, regardless of religious orientation. I look forward to more book suggestions from you. I really enjoy this site and appreciate the work that you do!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa,

      I mentioned that the authors are Protestants. Not a warning. Just a fact. I wrote:

      “(Note: The authors are Protestants, and the book is packed with Scripture verses and the authors’ beliefs. That said, non-Christians need not be put off by this angle, for the real-world advice is solid and comes from a psychologically sound place.)”

      That said, I do believe that everyone deserves to heal from abuse. After all, The Invisible Scar is a Catholic’s passion project, and I’ve recommended a book by Protestants… See? 😉

      And thanks for your kind words regarding this site.

      Onward and upward!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The Griefs of an Adult Survivor of Emotional Child Abuse | The Invisible Scar

  4. Addendum: I’ve received more mail about other possible reads regarding “safe” people.

    The following articles provide good springboards to more learning about healthy relationships: (Note: I am not endorsing the author or site; I’m just saying the article’s a good read.)

    Toxic Friends: More Foe Than Friend []

    Toxic People and How to Avoid Them []

    8 Keys of Healthy Relationships []

    Characteristics of a Healthy Relationship []


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for the links provided in the comments. Look very much forward to see if they can help. I am interested in learning about healthy relationships. However coming from a fundamentalist birth family a part of my issues are tightly interlinked with christian principles and how they were abused to control and belittle me. I’m happy for everyone who finds comfort in religious teachings but personally I’m done with that. There is only so much unanswered prayers you can take as a child who has no one else to turn to and so many people who say they are working for that figure far away you can accept turning you away in times of dearest need. I know many people had different experiences and that is good for them but anything quoting that book is not a safe place for me to turn to anymore, my family, church and school have seen to that…


    • Musing Stranger,

      I’m so sorry that religion was distorted to hurt you! My deepest sympathies…

      The links provided are secular to help those like yourself who endured similar abuse.

      If anything, I’m glad that those links or this post has at least brought up the idea of safe relationships and the realization that not all human interactions need be harmful.

      Peace to you…

      p.s. Your comment made me think that I’ll add those links to the post itself for easier access. Thank for taking time to comment.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Good idea adding it to the post itself 🙂 Thank you for being understanding of other walks of live. It is nice to “meet” people who do not superimpose their own view on others just to validate it to themselves.

      I am faintly aware of some concepts that healthy relationships and a healthy life entails but I have no idea how to get there, or even where “there” is and what it looks like. Any pointers that are not triggering are very welcome. Especially since to this day I have not found a therapist yet that actually is helpful :/

      Liked by 1 person

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