Book Review: Safe People by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.

This is a book review of Safe People by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. A Review by Jeff McLain.
This is a book review of Safe People by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. This Safe People book explores what it means to find relationships that are good for you and how to avoid those that are not. Cloud and Townsend’s book, Safe People, was first released by Zondervan in 1995 and has been released several times since.

In many ways, this book is written in a style that the authors also utilize in their New York Times bestseller Boundaries. At just about 200 pages, the authors explore their thoughts on safe people in three overarching sections. Those three overarching sections of this book are (1) what are unsafe people, (2) how to tell if you attract unsafe people, and (3) what it means to be a safe person. In the first section, on what unsafe people are, they look at defining unsafe people, personal traits of unsafe people, interpersonal traits of unsafe people, and how we lost our safety to unsafe people (or have become unsafe ourselves). Throughout the second section, the authors explore how we might unintentionally attract safe people into our lives by looking at the safety deficits at play in our lives. They also identify reasons why we may choose unsafe relationships, looking at the false solutions that we often explore in our hope of finding safe people, and they name why we might unconsciously isolate ourselves from others. In the third and final section of the book, the authors explore what are truly safe people, why we need safe people in our lives, how we can learn to be safe, and if we should replace or repair someone in our lives.

As two psychologists the authors do not write as psychologists. They do not reference peer-reviewed reports, data, or statistical findings. Though some of that would have made their findings more trustworthy. As psychologists, these authors are merely remarking generally from their observations over the years as therapists. In their work, they continued to see how people need others when they are lonely and stressed out, but also to share joys and success with others, to complain with, and to have their problems understood by others, seeking others for wisdom and guidance, and so on. However, time and time again - as a result of our desperation, brokenness, traumatic experiences, and more – we choose the wrong people to trust and it creates depression, conflicts, isolation, abuse, loss of identity, and more. 

Our inability to pick safe people shows that we don’t know what trust with others looks like. On the topic of finding, defining, and maintaining Safe People in our lives, these two authors share their understandings from their experiences, their worldviews, and their theological underpinnings. Though both authors are notable Christians, this book could easily be read by people from various other backgrounds of faith. The thrust of this book is to get the reader to consider their own thoughts and behaviors by looking inside themself to gain awareness of their blind spots and vulnerabilities that make them “susceptible to controlling individuals.”

I think a significant strength of the book is the way it helps us to understand that most of us do not have “a lot of training in evaluating character. We tend to look at the outside and not the inside of a person. So we choose people based on outward appearance, and then experience the inside of them.” This experiencing what is inside a person is an important thing to realize, in addition to realizing that people are experiencing what is inside us. This calls us to greater awareness and greater intentionality. For those who continue to choose unsafe people to reside in, I think this book also teaches some important traits to be aware of or to look out for. 

For me, this is one of those books that could be one-third of its size. Many stories in this book could have been cut without affecting the takeaways. Some peer-reviewed or statistical findings could have taken the place of stories for me. The authors also try too hard to switch up the pronouns, switching he and her, so much so to the point where it gets awkward. More pluralistic approaches could have been taken (they, them, etc). My biggest dislike of this book is that there are times when the authors formulaic an approach or paradigm (ie. a ten-step guide) in almost every chapter. At the same time, the authors also oversimplify the root causes of these conditions, situations, and realities. Their oversimplification, in a way, makes one thing that any given problem we have has to fit into one of these neat boxes they define. It’s a good read, with accurate findings, and good fodder for conversation on what it means to find safe people and to be a safe person. 

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