While I was taking post-graduate classes, I was in awe when my professor said that about 25% of the population is comprised of sociopaths. 25%! My jaw dropped. He said that the reason why we don’t recognize the number as being so high is that many times it is difficult to spot sociopaths because their behaviors are so covert and too many times they are people you think you can trust. Who they present themselves to be, is seldom who they really are. Amy Lewis Bear’s book From Charm to Harm: The Guide to Spotting, Naming, and Stopping Emotional Abuse in Intimate Relationships does a great job explaining harmful interactions so they can be more easily and quickly recognized.
While we want to avoid sociopaths and may have to brush up against toxic people, we don’t want to shut ourselves off from the world. The remaining 75% of folks out there are most likely awesome human beings! So how do we create some “set points” and “check points” to understand who we want to have relationships with and to what extent?
Create A “Set Point” for Relationships: Does this relationship set well with you?
1. Set a standard of safety. Be able to identify a safe person from an unsafe person. Townsend & Cloud’s Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You And Avoid Those Who Aren’t expands on Amy Lewis Bear’s guide. What does your gut say? Do you honor your intuition even if you don’t have all of the answers yet?
2. Set a time. Take your time. Don’t be in a rush. Observe the other person especially with their interactions with others. Do they want you to commit quickly? Do they gush with compliments only to have an agenda? Do their words align with their actions? Time will usually be a great agent for truth.
3. Set boundaries. Know your personal boundaries. What does it mean to you to be respected and reciprocated? Can this person accept your “no”? Do you feel honored around this person? Do you feel confused by their actions/inactions/words? Are you questioning yourself more? Feeling more obligation, guilt, shame or fear?
Create a “Check Point” for Relationships: Does this relationship check out?
4. Check in with yourself. Know the difference between being able to be alone vs. isolating oneself and being lonely. Do you feel self-sufficient? Do you love yourself? Can you be okay being alone or do you feel you need to always be with others? Do you feel you isolate yourself? Can you still keep your identity and not enmesh? Can you readily give yourself permission to end the relationship if it is toxic/unhealthy/hurtful?
5. Check in with your tribe. Have a tribe of safe peeps who share mutual respect and mutual reciprocity. Are you keeping your friends and family relationships? How would you imagine your tribe first meeting this person? How do they respond to this new person? Do you listen to their impressions?
6. Check in with your spirituality gauge. For me, I call it my God-Gauge. Sitting in prayerful meditation, I seek to know if this person is who God would desire for me to have in my life. I almost always, always get an answer!