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Are You An Emotionally & Relationally Safe Person To Be Around? 6 Ways To Know.

In an unsafe world, we all should strive to be safe people.

Love & Relationships

If there is a book that I will forever recommend to folks when it comes to relationships (professional or personal, platonic or romantic), it'sSafe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren't. When you grow up around people who aren't very safe — mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, relationally, spiritually…chile, you name it — and if you're trying to break the generational curse of all of that mess, you come to find the word "safe" to be one of your favorite ones and biggest aspirations.


I adore everything about safe. Safe means "secure from liability to harm, injury, danger, or risk". Some synonyms for safe include healthy, sound, whole, careful, discreet, considerate, vigilant, forethoughtful (I really like that one), genuine and trustworthy. I must admit that, for years, due to a lot of what happened in my childhood and adolescence and then the PTSD that followed, when it comes to some of the words that I just shared, I wasn't the safest person either — safe to myself or for others. These days, though? Baby, I am hypervigilant about being a safe space and not allowing anyone into my personal sphere who isn't one as well.

Thing is, so many of us are around toxic people (check out "Why You Should Be Unapologetic About Setting Boundaries With Toxic Family Members", "10 Signs You've Got A Close (TOXIC) Friend" and "Estranged From A Family Member? Let That Guilt Go.") so much that we don't even pause to think about 1) what it means to engage safe people and, more importantly, what it means to actually be a safe individual. Let's especially unpack that second part today, shall we? If a goal in your own life is to have people define you when you die as, not being perfect (that is unrealistic as all get out) but safe, here are six clear signs that you are indeed, just that.

1. Words Like “Manipulative”, “Controlling” and/or “Triggering” Aren’t Used to Describe You

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Lawd. Some people are so manipulative that they don't even recognize it. Why? Because they manipulate themselves more than they do anyone else. What are some of the signs of a manipulative person? They gaslight. They have "selective memory" (don't remember what they do wrong but remember everything you don't do right) in order to achieve their goals and stratagems. They like to use guilt to get you to do things you don't want to do. They look for loopholes when it comes to your boundaries and limits. They play the victim as a way to deflect from responsibility. They apply pressure to get things to go their way. They flatter a lot, only in order to butter you up (even the Bible rolls its eyes on flattery; look it up sometime). They try everything in their power to make you feel insecure or second-guess yourself. They hold grudges and/or give the silent treatment. And why do they do this? In order to gain some sense of control over you.

And what do controlling people look and live like? They aggressively violate your boundaries. They constantly criticize (even if it's backhanded compliments). They are moody as all get out (because they like for people to walk on eggshells around them). They keep tabs on everything (what you did and didn't do). They are intimidating (on purpose). They are hypercritical. They are constantly stirring up drama (online, off or both). They take control of all conversations so that you feel as if you don't have a voice. They're nosey and don't honor privacy (and feel justified in being that way). They're territorial. And these kinds of people are oftentimes triggering…by design…because they want to be.

So, here's the thing about triggers. Folks' triggers are not other people's fault. In fact, I'll be the first to say that once you recognize that you have a trigger, it is your responsibility to get to the root of what that trigger is so that you can process, heal and deactivate it as much as possible (check out "How To Handle Folks Who 'Trigger' You"). However, an unsafe person will either make it their mission to find your triggers, stomp on them as much as possible and then say you're overreacting when you respond to what they are doing or they will keep testing your "trigger areas" to see if they still work.

In short, manipulative, controlling and triggering people do not provide a space for peace or even a way for you to relax. And when it comes to being a safe person, folks should see you as a place to be able to do both.

2. People’s Secrets Are Well Kept

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Let me give you a heads up that if you've got to say, what I'm about to say, before telling someone something, you shouldn't tell them at all — "Promise me you won't say anything." What in the world? While I will say that some of us are way more open than others (me, for instance) and so sometimes getting clarity on how on-the-low what you've been told may need to be, what I am speaking of is something that anyone with a lick of common sense knows should be kept to themselves. A safe person will never need to heads up on keeping the information close.

Case in point. I've got a friend who is damn near hilarious when it comes to how well she can keep a secret or just intel, in general. It's to the point where, if I just spoke with her mom or her daughter and I call her and ask her where they are headed for the day because I need something from them, she will usually say something along the lines of, "Call them back and ask." To me, it's not that big of a deal (lawd) while, to her, her motto is, "What folks want you to know, they will tell you." Because she's such a vault in this way, I can also rest easy that whatever I tell her, it will stay with her. Matter of fact, I don't think I've ever told her anything while feeling the need to put some sort of "keep it hush" tag on it. And we've been pretty tight for about 20 years now (in part, because of that).

Anyway, when it comes to the topic of keeping things a secret, oftentimes we associate that with being sneaky or something. Yet it's important to remember that honoring someone's secrets is really just about keeping information confidential. Another definition that I really like when it comes to the word "secret" is "kept from the knowledge of any but the initiated or privileged". That's dope because it's a reminder that, when someone shares with you private and personal information, that is not a "right" but a privilege. You should feel privileged when people tell you things that they don't want other people to know.

While we're here, another indicator of a safe person, on the secret tip, is even if a relationship shifts, the secrets still remain safe. This goes for divorced couples. This goes for broken friendships. This goes for ended work dynamics. Safe people don't "switch up" just because a connection does. If you agreed that something remains solely between you and another person, it honestly needs to remain that way. Period. If you want to be considered a safe person, anyway.

3. You Are Consistent in Your Character

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People of strong character are generally people who are safe to be around. And just what does it mean to have good character? Are you accountable? Are you reliable? Do you keep your word, no matter what? Are you honest? Are you loyal? Do you operate from a place of unwavering integrity? Do you have a sense of compassion? Are you respectful? Do you see humility as something that is a desirable trait? Are you consistent with your words and actions (lawd!)? Do you know how to be patient? Can you forgive? Do you love well? I know, a tall order, right?

While being a person of great character isn't easy, the point with this one is it's something that you actually strive to do. Hmph. You'd be amazed how many people don't do things like hold themselves accountable (instead, they want to blame everyone and everything else for their choices and outcomes); forgive (as if they are without flaw and don't need it); humble themselves (and admit when they're wrong); do what they say they are going to do; tell the truth (no matter what), or respect people's boundaries.

Character, as it relates to safety, simply means that you're someone who others know come from a solid and honorable place. Yes, you may mess up and disappoint from time to time yet it's not a constant thing and when you apologize and own your mess, they know that you will do your best to not repeat the same mistake — or bad choice — twice (and definitely not redundantly). For all of these reasons, it's hard to separate words like "character" and "safe".

4. You Allow Others to Be Themselves

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This one is a good one. Before I get deep into this, let me put up the disclaimer that someone allowing you to "be yourself" doesn't mean that they sit around and let you be reckless AF. A part of what comes with being in relationships with other people is trusting them to hold you accountable which includes telling you things that you may not want to hear. Indeed, some folks are so busy "not judging" that their loved ones are destroying the quality of their lives — and that is unfortunate.

No, what I mean by this is, the quote that I oftentimes use — "If two people were exactly alike, one of them would be unnecessary." An auto racer by the name of Larry Dixon once said that. An unsafe person is so insecure that they think their job is to make other people look, think and act like them, so that they can feel better about themselves. On the other hand, a safe person doesn't need "groupie clones" because 1) they are uber confident in their own individuality and 2) they like seeing others as unique and as avenues to learn and experience new and different things.

I can't tell you how many times that I've sat in a session with a married couple and rolled my eyes (sometimes inwardly, sometimes outwardly), all because it was abundantly clear that one partner was unsafe as all get out because they spent more time trying to change their partner to be more like them than celebrate the rareness and originality that their spouse brought to the table.

When people can be their authentic self around you, that is a beautiful thing. It also is such an indication of being a safe person. How safe are you?

5. You Don’t Weaponize Your Love

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A motto that I made up years ago that I try my hardest to live by is "love is a gift, not a bribe". What that means is, while if two people agree to be in a relationship, what should automatically come with that is some form of reciprocity, you still don't use love as a way to get what you want from other people. Gifts are given voluntarily without strings. Bribes always have some sort of an agenda.

Remember how I mentioned some of the PTSD that I had to heal from (and I still have to stay on top of, if I'm gonna keep it one hundred), some of the other fallout that happened to me as the result of toxic people in my growing up experience is I saw that being loved meant that I had to meet certain expectations or even tolerate patterns of abuse. And so, I used to love people in the same way. If someone feels like you are going to constantly keep tabs on them, how can they ever be at ease in your presence? Also, if you're going to keep moving the goalpost on your expectations and needs or you are going to put forth the kind of energy that makes them feel as if they will never measure up in your eyes, there is not a damn thing that is even remotely safe about that.

Something that really fascinates me about love is people attempt to weaponize it all of the time which means they don't really grasp its purpose at all. Loving someone is the most selfless and agenda-less thing that you can do. This means that if you are anything different from what I just said, you're doing love wrong — you're using it to do more harm than good and it doesn't get much more unsafe than that.

6. You Are Not a Hypocrite

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One more. If you're the kind of person who expects people to do and be what you can't even do and be — you are not only unsafe, you're hypocritical as all get out (a lot of church folks immediately come to mind). There is nothing worse than someone who punishes people for not respecting their time when they are always showing up late. Or not forgiving someone for hurting their feelings when they are constantly offending others and expecting them to get over it. Or demanding respect when they are disrespectful AF. Or putting requirements on others when they can't even meet basic needs from those same people. Or wanting folks to constantly be available to them when they can't make those individuals a priority in their life. Y'all know I could go on and on.

The point here is a safe person knows that they are being semi-ridiculous if they're requiring others to be what they aren't even striving to be themselves. Unsafe people? They couldn't care less. That's because they are selfish and draining. They aren't trying to make others feel secure in their relationship with them; they are just trying to see what they can get out of the dynamic, for as long as they can.

Honestly, I am so impassioned about this topic that I could go on and on yet I'm hoping that this is a good starting point of reference. Y'all, the world is crazy enough out here (and getting crazier by the way) without the people who call us "family", "friend" or "loved one" not being able to see us as safe. If some of this provoked an "ouch", there's no time like the present to make some changes. Have safe and be safe. Make that your mantra. Your world will be so much — pardon the pun — safer if you do.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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