12 Traits of Unsafe People that You Should Know

Unsafe people live, work, and worship among us. They insert themselves as experts on social media. They may appear friendly and helpful. But a dark streak lurks beneath their scrubbed exterior. How do we recognize unsafe people?

Laban, whose name means white, was a dark cloud in Jacob’s life. Laban betrayed his own daughter as well as Jacob by switching brides on Jacob’s wedding night. He cheated Jacob, changing his wages ten times. His story helps us identify the unsafe people in our lives. Let’s take a closer look at Jacob’s father-in-law and employer for twenty years.

12 Traits of Unsafe People

  • Unsafe people use you to benefit themselves.

    Laban wanted Jacob to stay while he made Laban prosperous (Gen. 30:25-28).

  • Malignant people are reasonable to your face but undermine you behind your back.

    Laban agreed to give Jacob the spotted and streaked animals as his wages, but he gave them to his sons instead. He gave Jacob the solid-colored herds hoping to reduce his chance of gaining spotted animals (Gen. 30:34-36).

  • Toxic people are threatened by your success and disregard your faithfulness.

    Jacob’s growing herds threatened Laban’s sons. Laban’s attitude changed toward Jacob. He forgot Jacob’s work had made them rich (Gen. 31:1-3).

  • Unsafe people can’t thwart God’s blessings or will for you.

    Every time Laban changed Jacob’s wages, God intervened. If Laban said, “The speckled ones will be your wages,” then all the flocks gave birth to speckled young (Gen. 31:4-9).

  • Harmful people don’t determine your well-being.

    Jacob, Rachel, and Leah acknowledged their heavenly Father’s provision in spite of Laban’s ill-treatment (Gen. 31:11-16).

  • Risky people are on God’s leash.

    Jacob was no match for Laban and his men. He didn’t have to be. In a dream God stopped Laban from attacking Jacob (Gen. 31:24).

  • Unsafe people manipulate with guilt and shame calling you the villain and themselves the victim.

    Jacob had the cooperation of his wives (Gen. 31:4-16), but Laban accused him of kidnapping them like captives in war. “You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and daughters goodbye. You have done a foolish thing” (see Gen. 31:26-28).

  • Unsafe people’s true intentions come out through their unguarded words.

    “I have the power to harm you; but God stopped me” (Gen. 31:29). What? I thought you said Jacob had no cause to run off in secret.

  • Unsafe people are greedy.

    Decisions are based on personal profit, not kindness, relationship, or right and wrong (Gen. 31:38-41).

  • Unsafe people believe they are entitled—me, my, mine! 

    Jacob worked twenty years for his wives and flocks. Laban said, “They’re mine!” (Gen. 31:43).

  • Hazardous people accuse you of their own ill motives.

    Laban said, “If you mistreat my daughters…” Laban had already wronged Rachel and Leah (Gen. 31:15, 50).

  • Unsafe people are distrustful because they assume you share their motivations. 

    Laban wanted a watchtower to keep Jacob from harming him and promised he wouldn’t pursue Jacob. Yet, Laban was the aggressor who pursued Jacob to harm him and had repeatedly cheated him (Gen. 31:51-52).

Laban debunks the myth we should trust people because they are family members, authority figures, or claim to share our faith. Don’t feel guilty if your caution light flashes. Ask God for discernment and then boldly heed it.

Laban debunks the myth we should trust people because they are family members, authority figures, or claim to share our faith. #discernment #BibleStudy Share on X

Eventually, Jacob and his family had to separate from Laban and his sons. The Bible says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18 NIV). Sadly, sometimes it is not possible to live at peace with some people and be true to our walk with God.

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Chapter two of  Give Yourself a Break looks at how to not fret over the Difficult People in our lives as does the two-chapter ebook.

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  1. Melissa Henderson

    A very timely message. Thank you Debbie.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Melissa! I appreciate you.

  2. J.D. Wininger

    Wonderful post, as always, Ms. Debbie. There’s been numerous times in my life where I wish I had this checklist to go by. Countless times I’ve been wronged, burned, or abused by folks like this. I pray I’ve never been “that person” myself, but I’m sure somewhere in my life I have. A great advantage to living to a ripe old age, for some at least, is that God helps us to refine our gift of discernment so we can spot these “wolves in sheep’s clothing” faster and avoid the pain they will eventually inflict upon you. As our friend Ms. Melissa states, “A very timely message” indeed ma’am. Thank you!

    • Debbie Wilson

      I agree, J.D. Our experiences help us grow in wisdom. I hope they benefit others. Even if those people are in our inner circle I think it helps to be able to recognize and name what’s going on. When other people deny it, it can make you feel crazy.

  3. Maureen

    You just described my daughter in this article. It’s heartbreaking because it’s difficult to know how to deal with it

    • Debbie Wilson

      Oh Maureen, I’m so sorry. I recommend the Boundaries book by Cloud and Townsend. It’s important to know how to set healthy boundaries, even with our loved ones.

  4. Amanda Daniels

    Excellent insights –

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Amanda. The Bible’s truth rings true in every generation.

  5. Ann J Musico

    This is such important truth for us. We want to be Christ-like but we have to exercise wisdom as well.

    • Debbie Wilson

      I agree, Ann. Jesus modeled discernment and warned against the wolves that would attack the sheep.

  6. Alan F. Gunn

    Priceless! Thanks Debbie!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Alan!

  7. Barbara Latta

    Very perceptive view of Jacob’s story. Thanks for sharing.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Barbara!

  8. Jeannie Waters

    Thank you for wise words, Debbie, including the reminder that God protects us.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Yes, Jeannie. l love how that is woven through the story.

  9. Sylvia A Schroeder

    Thanks so much for this post. It really shone a light on Laban I’d not thought of before. I appreciate the wisdom gleaned!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Sylvia.

  10. Michelle Newbold

    This was very timely for me. I was hurt deeply by someone yesterday. I plan to go through this slowly and really meditate on it.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Michelle, I’m so sorry for your hurt. I hope this provides some insight.

  11. Nancy E. Head

    Wonderful insights here! We so often end up in wrong situations because we don’t allow ourselves to name someone unsafe. You show us that we must.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Nancy, that’s a good point. Naming them can guide us in our trust and responses.

  12. CJ Earls

    Thank you for succinctly stating these truths. I appreciate your well thought out and inspired message!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, CJ. They are in every generation.

  13. Melinda Viergever Inman

    What an excellent evaluation of unsafe people by taking apart Laban and Jacob’s relationship! You’ve captured all of the qualities we must be on watchful alert in our own interactions, and you’ve used a familiar event if we’re Bible readers. This is extremely helpful, because we’re surrounded by malignant and unsafe people. Thank you for this!

    • Debbie Wilson

      It’s wonderful how relevant the Bible is to our daily lives. Thanks, Melinda.

  14. Linda Stoll

    Scripture always illuminates what is true. Your wise words on boundaries are so excellent, Debbie …

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thanks, Linda.

  15. Lisa Blair

    This is very insightful, Debbie. Thanks for articulating these Truths to us.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Lisa, thanks for reading.

  16. Robyn Jones

    This post has blessed me! I often feel guilty about having to call out family members, authority members, and people claiming to be of the same faith. Thank you for illustrating with Laban how these people can be right in your own family and claim to be of the same faith while doing everything in opposition to God’s will and ways. Thank you also for revealing their tactics; they definitely love playing the victim and treating you suspiciously because of their own evil motivations. I am glad for the reminder that I am. not alone!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Robyn, it like they read from the same play book. God bless!

  17. Theresa Boedeker

    Debbie, This is so good. And I loved how you used the story of Jacob and Laban. It is only in the past 5-10 years I have been learning about unsafe people and the patterns they exhibit. We think we should love everyone and help everyone, but God doesn’t ask us to spend our time on people who take advantage of us again and again.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Theresa, it helps me to see Jesus treated people differently according to who they were. He didn’t even answer King Herod’s questions.

  18. Mariel Davenport

    such a good and needed word! Thank you for sharing this, Debbie!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Mariel!

  19. Maree Dee


    Your post was one of the most popular articles in August on Grace & Truth Link-Up. I will be featuring you this Friday. Thank you for sharing such an insightful post.


    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Maree Dee! I appreciate it.

      • Maree Dee

        You are welcome! It is an honor.

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