If you have been taught that you must endure abuse, because "the Bible says" that we are called by God to endure suffering (cf. 1 Pet. 2:20), understand that you are being manipulated and deceived either by an abuser or by someone who is enabling abusers. Contextually, when authors in Scripture refer to persecution or suffering, they mean suffering because you are a believer in and follower of Christ. Your "suffering" or "persecution" is for the sake and faith of Christ. If someone is abusing you physically, emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually, you are not suffering for your faith in Christ, but suffering at the hands of a wicked individual for his (or perhaps her) own pleasure. The authors of Scripture are not demanding you suffer for the sake of abuse.
The same is true regarding toxic people. Hans F. Hansen is quoted as suggesting: "People inspire you or they drain you -- pick them wisely." (link) Loving deeply does not require you to engage or to surround yourself with toxic people. St Paul even commands we avoid toxic people. (cf. 2 Tim. 3:1-5; 2 Tim. 2:15, 16) You should pray for toxic people -- pray that the Lord will change their manner of thinking and behaving, pray that they will thereby recognize their toxicity, and pray that they will care enough to implement change in their life. But you are not called by God to permitting toxic people to consume you emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually. Others may use reasonable arguments as to why you should befriend toxic people, suggesting that Jesus would never forsake the same, but there is one primary reason why that line of reasoning is in error: you, my friend, are not, nor ever can be, Jesus. Accepting that truth will, literally, set you free.
No, Jesus may not forsake the toxic person, but may work through the Holy Spirit toward effecting change in one's heart. But you, my friend, cannot change anyone; you can only change yourself. At the same time, we should also pray about certain toxicities that may lurk within us, though we may be unaware of them. While learning about toxic people, pray about and ask yourself if you see traces of the same in your own heart, and even ask a close friend or family member if they see any hint of toxicity within your attitude, disposition, or thinking processes. Be honest with yourself.
There are different types of toxicity and, thus, different types of toxic people. According to Forbes, toxic people to avoid include the following traits, though others can be mentioned:
- the gossip: derives pleasure from the misfortune(s) of others;
- the temperamental: they cannot control their feelings; they lash out at you, blame you, or make you feel sorry for them and, thereby, makes avoiding them difficult for you because of your sympathy (and they know this);
- the victim: this person is the victim in every circumstance -- even ones in which they are the direct culprit of the self-caused problem;
- the self-absorbed: this person is a narcissist around whom the world revolves -- every issue is always about them, making you feel alone, and only a tool to boost their ego;
- the envious: the grass is always greener somewhere else for this person;
- the manipulator: this person absorbs "time and energy out of your life under the façade of friendship"; treating you like a true friend, they use knowledge about you to manipulate and control you, always wanting from you and never really giving you of themselves;
- the dementor: this negative and pessimistic individual consumes your energy and causes you to feel depressed, hopeless, and worthless;
- the twisted: this obviously toxic person is "either out to hurt you, to make you feel bad, or to get something from you; otherwise, they have no interest in you. The only good thing about this type is that you can spot their intentions quickly, which makes it that much faster to get them out of your life";
- the judgmental: this person has "a way of taking the thing you're most passionate about and making you feel terrible about it. Instead of appreciating and learning from people who are different from them, judgmental people look down on others. Judgmental people stifle your desire to be a passionate, expressive person, so you're best off cutting them out and being yourself";
- the arrogant: this individual views all that you do as a personal challenge. (link)
Let us not forget the individual who tends to feed on drama. This toxic individual is elated when engaging others on social media outlets like Facebook. These individuals can ruin your day by stirring up emotions with their half-truths, and intentional misrepresentations, all in the effort to appear like someone truly concerned about you or about certain circumstances. If you are to love others as you love yourself, and truly love yourself, you must avoid toxic people. Loving God, loving yourself, and loving others deeply does not require that you engage or be friends with or fellowship with such individuals. Pray for them, yes, but avoid them at all cost.
What of the person who calls you a friend but questions your motives and implies that you are, in effect, a liar? What if this person stubbornly refuses to own his or her misperceptions but, instead, keeps insisting -- or at least implying -- that you are a liar (or are lying about a particular situation in which you know that you are telling the truth)? Is that a true friend or a toxic individual whom you need to avoid? I hope you can detect that such a person is to be avoided at all cost. The toxic individual, according to the "science of psychology" website Hey Sigmund, will lie before they ever apologise [sic], so there's no point arguing. They'll twist the story, change the way it happened, and retell it so convincingly that they'll believe their own nonsense.
People don't have to apologise to be wrong. And you don't need an apology to move forward. Just move forward -- without them. Don't surrender your truth but don't keep the argument going. There's just no point. Some people want to be right more than they want to be happy and you have better things to do than to provide fodder for the right-fighters. (link)
Now, that advice is priceless, and I had already heeded that excellent advice prior to the reading. When a person refuses to believe you, and you know that you are telling the truth, you must realize that you cannot change the toxicity of others; you can only change yourself. You cannot fix others; you can only, by the grace of God and at times the help of professionally-trained therapists, change yourself, your perspective, your manner of thinking about a person or a situation or even yourself. When the so-called friend refuses to believe you, and continually implies that you are lying (and thus a liar), then that is when you must walk away. You cannot maintain a friendship or other relationship when the basic foundation of trust has been irreparably and intentionally eliminated.
What do you do if you start feeling guilty for cutting toxic people out of your life? First and foremost remember that you were not created for the ill-purposes of anyone but for the delight of God. If you suffer willingly then suffer persecution for your faith in Christ and not at the hands of a toxic person. Secondly, understand that you are not being a real friend to a toxic person, since a toxic person cannot be a real friend. Henri Nouwen helps us here: "Many of your friendships grew from your need for affection, affirmation, and emotional support."1 That is why you think you need certain people even if they happen to be toxic. Learn to find your affirmation in God's approval of you in Christ and through healthy friends and family members. "True friendships are lasting because true love is eternal. . . . All that comes from God participates in God's eternal life."2
Finally, understand that God is not using toxic people in order to test you, or to grow you, or make you a stronger individual. God may use a healthy individual who challenges you but that person will do so out of love and not out of selfish and negative and toxic ill-motives. "You must decide for yourself whom and when you give access to your interior life."3 You must guard the door of your heart and not allow yourself to be a door mat. I know some of you Christians: some of you think that you do not have the strength to protect yourself, stand up for yourself, and control how others treat you. That, my friends, is deception. You do have the strength: that strength comes from the Holy Spirit who resides within you. He does not want you to be abused and to be the perpetual victim of toxic people. Quietly ask Him to give you that power of self-preservation, a proper self-love, and a proper self-respect. Loving deeply does not require you to be ruined by others.
1 Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom (New York: Image Books, 1998), 80.
3 Ibid., 84.
This post was written by William Birch