Monday, August 3, 2015

Dealing with Toxic People


Toxic. We hear this word thrown around a lot to describe difficult people or difficult situations. IE: 'my mother in law is toxic', 'they're in a toxic relationship', or 'it's just really a toxic environment'. But what does that word really mean? Personally, I think this word is overused. People use it when they talk about people who are annoying or who have different beliefs. After all, we all fall short of the glory of God, right? No one is perfect. We all have our crosses to bear; our sins we struggle with. But someone who is growing has remorse, they reflect, they repent, and they make changes {or at least attempt to}. So toxicity, in my mind, doesn't apply to these people who struggle but continue to try.

When I think about what makes a person truly toxic, I think of someone who feels completely righteous in the destruction they cause. THEY AREN'T WRESTLING WITH ANYTHING. Why? They see nothing wrong in what they're doing, so they continue to cause crisis and devastation and blame everyone but themselves. They're prideful. They have it all figured out, and everyone else just needs to fall in line. They're impossible. They're exhausting. They're downright delusional. And whenever you're connected to one of these people, ALL of the fault lays on your shoulders. Even though you're the one catching all their anger… and yet you're always forgiving them and working towards maintaining a relationship. They forgive you for nothing. 

For reasons unknown to me, I have have had to deal with more toxic people in my life than others. And what I find is that underneath all that anger and rage, they are PROFOUNDLY unhappy. They're unhappy in their circumstances. In their finances. In their relationships. And ultimately, they're unhappy in themselves. So they draw their self worth from others. And no one can ever fill that void except for The Lord Almighty. So the "toxic" person has placed the burden of their happiness at  someone else's doorstep. That 'someone else' is responsible for making an unhappy person happy--they must meet their elevated {and unrealistic} expectations. Even if you manage to meet that toxic person's needs, in the next moment, hour, day, or week, you'll be back to failing them. Those desires to be made happy are insatiable. They grow. And it's like chasing the wind. Therefore, BOTH PARTIES are fighting a losing battle. 

I have met two kinds of toxic people. The first is the known toxic person. The second is the private toxic person. 

The known toxic person is a hot mess in just about every relationship they have. They make friends for a short time, but it's only a matter of time before everyone in their life catches on to the crazy they're dealing with. No one wants to be involved with them. Everyone walks on eggshells around them. Everyone is afraid of what they'll do next. 

The private toxic person is, in my opinion, SO. MUCH. HARDER. to deal with. Everyone from their friends to the mail lady loves them. They seem so sweet. They're overly kind and generous publicly. They're at every social event. They have a huge circle of friends. But those friendships are typically very shallow. People can even be envious of their lives. And behind closed doors with people they live with or people they build deep connections with, they create unspeakable turmoil. The toughest part about dealing with this type is that if you have problems with them, everyone {and I do mean EVERYONE} will come to their defense. They work hard at getting people to side with them. And you'll get upset {or even angry} and defensive when people confront you about the situation. And you'll be made out to be the villain. This toxic person manipulates public opinion to get you to cater to their every whim because it's almost easier to deal with the drama than have your reputation soiled with everyone you know.

Both types of toxic people find drama pleasurable. They find joy in creating chaos. Even when they're losing people in their lives, they're WINNING by creating a dramatic story to tell. They feed and thrive on pain and drama. They suck the life and joy out of people around them. And when you're that unlucky person responsible for making your toxic person happy, they breathe in oxygen from making you fulfill their needs, and all you get is their carbon dioxide they breathe out.

As Christians, we read pieces of scripture telling us to 'turn the other cheek' and twist it into the belief that we should take whatever abuse is dished out to us. Through a LOT of soul searching and prayer, I do not believe this is so. After all, He came so that we may have life--not death! Joy, not misery! I have been in relationships with toxic people, and the one thing that is abundantly clear to me is that my relationship with my Heavenly Father ALWAYS suffers.

Imagine if you saw one of your children get slapped on the playground, you would not tell them to go back in for round 2 because Jesus would want them to. That. Is. CRAZY! We are His children. He does not wish for us to be abused in His name just because we happen to be in close proximity to this toxic person. Yet we advise people to keep getting beaten up emotionally to the point they can no longer see or experience God.

This person is not walking in His light--and they are dragging us into the darkness of the enemy. They're giving the enemy easy access to your mind and heart. And more importantly, we are ENABLING them to keep living a life of sin. So, in cases where we are suffocating from someone else's toxicity, we need to come up with appropriate boundaries to keep their abuse away from us. 

This person can be a spouse, friend, or even a relative. Obviously, a friend is going to be easier than a relative to set boundaries with. You can choose to just not see this friend as often or walk away when they're spreading out that drama. 

A spouse is so hard. I mean, divorce is obviously something that you would want to avoid unless it is absolutely necessary. But a toxic spouse can be soul crushing. I know someone whose wife belittles him constantly and publicly. He allows her to do this, and I literally watch the oxygen being sucked out of him right before my very eyes. He has no boundaries with her. She is allowed to recklessly spread her toxicity, and he is literally being crushed by the weight of her expectations and his failures to meet them. While someone may wonder why someone allows themselves to be treated like that, it is a toxic pattern of codependency that won't be broken if nothing changes. If you're in a marriage like this, but you don't want to leave your spouse, just walk away when they attack you and agree to return when the toxicity stops. I know people who have divorced over a toxic spouse's unwillingness to change. But I know a lot more people have divorced over the enabler's lack of effort in setting boundaries against such behaviors. 

I don't think it's unreasonable to cut ties with them if they refuse to stop sinning against you. Use this solution sparingly. As I said before, this is for people who are truly toxic. This is not for irritating people. Or weird people. This is for people who suck every drop of life out of you. But be prepared for people to defend that person's behavior and expect you to tolerate it. Be prepared for people to call your love for The Lord into question when you do this. But you will reach a point where you're breathing in oxygen again, and those people's opinions will matter less because you'll finally be able to breathe. 

In finding the solution that works for you, there is one step that matters above all else. Call upon The Lord to guide your path. He will tell you what to say no to. He will show you what is too much. When we enter into these situations prayerfully, God will give us wisdom when we feel like there is none to be had.

The best news is that God has the power to change toxic people. If they let him. It is not your job to change them, nor are you capable of doing that. So stop trying. Pray for God to penetrate their heart, and let Him work on them. Sometimes no matter how many prayers you pray, those toxic people will not change. This is sad. And frustrating. Tragic, even. It is not, however, our fault. With our Lord, we can find peace in the chaos. Serenity in the insanity. Wisdom in the confusion. And life to the full. In Him and Him alone.


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