Toxic People - Elisabeth Klein
Elisabeth Klein

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tox·ic /ˈtäksik/
poisonous, venomous, dangerousdestructiveharmfulunsafeinjurious

tox·ic person
someone who is poisonous, venomous, dangerous, destructive, harmful, unsafe, injurious

I think that when we think of a toxic person, we think of someone who is abusive across the board; who lies; who manipulates; who back-stabs; who twists our words; who betrays our confidences; who says and does horrible things to us.

And sure, that would be a toxic person.

But I’ve been thinking about this more lately.

Yes, some people are just plain destructive, to themselves and to most or all around them. Steer clear, in Jesus’ love.

But it’s not always black and white, is it?

Because sometimes a person who is toxic to you doesn’t seem to be toxic to anyone else, which can be confusing. (I like to think of this as someone you’re allergic to.)

Or sometimes a relationship that is typically smooth goes through a toxic season.

Or sometimes the person who is being toxic, well, you can tell that they have no idea that they are, that they are well intentioned and just, perhaps, immature or what-have-you.

Or sometimes the person is even a Christian who really loves Jesus and is trying.

My definition of a toxic person is someone who is more bad for you than good for you, overall or even for a season; either in that they are hurting you or bringing out the worst in you, intentionally or unintentionally.

So, what do we do when we find ourselves with a toxic person in our lives?

I believe the Bible lays out three simple, though not easy, principles:

Speak the truth in love.
Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. -Ephesians 4:15

If you believe that sharing your heart with this person will help the situation, then prayerfully and respectfully do so, once. Yep, only once. AlAnon says that saying the same thing more than once is controlling and nagging.

Love, bless, pray.
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).

Yep. You may want to just up and walk away altogether, but Jesus calls us to something higher. So, if you’re able to, do something kind for this person, and pray for this person, even if it’s just, Please bless him, Lord, I give him to You.

Detach with love.
“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” -Matthew 10:14

Okay, so after you’ve spoken your piece, and while you’re praying for this person, if things aren’t changing, it’s okay for you to close the door. Maybe forever, maybe just for a time. Take that space to continue to pray. AND, take that space to shore up your safe harbor, to pour into the relationships in your life that feed and soothe your heart.

But, pivot…ugh…what if the toxic person is you?

Yes, well-meaning, Jesus-loving, trying-so-hard you.

It’s okay.

It struck me maybe fifteen or so years ago that I actually might be someone’s toxic person. In fact, I humbly proclaim that I am more than one person’s toxic person.

Now, do I set out every day to hurt others? Even those who have hurt me?

NO!

I HATE the idea of hurting anyone, EVEN THOSE WHO HAVE HURT ME.

But the reality is that humans have rough edges and we all aren’t called to be each other’s best friends and God made us all so different and there’s sin and freewill and you mix all that up and – good intentions or not – we’re just not all going to agree, we’re just going to rub some people the wrong way.

So, what if it is you? And you know it’s you?

Own your part.
Apologize for what you’ve done to hurt someone. Clearly. Don’t say but you did such and such first… Say you’re sorry, and mean it. And do this only once. You do not need to apologize a gazillion times (and I’m saying this as a lifelong over-apologizer who is working on this).

Pray.
Pray they will forgive you and pray that you can feel forgiven and walk forward in it.

Give space.
If they need space, it’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. We are not created to be all filled up with the love of just one person, so use this time to be with the other people in your life who love you for you.

Living amends.
Use this time to try to work on the thing that you did that hurt the person. You may not be able to fix or erase what you’ve done, but you sure can work on changing your thoughts, words, actions and prayers as you move forward.

Lastly, let’s be so very grateful that Jesus doesn’t have a toxic bone in his body, and that we can and should go to him every day to be filled up with his perfect love.

If you want to work on this in a deeper way, join me for Relationships 201.