God never meant for us to carry the burden of changing other people’s minds about us. He never meant for us to be responsible for other people’s emotional baggage, sin, and wounds.
I had to learn to create healthy boundaries, and I had to ask God for the courage to speak the truth to the toxic people in my life. This wasn’t easy for me. Maybe it’s not easy for you either. My father left when I was seven. My mother was not a loving person. She was verbally and emotionally abusive, always making me question my choices. My mother’s way of controlling me was to make me feel guilty, so in order to prove my love to her, I had to do X, Y, and Z.
But I have a loving heavenly Father who is rewriting those scripts. Because of Jesus, I don’t have to stay stuck in the painful and destructive patterns of my past. Jesus meets us where we are and invites us to a new life in Him.
On my healing journey, I recognized all the ways I repeated the long-ingrained, unhealthy pattern of trying to appease toxic people. I incorrectly believed that if only I could love them and care for them more or be kinder to them, then they would stop being toxic. You can’t change another person, but you can learn healthy ways to handle hard relationships.
Here are five tips for coping with toxic people:
1. Don’t stay silent. You matter. Tell someone about the toxic person in your life.
It is not your job to protect the toxic person who has hurt you. You need to protect yourself. You are worthy to be loved. The first step to protecting your- self is to speak the truth. You’ve tried with all your might to protect that person who is wounding or has wounded you. But suffering in silence is not what our loving Savior wants for you.
2. Create boundaries. Even if you feel guilty, it does not mean you are guilty.
The toxic person wants to exert control over the narrative of your relationship and life through their words or behavior. When you create boundaries, they will become upset and say things to make you feel guilty in order to keep you within the box of your fears, inaction, and silence. Just because a toxic person accuses you of being uncaring, overly sensitive, or selfish does not make it true. You do not need to justify your boundaries. You have the freedom to set boundaries to protect your well-being.
3. Enlist support and role-play conversations.
Being assertive and speaking up for yourself with a toxic person is a new, odd, and scary experience if you’ve never been given permission to do so. Not sure what to say or where to start? That’s okay. Don’t be shy to ask a loving friend to help you write a script and role-play the boundaries conversation with you. We all need practice and support in creating new patterns of relating. That’s what I had to do.
4. Limit the time you spend with toxic people.
People who are emotionally toxic are very good at intimidation, manipulation, and gaslighting, so be gentle with yourself. It is easy to feel confused, anxious, and scared, or to freeze up when you engage with a toxic person, so limit the time you spend with them. When conversations get overwhelming, stick to stating what they did or said, how it makes you feel, and what action you will take and the changes you will make. Do not ask the toxic person for permission to enact these changes. You are not seeking agreement. You are communicating your boundaries.
5. Grieve the death of expectations and dreams.
I had to grieve the death of my expectations and dreams for the ideal friend, mentor, and mom I longed for so I could grow into the daughter of a loving heavenly Father. It’s important to God that we trust Him with the truth, even if it hurts. We experience a powerful rest when we give God the burdens we were never meant to carry.
People sometimes ask me if I’ve forgiven my mother for the decades of verbal and emotional abuse. I have done the hard work of grieving and healing. I have forgiven my mother. She was my whole life, and I love her more than anyone may understand.
While forgiveness takes one person, reconciliation takes two. Loving our parent, spouse, friend, mentor, or pastor does not mean open borders to toxicity, fear, intimidation, or manipulation. We can begin to make different choices that are healthy for ourselves and that break old, hurtful patterns. We can stop being enablers for hurtful people in our lives so that they, too, can face the truth of their brokenness with God.
– by Bonnie Gray, excerpted from Come Sit With Me
Right now on weekend episodes of the (in)courage podcast, we’re airing eight chapters from our book Come Sit With Me: How to Delight in Differences, Love Through Disagreements, and Live with Discomfort — and they’re read by the authors! On Saturdays in January and February, we’ll hear from Jennifer Dukes Lee, Becky Keife, Grace P. Cho, Kathi Lipp, Mary Carver, Jami Nato, Michele Cushatt, and Bonnie Gray. Friends, you do not want to miss these episodes! There’s something so special about hearing the words read by the author who penned their story.
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Ariel Krienke says
Thank you for this beautiful encouragement. I myself have had emotional and spiritual abuse from my family on earth. Now I focus on my Heavenly family.
“While forgiveness takes one person, reconciliation takes two.” Spot on. Lovely article.
I totally agree with this article. My own parents were toxic and still are. They’ve been married for 57 years and though I know they love each other and us kids, they are two of the most toxic people I’ve ever met. As an adult, I’ve told them both how their toxic behaviors have affected me and how they’ve hurt me. Neither of them has change their behaviors, except to apologize for my perceived hurts. I’m low contact with them and ignore when they say hurtful things. It’s not easy; but forgiving them was for my benefit and has made me stronger.
WOW! So much good information and recommendations in one small article!
I have often mused over the idea if toxic people can even grasp that they are
indeed, toxic. Confronting a toxic person in your life is no easy task. I am always
concerned about back lash behavior tactics if which they may engage because
of living in denial and usually not brought to task regarding behavior patterns and
the effect these chosen patterns may have on those around them.
You are a blessing Bonnie and I come away from your writings with renewed hope.
Great comment of “While forgiveness takes one person, reconciliation takes two.”
I sometimes come away from approaching a toxic person wondering if they even
can grasp the concept of forgiveness. LOTS of prayer needed in those instances.
Dona Tsakopulos says
Reading this is like reading a biography of my life. My mom was a very dominating person and she controlled everything in my life from the time I turned 14. the two greatest things that really hurt me was taking me out of dance and then telling my principal at my college prep high school that I was not smart enough for college and she wanted to put me in public high school. My principal told that was not true that could make it but she had her mind set that she wanted me to be a secretary and she wanted me to take classes to prepare me to work in an office. I had plans and dreams of being a museum curator with a minor in French languages since I loved history. All that ended when my mom took over.
up until then I was a happy little girl who loved going to Catholic schools and attending my all girl high school, and then all of a sudden I am thrown into a public school and a fish out of water I never felt like I belonged anywhere. I was so
totally alone . Because of this all of my 2 years of college prep was gone . I ended up graduating with no chance of going to college. And yet as a child of the 60’s I never spoke up and just learned to push all that anger deep inside of me because I never had choices or was able to speak up for myself. In 2008, I had an emotional breakdown and I underwent 2 years of therapy to heal. i could go on, but yes I do understand and being around Toxic people is unbearable.
BC from BC says
Thank you for this. It encourages me to know I am not alone and deal with toxic people every day. It’s not easy, however, I have support and have been opening up more this past year (2022) to people that I trust. I live with a narcissist and many in my family are too. I am thankful God’s guidance and permission to feel the way I do and am navigating how to continue to go forward in my journey without feeling guilty because I have in the past protected them. I ask for prayer for continued strength and protection as I walk this life with God’s Grace.
A very close relative of mine is a ‘vulnerable narcissist’, I’m pretty sure. Even more confusing than the regular kind!
Beth Williams says
Such wise & helpful information. There’s a quote & part of a song that says: “hurt people hurt people”. If you dig deep enough into toxic people’s lives I bet you will find some hurt in their own lives. They never learned how to cope or forgive the other person so they just perpetuate the same toxicity that they knew growing up, Thanks for the information.
Here’s an honest question…. how can I make sure I’m not the toxic person? What are the signs we could see in ourselves?
Good question Judie I need to know this too. My daughter and I start therapy next week for our broken relationship.
I can implement these ideas, using Php 4:13 ” I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me.”
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.
Kathie Miller says
I work with a very toxic man, who mainly likes to bully and belittle my husband. We own our own company and this man is a vital
part of our sales staff, but he is not nice to my husband. How can I help?