Avoiding infections from toxic people
Wounded people with unhealed emotional poisons will inadvertently infect others with their toxins. Those who constantly defile others with their bitterness are known as toxic people. How can we love toxic people while avoiding ungodly infections from them?
Hebrews 12:15 ESV See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
Toxic people behave as if they run this world or as if the world owes them something. They won’t take responsibility for anything but will take the credit for everything. They are unable to be honest with themselves and with other people. Toxic people will play a victim, martyr, angel, bully or supreme judge and remind everyone that no one is as sacrificial / good / clever / knowledgeable as they are. Expert in manipulative mind games and emotional blackmail, toxic people will make others feel guilty, worthless or just plain lousy. Being around toxic people can be infuriating and draining.
Most toxic people don’t even realise they are being toxic because all they do is obsess about their needs. The book of Jude says such people only follow their natural instincts to satisfy their own desires. They do not have God’s Spirit or love in them. Toxic people can be found in our churches, families, workplaces and social circles.
Jude 1:16,19 NLT These people are grumblers and complainers, living only to satisfy their desires. They brag loudly about themselves, and they flatter others to get what they want. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.
God doesn’t ask us to like our enemies, but He does call us to love them
As followers of Jesus, we are called to love our enemies but hate the sins that contaminate their lives. We don’t have to like toxic people in their current state, nor the torment they bring to people’s lives.
Because toxic people have yet to repent for and surrender the darkness of their hearts, they are easily held captive by Satan to do whatever he wants. Satan torments people, and then uses them to torment other people. This is why God calls us to show mercy to toxic people but to do so with great caution.
2 Corinthians 12:7 NIV … a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
Jude 1:23 NLT … Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.
Avoid getting infected by a toxic person
There is no full immunity against toxic people, but we can practice wisdom and grace.
Colossians 4:5-6 ESV Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
1. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance
There is no need to fear toxic people if we turn to the Holy Spirit for His guidance, power, love and self-control. God’s Spirit will keep us safe as we wait for His mercy and love to work through us. Before any interaction with a toxic person, we ought to pray for the Holy Spirit to protect and inspire us in Jesus’ name.
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Jude 1:20-21 NLT … pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.
2. Establish healthy physical boundaries
The Bible distinguishes between believers and non-believers, and calls us to be gracious towards non-Christians and avoid divisive, unrepentant and godless toxic Christians.
Romans 16:17 ESV … watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.
1 Corinthians 5:11 ESV But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.
Because bad company ruins good morals, it is wise to always draw physical boundaries with toxic people. For one, we should avoid being alone with them and have someone we trust by our side. This helps to diffuse their toxins and provide a witness if they ever choose to falsely accuse or abuse us.
Second, it is also wise to meet in public places and not on their “home turf” where they may feel most empowered to unleash their poisonous toxins on us. Third, try to limit the time spent together so that we do not fall into sin as our patience and energy wear out. Let us safeguard our interactions with toxic people so we are able to keep a good conscience at all times.
1 Corinthians 15:33 ESV Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
1 Peter 3:16 ESV Having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
3. Set clear boundaries for identity and inner circles
Then, there are other types of boundaries we should never let anyone cross.
- Identity – Our identity is founded in Christ, not what people say
- Integrity – Our morals are non-compromisable
- Inner circle – Our love or business partnerships are with believers
For these reasons, we should never let anyone manipulate us into compromising on who we are and what we will do. When we allow toxic people to manipulate and control us, we have inadvertently let them rule over and made them our idols. Toxic people love to become people’s idols and rulers. This is also Satan’s number one desire.
2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
Jesus did not pray that we are kept away from toxic people, but from the evil one, Satan, who works though such people. If toxic people become out of control, we can follow Jesus’ example with Peter and quietly command Satan to get behind us in Jesus’ name, before we continue to speak with them. After our interaction with toxic people, thank God we can pray and invite Jesus to wash us clean spiritually!
John 17:15 ESV I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.
Matthew 16:23 ESV But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
John 13:8 … Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”
4. Choose not to quarrel over material things
Every material thing we own has been given to us by God and He has given us permission to be generous with them. We are to have flexible boundaries with our possessions, and not allow them to become a stranglehold that can rob us of our joy, peace and hope.
Matthew 5:39-40 ESV But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
5. Choose our battles wisely, speak with gentleness and respect
It is difficult to practice wisdom around toxic people when we have too much pride or too little self-dignity. Humility is not the absence of self-respect. This is why the guidance of the Holy Spirit is crucial, so we are able to answer toxic people gently and wisely.
Proverbs 15:1-2 NLT A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing, but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness.
It takes humility to listen to toxic people, because not everything they say will be bad. Some of it could be even beneficial to us. Moreover, humility recognises that we all have the potential to become toxic towards others when put under the “right” circumstances. Take a merciless, high-pressure work environment for example. When push comes to shove, co-workers can become mean and manipulative just to survive, even if that’s not what they are normally like at home.
When toxic people say unkind things about us, we can acknowledge the time they spent, but stop short of agreeing with them such as, “I appreciate that you took time to think about me.” We can be confident about who we are in Christ and not enter into an argument or take revenge. A proud person, on the other hand, will only get defensive or be hurt and react badly.
On the other hand, when toxic people say untrue things about us, we should stand firm and correct them such as, “I’m sorry but I can’t agree with you on that,” or “You may want to reconsider what you just said”.
God gave us humour and this is best deployed to defuse the snide comments of toxic people. And where toxic people are really being used by Satan to torment us, praising God is a good way to deflect their attacks. For example, we can say, “I know I am not perfect and I am so glad that God is gracious and forgiving. Jesus is worthy of all praise and honour. He is so good.”
In the wider view of things, there will always be something that we can agree with toxic people on and we can divert our conversations towards those areas.
7. Practice empathy and address the person, not their attacks
All toxic people have a source of anxiety and an inner (broken) script about how the world operates. If we are able to identify what these areas are, we can show empathy and godly compassion – and perhaps lead them towards healing.
For example, if someone has been deeply hurt by his or her father and subconsciously abuses people as a result, we can connect with them by saying; “I am sorry for what other men like your dad have done to you, but please don’t equate me with them. I’m here to share God’s love with you, because I have experienced freedom from my own pain through Jesus Christ. God wants to take your pain away too, if you will let Him.”
Let us practice looking beyond a toxic person’s poison. They are really just crying out in pain, albeit through unhealthy ways. If we are able to win them over as a friend, we will be able to point them to Jesus who is our Savior, Redeemer and Healer. Sometimes this means we have to pay a small price for around toxic people to collect a greater prize; that of a person’s soul.
Matthew 5:44-48 ESV But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
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