Warning: this article contains real solutions, not just sympathy. If you are just looking for sympathy, the solutions here won’t be of much help to you.
I just finished reading several articles about toxic people. All the ones I read followed the same pattern. They started off sharing what they think are the differences between difficult relationships and ones that are actually toxic or extremely hurtful. They then follow up with their own suggestions about the best ways to deal with toxic relationships.
If you don’t want to wade through a bunch of popular articles about toxic people, I’ll summarize them for you. If someone is hurting you emotionally—making you feel bad about yourself or hurting you physically—the best thing you can do is get away from them, move on with your life, and never look back.
On the surface, that advice can be helpful. There is no doubt that getting away from abusers is usually a good idea, especially from physical abusers. Sadly, many families have people in them who are verbally toxic, though, and getting away from them is not always possible.
There is also a huge problem that none of the articles that I read addressed. Even when we get away from “toxic” people, we still need to know how to get away from the emotional scars they have left on us. The bitterness, resentment, anger, the desire for revenge, and especially that crippling victim mentality, all of those things can easily make us into toxic people, too.
When we are hurt by others, it usually isn’t long before we use their behavior as an excuse for the unhappy and angry (moody?) person that we have become. If we allow the hurt feelings to continue, it will even affect our physical health. Notice what a world-renowned physician from John’s Hopkins Hospital explains:
“There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed,” says Karen Swartz, M.D., director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease, and diabetes, among other conditions.
Here is one way to sum up what happens when we don’t deal with our hurt feelings: “Carrying hurt feelings is like drinking poison and hoping someone else will get sick.”
If we aren’t careful, angry and bitter people will make us into angry, bitter people. We need to know how we can we endure toxic people without becoming toxic ourselves.
Here is the key. We must avoid the temptation of thinking about how righteous we are compared to the person who hurt us. It is so easy to convince ourselves that we are good because we haven’t done the awful things that others have done to us. That is a natural way to react, but here is the problem: If we use ourselves as the ultimate standard of right and wrong, we will always see ourselves as being right. That leaves us feeling that we have the right to be angry and bitter, and then that will make us toxic to the others around us.
This may sound strange at first, but please stick with me as I explain a solution. We cannot see ourselves as the ultimate judges of what is right and wrong. Instead, we need to see ourselves through God’s eyes. Is it possible that compared to God’s standard of goodness, we are “toxic” too?
What moral code does God hold us to? I hope you are sitting down because the Bible lays out a shocking standard: “… be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:15–16). If that sounds like an impossible standard, you’re right. It is! God is holy, and He only accepts perfect holiness.
Don’t despair, though. God, who is perfectly holy Himself, has actually offered to freely give us of His holiness.
The peace and contentment we need after others have hurt us begins when we see how much we have offended the God who made us and then paid the awful price for our lack of holiness. God did that by taking the punishment for our sins and laying it on Jesus when He suffered on the Cross. “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:6).
We can now have the perfect righteousness that God requires because “[God] made [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
When we are humble enough to embrace the undeserved gifts of Christ’s forgiveness and of His perfect righteousness, then one day we will live in the full blaze of His glory. God’s grace helps us see ourselves as sinners who are in desperate need of God’s forgiveness. When we see that, it is much easier to peacefully endure the hurts of others. With God’s help, we can bear “…with one another, and [forgive] each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:13).
Do you want to experience God’s peace? Jesus offers Himself as the ultimate solution: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27).