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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