5 Helpful Responses to Toxic People

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This is a two-part post. It behooves you to read part one first. (And, no, I don’t know what “behoove” means).

I wish this weren’t true, but toxic people are everywhere. You will encounter one at some point. Chances are high you already have. While you can’t choose when toxic people enter your life, you can choose how you respond.

And make no mistake, how you respond matters, especially if you follow Jesus. Tolerating toxic people is bad for you. Flippantly cutting ties and writing them off doesn’t help either. Though toxic people choose to find core needs through unhealthy behaviors, they aren’t evil or beyond God’s grace. Respecting ourselves while also respecting the other person gives you the best opportunity to be an instrument of God’s power to heal and overcome.

When a toxic person enters your life, here are a few helpful responses.

1. Recognize the traits that make you an easy target.

Toxic people don’t attach to everyone. They pick and choose wisely. I had to come to grips with my passive tendencies. I allowed Dallas (if you don’t know who Dallas is, you should read the previous post) to call the shots because I was reluctant to tell him how I really felt.

Toxic people love passive people. They also love insecure ones.

2. Establish clear boundaries.

If you can’t avoid a toxic person, a co-worker or church member, for example, you must establish clear, strong emotional and physical boundaries. You owe it to yourself, your family and even the toxic person. It’s much easier to help a toxic person once these boundaries are in place.

Verbalize your boundaries. Be direct. Stand firm. Let them know what’s acceptable and what’s not.

3. Avoid playing by their rules.

It’s important that you avoid become reactive. You’re no help to a toxic person if you play their game. Cynicism won’t overcome with cynicism. You can’t beat manipulation with manipulation.  Does that make sense? Great.

Practice emotional awareness. Know when you’re being bullied or manipulated. Walk away if you must. Live to fight another day.

4. Focus on solutions.

Toxic people are resistant to solutions. Solutions require change, taking responsibility for your own choices. If you follow Jesus, the greatest gift you can give a toxic person is letting them know you love them too much to allow them to remain as they are.

So, when a toxic person rants about their issues, continue pushing them towards action steps.

5. Use your community.

In my experience, you’re highly unlikely to make any progress with a toxic person by yourself. After a couple of exhausting months with Dallas, I needed help. So, I called a few leaders at my church. They encouraged me and agreed to meet with him. They also gave me peace about letting go.

Know this. Toxic people don’t like group meetings. But it’s exactly what they need. Meeting with a group of people forces their hand.

I want to say this one more time: toxic people are people. They’re not evil or bad. They just choose to find love and security using unhealthy behaviors. Toxic people are created in God’s image, just like you. At the same time, you shouldn’t allow toxic people to drain your life and energy.

Love them. Show them compassion. But show yourself love and compassion as well.

Do you have some helpful, Christ-honoring responses to toxic people? Leave a comment below.

Grace and peace, friends.

Frank is lead writer and editor for the blog at Bayside church. He is also a husband, father and Jesus-follower. Occasionally he plays golf. Often he drinks coffee.

6 Comments

  1. I think a good way to create the healthy boundary is to have a meeting with accountability and vocalize that you are sorry for anything you might have done wrong to them and that you forgive them for anything they have done to you. That’s a good place to start with when creating distance!

  2. I was in a relationship for 6 1/2 yrs with my children’s father who is toxic: narsicistic, bipolar, & sociopathic. My passive, non-confrontational attitude & wanting to forgive and forget, made me an easy target. He didn’t show his true self all at once; it was realized over time. I prayed for God to remove him from my life because my insecurities left me afraid. He is now in another state but still reaches out occasionally to check on the kids & I. At first I yelled, then tried to show him his fault (to no avail). I don’t know how to respond anymore.. any advice? I want to be God-like but I’m exhausted!

  3. Frank-
    This is very helpful information, thank you. One of my close relatives was suicidal for years; indeed, even 3 attempts, all landing her in the ICU (it takes a measure of self-control to be able to bring oneself to the brink of death 3 times). During this time, all conversing centered around her drama, problems, and perceived needs. Any suggestions or solutions were ignored, while anger, accusations, time monopolizations, and narcissism ruled the day.
    During a meeting with her psychiatrist when she was not present, he gave me a powerful verbal tool, which I’ve utilized successfully, many times since. When things are spinning south, he suggests stating: “I care for you deeply, and I’d be happy to discuss this further, but I will not do so until you treat me with the respect I deserve.” Respect can take many forms: not monopolizing someone’s time, nor keeping them from their family, work or sleep, using a pleasant tone of voice, and even listening respectfully. Isn’t this a loving and encouraging tool?

  4. My suggestion is to pray for him. Pray for his healing. If at first you cannot pray out of love for him, pray because you love your children. In time, your heart ache and your pain (with God’s grace and patience) can become love and support. May he become whole and may you also become whole. May you in time be able to forgive him for not being capable of being the man for you and a wonderful father for your children that you must so deeply long for. May he become the man that God would have him to be and grow in the characteristics that glorify our father and become a blessing to others. I pray right now that at some point he can grow to become a good father.
    Sometimes we are not the one appointed to teach another his error. Sometimes learning is learned through difficulties. I am sorry that you have had to go through this time of suffering and it would appear that your children will have times of struggling ahead of them too as they have to reconcile the time without a healthy father. But, I have full confidence in our Lord that He who began a good work with you will also see you through. I am glad that you are safe and you have kept your children safe. As you work through leaving the past in the past and accepting the inabilities that this man has and still moving forward, may you have more and more peace. Difficulties shape us. Trust that you are becoming a diamond (compressed coal) and that even this suffering offers a chance to grow holiness and perfection- which is love. Remember romans 5 and gain courage that this difficulty will breed something worthwhile in you and in your children. (I say all this never having walked in your shoes. You are already a more courageous woman than I have ever been called to be. But I know God’s word and He will not abandon you. He is a Good father May God bless you, precious child of God and sister I would like to meet

  5. The last two blogs speak to me loud and clear. My 24 year old daughter seems to be caught in this trap of toxicity. She hasn’t had it easy, chronic illness (Crohn’s) almost killed her as a teenager, surgery (complete colectomy), an alcoholic abusive father until I finally had enough and divorced him. She has been out on her own, but recently broke up with her boyfriend and returned to live with me. We’ve had our conflicts, and for the sake of peace I find myself backing off a bit. I pray daily for Christ to bind any demon around her, twisting her mind and heart, wrap them up in cords and cast them like javelins far, far away. Every day. I’m seeing progress, so the fervent prayers continue. This is my child, I will never give up. Frank, your transparency about your life in your 20’s gives me so much hope. Thank you, God bless you.

    • LaRae, thank you for sharing some of your story. I pray God gives the wisdom and patience you need to respond with love. Blessings!

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