Managing Toxic Relationships


Guest Post in our – Outside the Box… Inside the Lines… Series

Toxic people tend to create toxic relationships, which can have serious consequences for our lives. Here’s what to do about it.

“Toxic” can be defined as “anything containing poisonous material capable of causing sickness or even death.” Toxic people tend to create toxic relationships, which can have serious consequences for our lives. We need to set boundaries against harmful relationships in order to save our emotional energy for pursuing God.

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[Related Series: Toxic]

The Bible Warns About Toxic Relationships

God uses relationships in our lives in important ways. But some relationships are not healthy for you.

Proverbs 13:20 Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.

1 Corinthians 15:33 Don’t be fooled by people who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.”

The people you hang around with will affect you. They can have a corrupting influence on you.

2 Timothy 2:16-17 Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior. This kind of talk spreads like cancer

Bad relationships are like a spreading disease. They will spread sickness and death wherever they are allowed to flourish.

Be Careful About Three Kinds of Toxic People

We all have people in our lives who leave us feeling negative and emotionally exhausted. Their influence makes you feel worse about yourself and your life. Consider these three types of people:

• The Negative person is judgmental and critical. They are always complaining. Nothing is good enough. Everyone else is to blame.
• The Controller is overbearing and demanding. They push to get their way through intimidation or manipulation.
• The Tempter influences you to go against your values. They don’t care about how their values and practices rub off on you.

These kinds of people put you at risk, not just because they make you unhappy. Our highest purpose in life is not our own happiness, but to pursue God. Toxic relationships divert our attention and take up our emotional resources.

You Can Manage Toxic Relationships in Two Simple Ways

Not everyone handles toxic people well. Here are two principles for doing better:

#1: Set healthy boundaries.

• A boundary is your decision to stop allowing the toxic behaviors, limiting the toxic effect. Jesus set boundaries with his followers.

Mark 1:35-37 Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.”

People wanted more from him, but Jesus set a boundary to preserve his priorities.

There are two practical boundaries you should learn to set:

• Boundary #1: “I won’t let you talk to me or treat me that way.”

For instance, you tell the negative person to keep their critical thoughts to themselves, or the controlling person that you won’t put up with their verbal bullying.

• Boundary #2: “I’m not going there with you.”

For example, you refuse to join the negative person in gossip or badmouthing others. You decline to join in that activity with a tempter.

Setting boundaries is loving. It can help a person grow. Some people have never had others care enough to correct them in a loving way.

#2: Know when to cut it off.

If a person remains toxic in spite of boundaries, you may need to stop being with them. In the Bible, God told the Israelites not to intermarry with the pagan peoples (Deuteronomy 7:2-4). When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife, he resisted her advances. Eventually, he physically tore himself away and left the house (Genesis 39:12). It should be rare to end a relationship. But sometimes you must do it to ensure your ability to serve and mentor others. This does not apply to marriage! Divorce is not an answer. Marriage is a covenant. Instead of walking away, find ways to get help.

Remember that we all contain something poisonous, capable of causing sickness or even death. It’s not a physical poison, but a spiritual one: sin. Thus we can all have a negative effect on others. The answer: God sent his Son to forgive our sins and give us a new life.

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