What are Toxic People?

It seems the world is getting increasingly toxic. Through-out our lives, at work, play, family, church, or at home we come across “toxic people.” They look like everyone else, talk like everyone else and can even be disguised as your best friend, family member or partner. “Toxic people are master manipulators, skilled liars and great actors,” according to Shannon Thomas, LCSW. “They can be hiding everywhere.”

What are Toxic People?

Toxic people needlessly drain others of their time, money and energy with the result of little personal change on their part and discouragement on the part of those who seek to help them. When the resources run dry, they move on to another unsuspecting individual, oftentimes vilifying the former person who poured so much into their lives. They may be an acquaintance we are trying to help. They may be someone we know as friend, family or church member.

One way to tell you have a toxic person in your life: Every time you encounter or hang out with them, you feel exhausted, emotionally drained and negative. There’s always something with this person.

Nancy Irwin, Psy.D., of Seasons, a world class Addiction Recovery Center in Malibu, describes a toxic person as anyone who is abusive, unsupportive, or unhealthy emotionally—someone who basically brings you down more than up. “You may begin to feel dependent on him or her for their opinion, doubting your own,” she says.

Are You a Toxic Person?

During my undergraduate studies, I took a class in Abnormal Psychology. It seemed that everyday there was a new neurosis to study. With each one there was at least someone in my life I was ready to diagnose. “Oh, that’s why she acts that way.” “He must have . . .” It’s easy to point a finger at another, forgetting that when we do there are three pointing back at ourselves. “Take the log out of your own eye, before removing the splinter in another’s eye,” Matthew 7:5. If you think you may be toxic, pray about it, talk with a professional about it.

How Do We Deal with a Toxic Person?

I suspect that most of us will not be in the toxic category. However, we may know someone who is toxic. In a sermon on the topic of toxic people, Pastor Randy Smith, Grace Bible Church, Allenwood, NJ, offers 4 steps for dealing with toxic people:

Number 1: Choose your friends carefully.

Proverbs 18:24, “A man of too many friends comes to ruin.” God does command you to love people, but He does not command you to be close friends with everyone. We often let toxic people into our lives. We think it’s the Christian thing to do. Intending to help, we end up being co-dependents.  Get to know people before you invite them intimately into your life. Set healthy boundaries. Friends are there to enjoy, sharpen you biblically (Pr. 27:14), build you up in your faith – not tear you down, drain you emotionally and love you conditionally.

Number 2: Be very careful who you marry.

You can remove a toxic friend out of your life. You cannot, under most circumstances, remove a toxic spouse out of your life. This is a tough one to be in, especially since you share the same house together. If that’s you – pray, establish boundaries, get help together, pray more. If you are not married, be careful who you marry.

Number 3: Do not enable people who don’t want to grow.

Pray for the toxic person in your life. Encourage them to seek help. Don’t simply tolerate their toxicity. I love the story about the “woe-is-me man” from John 5. “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me” (Jn. 5:7). What did Jesus say? “Do you wish to get well?” (Jn. 5:6). How many times I’ve heard, I have a problem with spending. I have a problem with alcohol. I have a problem with negative thinking. My kids hate me. My spouse hates me. Stop! Do you want to be made well? If not, no one wants to hear your problems! We all have enough of our own. However, if you do want to be made well you are at the right place.

Number 4: If toxic behavior persists warn the individual and then separate yourself from them.

This is a biblical principle. Romans 15:17, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned and turn away from them.” 1 Corinthians 5:9, “[Not to] associate with [them].” We can even get specific: “Do not associate with a gossip” (Pr. 20:19). “Do not associate with a man given to anger” (Pr. 22:24). Don’t hate, just separate.

I hope this is helpful for you and provides you with needed tools as we work together to build the community of God on earth as it is in heaven.