We all encounter difficult people in our lives. Some of these relationships we aren’t under obligation to continue when they have become emotionally destructive.
This can be applied to toxic “friendships” and acquaintances. These relationships are optional. We can choose another friend relationship that is not overly critical and cynical. We can choose to associate with a different acquaintance that is not a gossip or hater. We can choose to befriend a fellow church member that does not behave like a doubter or backstabber.
We don’t have to subject ourselves to a beat down or continue to enable a toxic relationship that we can fulfill elsewhere. Within our Christian culture we have clouded this issue with obligation and servitude in dealing with these kinds of damaging connections. But Jesus is very clear on the issue of encountering and enduring toxic, narcissistic, and spiteful people.
Without hesitation Jesus tells His disciples to shake the dust from their feet in these situations. Jesus gives us permission to stop walking barefoot on broken shards of glass to save toxic relationships.
But what of the difficult people in our life that are non-optional?
The ones that involve those we don’t have any choice, but to endure them in some sort of capacity. In many cases we may even love them. These difficult people are our parents, children, in-laws, and could even be a spouse. Widen the circle a bit and we have our bosses, co-workers, and neighbors.
We can’t always sift through and hand select these relationships or easily end them without major fall-out. So what do we do? How do we bear these difficult, stressful, and even unsafe relationships that persist? How do we love these difficult people well?
Grace. The real, unyielding, and everlasting kind. The Grace that is Jesus. The Grace that is tender toward brokenness, but stalwart to self-centered and damaging superiority. Unrelenting Grace often surprises, diffuses and softens even the most hardened and thorny personality.
It’s said that hurt people, hurt people. This doesn’t excuse the toxic drama that often takes place, but being open in grace and compassion toward childhood offenses that cause malevolence later in life often gives the difficult person pause. Most people just want to be heard, understood, and given opportunity to express their feelings.
Empathy; the most powerful tool to dethorning a difficult person. It also gives us clues to learning what may provoke surly behavior as well as hints in how to love this person in their broken and brittle places. The consistency of compassion, empathy, and grace is not only for the individual, but for us too in continuing down the path of love even in irritating circumstances with problematic and toxic people.
I have a consistently laborious relationship, which was once close, but as the years go by and loving actions disintegrate, I find difficult to bear. The effects of this necessary relationship’s interactions have scourged my soul.
Sometimes it’s the cutting words that are said in an air of superiority or hurtful actions made in disgust against choices disagreed with, but most often it’s the premeditated silence that speaks louder than any accusation or disagreement. I have to attempt to intentionally include and reach out in this relationship with the expectation that my hand may be either bitten or slapped away.
I prepare my heart in prayer before every interaction in order to protect myself and allow grace to flow despite the fight reaction my mind signals. Grace protects me and also has diffused highly sensitive exchanges in this relationship. Although the rapport has not improved, grace and continuous intentional forgiveness has yielded comfort to my heart even during the hard times.
Boundaries help keep our own broken places uncompromised of septic venom in toxic relationships. Oftentimes difficult people will attempt to selfishly tend to their own wounds by raking open other’s with manipulation, blame, and aggression.
Boundaries are not about making other people comfortable. Boundaries are not about keeping other people safe. Boundaries are not about enabling another person’s misbehavior. Boundaries are about YOU….and that is ok.
Oftentimes in the Christian culture we put so much emphasis on being OTHERS CENTERED that we drain ourselves to the point of unhealthiness and we, ourselves, become toxic and need help. Boundaries allow us to maintain relationship with difficult people, but allow us safety during interactions.
Sometimes the narcissistic person is so self absorbed that may not even realize they are encroaching the limit of your boundaries. Most often though, truly toxic people are looking to push those limits with the intention to drive you to run off the rails for their own enjoyment.
By creating boundaries you create a safe environment for interaction with the toxic person. These boundaries should make it so that consequences of impropriety and thoughtlessness affect the provoker rather than the provoked. Adhering to this model does not inhibit our relationship with God, but rather allows us to grow in spiritual maturity.
I struggle with boundaries in one particular difficult relationship. I have been fooled by this relationship several times that it is getting better, but over and over again I become disappointed and wounded when I allow boundaries to be crossed. This particular person will always be there and the choice to walk away is not truly an option.
The boundaries I have put up in this relationship keep my heart safe from lies and accusations…but in the end how I allow others treat me is how I will be treated. This is true for EVERY relationship…even our most precious.
In the end we always do have the option to walk from certain toxic relationships. If this is your choice do it with grace…no matter what has been done to you. When you walk away maintain your poise and respectability so after the emotion dump you are validated in your actions and have no regrets. You will never regret leaving in grace and gentleness, especially if that relationship one day becomes safe to reform in the future.