Preached by Rev. Ed Brouwer at The Gathering Place, Osoyoos
Pulpit Series Volume 22, Issue 10      April 1, 2012

I sometimes wish there was a “Discernment For Dummies” course.

I’d like to address a topic that is seldom, if ever, brought up in church, “How to deal with toxic people”.  The Bible must have some words of wisdom to help us remain good Christians and still avoid a head on crash with these kinds of people?

The first verse I thought of was “I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.”  I Corinthians 5:11

And then there was my old friend Nehemiah.  He faced three men in his life who were toxic: liars and gossipers and they wanted to control Nehemiah with their negative attitudes.

And then I thought of Judas.  Chosen as one of the twelve.  He was right in the middle of the core group for over the three years of Jesus’ ministry.  He is as close as you could get, yet he had been robbing the purse that was there to support Jesus and the disciples and to feed the poor.  He was deceitful and finally sells Jesus out for filthy lucre, 30 pieces of silver, the cost of a slave.  His name has come to mean betrayer.  Certainly he’d be considered toxic.

Yet his toxicity level was no match for our Lord’s grace.

Sometimes the biggest stressors in our lives are people who are easy to upset and hard to please, or those who let you down time after time.  A toxic person robs you of your self-esteem and dignity.

There are many types of toxic people.  The following are the more toxic ones:

Needy people
There are mildly needy people which isn't a big problem and then there are the “Drain the very life out of you” needy.

Their message is:
  • “I need you to solve all my problems”
  • “I can't function without you”
  • My happiness depends totally on you”
  • “If you leave, I’ll just die”
Needy people demand constant attention.  They use emotional blackmail to get it and offer gratitude only if it keeps you on the hook.

No matter what you do for them
it is never enough.

You'll handle one crisis, only to find them weeping inconsolably over the next one.  And you'll sink deeper and deeper into their quicksand each time you try to pull them out.

If you are confronted with a needy person and you feel that the relationship is worth saving here is something you may try:

  • Be honest with them (novel idea)
Tell them something like this…
“I'm getting close to avoiding you, because almost every time I ask you about something you haven't done you make an excuse or blame someone else. And almost every time I confront you about ways in which you need to improve, you either act hurt, start to cry or get angry. All of us feel disappointment, hurt or upset from time to time, but if you get angry or emotional each time, it's too exhausting to be around. You have the right to react in ways you choose. But I have the right to excuse myself or avoid you, which is what I will do. And that is not going to help our relationship. So I hope you will start taking responsibility for yourself, and find a way to keep from falling apart when you feel upset.”

This could go one of two ways.  If the person is smart enough to take your message seriously, you'll see a change for the better.  On the other hand, the person may refuse to change, or even escalate the needy behavior.  This may seem like pretty strong medicine, and is not something you should have to say to other people.  But, with needy people, however, you need strong medicine.

If you are coping with a needy person, one warning is in order:
  • extreme and highly pathological neediness can sometimes be a sign of borderline personality disorder
People with this disorder also exhibit these behaviors:
  • They demand more than whine
  • They desperately fear abandonment
  • They cycle between idolizing you and you devaluing you
  • They have no core personality, they seem empty because they are empty and to fill that hole they've parasitically latched onto whoever is closest.
  • They act impulsively and have extreme mood swings.
  • They may threaten suicide or act paranoid.
If you are dealing with a person who acts this way, you are in trouble. You need professional help in dealing with this type of person.  Be careful, people with borderline personality disorder can become stalkers.

Borderline personality disorder is treatable, but even professionals find it tough to help these people.  Try to rescue a person with borderline personality on your own and you'll go down in flames together.

Bullies….yes there are bullies in the church.  They are not just found in the schoolyard.  Bullies come after you because they think you are easy prey, refuse to follow their script and they usually give up and seek an easier target.  When a bully tries to intimidate you by verbally attacking you do this:
  • Make eye contact
  • Act perfectly polite but ever so slightly bored as if your mind is elsewhere
  • Let your body language transmit the same message
  • Stand up straight, be relaxed and cock your head as if you're listening but not very hard
  • Let your arms hang casually, instead of throwing them defensively across your chest
Often this response makes bullies feel uncomfortable or even foolish and causes them to back down.  Bullies act the way they do because they get away with it, but deep down, most of them know it's not an ideal strategy.  Sometimes they just need someone to say that to their face.  Many bullies are knocked for a loop when someone bullies them back.

Takers…..they're the ones who hit you up every day for a favor.  These people usually won't ruin your life, but they can ruin your day.  Avoid takers when you can, but if that's not possible neutralize them.

How?  It's the easiest trick in the book.  The next time a taker asks you for a favor follow with: “Sure no problem, you can help me out by (fill in the blank). You don't mind doing a favor for me in return….right?”  You’ll only need to do this once or twice.

Narcissists…..these people aren't out to hurt you, but they don’t care about you either, except as an audience for their own “wonderfulness”.

A narcissist’s motto is, “So enough about you”.  Narcissists are always on center stage, expecting you to sit in the wings and cheer them on.

The Psychopath…..cold, lack of empathy, self-centered, ruthless – make some of the world’s most financially successful business leaders.  But the not so bright ones end up in prison.

Odds are, you'll run into one of these people at some point in your life.

If so follow this rule:
  • Get away! Run!
  • Chew off your leg to escape the trap if you have to, because these people will ruin you financially, crush you emotionally and destroy your life if it helps them and they'll never look back.
Most people make the mistake of trying to reason with a psychopath.  But you cannot touch these people emotionally.  You cannot win them over, make them feel sorry for you, or make them want to help you in any way.  They may pretend to care about you, but they don't.

How can you spot a psychopath?  It's harder than you think.  Here are a few clues:
  • They manipulate people like chess pieces with no regard to the pain they cause
  • They are predatory thrill seekers
  • They lie easily and don't care if they get caught
  • They are glib, charismatic and charming
  • They crave power and do whatever it takes to get it
  • They use people for sexual or financial purposes and then discard them
Again, do not make the mistake of thinking that you can handle these people. Quite simply, these people lacked the neural mechanisms to respond to you in a reciprocal moral or ethical way.

Stay clear no matter what the cost, you'll pay a far
higher price if you stay connected. 
In summary you need to strip these
people of the power to hurt you.

There are three ways to do this:
  1. Confront these people directly
  2. Neutralize them
  3. Walk away and pray they don't follow you
Sometimes we get entangled financially or emotionally and it's really tough to do, but painful or not ,handling these people is critical to your success, your inner peace and your sanity.

*   Maybe they are like Judas
Lying thieves, betrayers of trust, taking advantage of every opportunity to get ahead on the backs of others

*   Maybe they’re people you have to rely on but they continually let you down

*   Maybe you share the toxicity
You’ve a need to please and they’re impossible to please!

*   Maybe they are hateful people

*   Maybe they have a twisted negative view of the world

*   Maybe they have power and they use it to grind you down

How do you deal with them?

If you google “toxic people” you get a bunch of articles about how to avoid toxic people, how to get them out of your life and even a few on how to get revenge.

But the question really is, “How does Jesus want me to deal with them?”

At the Passover, the Last Supper, the “do this in remembrance of me” meal, Jesus shares this meal with toxic Judas.  They share the same dipping bowl, “The one who dipped his bread with me…”.  Jesus shares His dipping bowl with the one who is going to betray Him.

We see that Jesus is aware of Judas’ toxicity.  Jesus even washes Judas’ feet.

So Jesus’ way of dealing with toxic people
is to serve them and show them love.

You say, “I could never do that”.  Well, you're not the only one.  Jesus does it because of the power within Him.

Jesus knows who He is… John 13:1-3 “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God.”

So is this how we should deal with toxic people?

First and foremost, we need to KNOW who we are in Christ.

Question - What is our purpose?  Is it to change the toxic person or is it to be like Jesus?

Did Jesus change Judas?  Jesus gets in his face and serves him and then Jesus frees Judas to betray Him.

We often try to appease toxic people, dance around them or avoid them.

We need to meditate on who we are in Christ.  That way we will not try to build our self-worth by trying to please, or change, or defeat the toxic people in our lives.

Meditate on who you are in Christ….
Loved, Accepted, Adopted, Forgiven

That is radical living!  Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard it said, ’Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Luke 6:27,28&36 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. … Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Romans 12:14-21 “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse; Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head (and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you).”

We are to have a healthy self-respect and a
good self-image / healthy self-esteem.

So to deal with toxic people follow the following three steps:

1.   Don't Take It Personally
When we take personal insults personally, we allow Satan and whoever to catch us with their hooks.  Hold up your shield of faith!  Ignore them.

2.   If You Can Avoid This Person - Do So! 
Billy Graham has often been heard to say, “I do not answer my critics”.

You do not have to have conversations with people just because they want to argue with you.  Avoid them if possible.  Refuse to engage toxic people, stay focused on God's mission for your life.

3.   Don't Try To Change Toxic People
You can't change them.  Do not try.  If you kick a skunk you will end up stinking.

Consider this truth…..
We blossom and flourish from childhood to adulthood because of the encouragement, support, and mentorship of parents, teachers, coaches, and other influential people.  We are able to face tough times largely through the emotional support and compassion of our loved ones.

We need each other!

Thankfully God has put people in our lives who we can always count on.
  • those who know you best
  • those you can trust with your darkest secrets and they will still love you, forgiveness is readily granted and memories erased.
Remember that toxic relationships can and will steal
your joy, your health and well-being.

It is appropriate to sever relationships that are poisonous.

We forgive.  We don't harbor ill will.
But it is absolutely appropriate to
sever such relationships.
You can still pray for that person,
but you must disarm them.

Good relationships make us happier and
happy people have better relationships.

Mirror check…..
When you encounter toxic people, in attempt to analyze the problem, always keep one thing in mind.

Is it possible – just barely possible – that the person with the problem is you? OUCH!!!

We all screw up in different ways and what separates the good people from the toxic ones is the ability to face those screw ups and learn a lesson from them.

May God help you keep toxic people from hindering your progress!

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