Establishing Boundaries with Toxic People
by Gary Thomas
When Jesus talked about pearls, most of us today probably think of a string of pearls. In Jesus’ day, a string of pearls was exceedingly rare. Pearls were way beyond the budget of all but the wealthiest, and a string of pearls would be reserved for royalty. They were so valuable that even one could be worth everything else you own.
What happens when you throw something that valuable to a pig? The beast tries to eat it. The hard pearl won’t break down when he chews it, however, so he will spit it out and charge you in anger. He’d rather have pig slop than the treasure you gave him.
That doesn’t mean the pearl isn’t valuable; it just means the pig is stupid. And you’re wasting your time giving a valuable gift to a toxic person.
When dealing with the type of toxic person Jesus likened to a pig, you’ll want to play a particular kind of self-defense—guarding your own heart against bitterness and resentment. For me, my best defense in that regard has been twofold: praying for the toxic person and refusing to engage them further. I’m talking to God more and to the toxic person less.
Praying for the welfare of those who oppose us is what Jesus calls us to do: “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28). Far better than seeing a toxic person defeated, humiliated, and dismantled is to see them transformed into a loving servant of Christ.
What I have also learned to do, however, is to not engage them. Here’s what you need to know about the psychology and spirituality of toxic people: they like conflict. It feeds them. And they have a voracious appetite for it. Toxic people feed off increasing conflict, causing more trouble, and attacking more victims. They get a taste and become more rabid. They live for division in the same way a true believer delights in peace.
Engaging them only riles them up and puts their focus on you. What I’ve found is that when you stop playing along, when you’re willing to walk away, they have to find another victim. They can’t stop being toxic, so they’ll find someone else to engage. I guarantee you that if you’re being assaulted by a toxic person, you are not the first or only victim. There are probably dozens. One woman whom I had to block on Twitter bragged on Facebook about how many ministries and “well-known” Christians had blocked her. It was a point of pride for her.
It may sound selfish to suggest that you should let them go attack someone else, but the fact that they are attacking others isn’t your fault. You’re not forcing them to attack, and it’s not like they’ll stop attacking others if they can also attack you. It doesn’t work that way. You may merely serve as their dessert.
The more you understand the psychological makeup and spiritual bent of a toxic person, the quicker you’ll be to disengage and, by your silence, let them move on to someone else. Just like Jesus did and tells us to do, learn how to play defense and walk away.
Taken from When to Walk Away by Gary Thomas. Copyright © 2019 by Gary Thomas. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.
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