“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love __(Name or Relationship)_ as yourself.’” Luke 10:27 (NIV)
I hadn’t anticipated discussing toxic relationships on Mother’s Day but I guess God had a plan and a sense of humor. Many like me have a toxic mother. So this post is dedicated to everyone who struggles with a healthy relationship with their mom.
Toxic relationships are by definition NOT healthy. They are harmful, destructive and dangerous. They don’t work. The participants hurt each other and should be kept apart.
The good news about creating a bible study about toxic relationships is that the bible is full of toxic relationships. The hard part is choosing which ones to include in a one hour study.
The bible is the first tabloid. The bible spares no one. It reports everyone’s dirty laundry. Mental illness, sex scandals, murder, rape, incest, addictions, betrayal, rags to riches, riches to rags, lies and all other criminal activity is described in great detail. Here are a few that hit the tabloids:
- Adam Humiliates Eve: The first marital spat leads to the downfall of humankind. Eve despises Adam for humiliating her in front of God. She never forced him to eat the fruit, she didn’t trick him and he lied to her about the rules of Eden. She wants a divorce. But he’s the only guy. Genesis 3
- Brother Charged with MURDER: Sibling rivalry goes wrong. An unthinkable homicide, Cain kills Abel in cold blood. Why couldn’t they get along? Genesis 4:8
- Bye Bye Joe: Another family feud. Hostility high, brothers sell favorite child for twenty pieces of silver but he was worth so much more. Genesis 37
- NO Justice for Rape Victims: More rape than on a college campus. Dinah, Tamar, Bathsheba and nameless victims. Genesis 34, 2 Samuel 11, 2 Samuel 13, Judges 19
- Bad Dads: Abraham blames God for attempted murder of Isaac. Isaac plays favorites. Lot offers daughters to be raped by angry mob. David worse biblical father ever. Solomon missing in action. Genesis 19, Genesis 22, Genesis 25, 1 Kings 11
Aside from Jesus’ relationships with his disciples and family, every relationship in the bible is dysfunctional. Our relationships seem healthy compared to our biblical family.
However before we start throwing mud, it is really important to get grounded in truth. All relationships are occasionally dysfunctional.
We live in a sinful fallen world. Everyone has flaws. We all sin. We all fall short (Romans 3:23). Therefore our relationships fall short.
While the Good Samaritan is a great story to teach us how to love a stranger, it provides little help in getting along with your mother, brother, spouse, friend, in-laws or boss. Some people are mean. Sometimes we are mean, grumpy and difficult.
If you surfed the internet for quizzes to determine if your relationship or someone else’s is toxic, chances are it is dysfunctional if not toxic.
- How do we know if our relationship is healthy?
A relationship is healthy when both individuals feel loved and supported. They know they are loved. They respect each other. They appreciate one another’s gifts and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. They communicate. They spend time together. They are able to resolve their differences or agree to disagree. The relationship works. It is functional.
- Describe a dysfunctional relationship. What makes it dysfunctional?
A relationship is dysfunctional when it is not working. The participants don’t feel loved or supported. They fail to communicate, spend time together and treat each other with kindness. They can’t express their differences or come to an agreement. They may bicker, fight or ignore each other.
A relationship can start dysfunctional, become dysfunctional or have periods of dysfunction during stress or change. Dysfunction is usually related to differences in personalities, cultures, expectations and the way we adapt. Typically, a dysfunctional relationship can be improved with intervention. The relationship may not need to be ended. It needs an adjustment.
- Describe a toxic relationship. What makes it toxic? Have you ever been in a toxic relationship?
Toxic relationships are poisonous and may be fatal. They will not get better on their own, get worse when challenged, they require professional intervention and separation. A toxic relationship may be physically, sexually, emotionally or psychologically abusive.
Toxic people should come with the warning labels:
CODEPENDENT: I am constantly seeking someone to complete me. I can’t be alone. I am either the savior or victim. We hold each other hostage. As the savior, I enable addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement. I’m always helping, making excuses for my partner and don’t see myself as part of the problem. As the victim, I am stuck in my past, lack self-sufficiency and suicidal. I turn to relationships or other addictions to show my brokenness. Both need professional help.
Abusive: I am controlling and jealous. I am a bully at home, school, work and on the highway. I have no boundaries. It isn’t personal. I feel responsible for controlling everyone in my environment. I treat everyone like a servant or child. You will have to ask permission to do anything, go anywhere, or see anyone. I will find your weakness and humiliate, blackmail and shame you. My threats are real. I will hurt you, the people or things you love. You don’t control me. It’s not cheating if I sleep with someone else. It is your fault I lose my temper. I will do whatever I have to do to control you; including rape or murder. Don’t tell me you’re leaving. I won’t take it well. You will need help, a safety plan and protection to get away. I need to be incarcerated with at least three years of treatment and a lifetime of monitoring.
Passive Aggressive: I am an unreliable liar. I always agree with you. Why don’t you believe me? Just because I agreed the cat was obese and kept feeding her after you went to bed doesn’t mean I didn’t agree with you. I always say I’ll be there but something always gets in the way. When you accuse me of being passive aggressive or simply frustrating I am extremely apologetic, confused and hurt. Obviously I didn’t understand your instructions. You wonder if you are going crazy. You are. You wonder if I love you. I don’t. I find you as annoying and difficult as you find me. I am the most challenging personality to help. If the professionals can’t help me, you can’t help me. Leave. Seek help.
DISSOCIATIVE: I am cold, frosty, dismissive and distant. I don’t show affection because I don’t know how and you can’t teach me. I dissociate. I don’t remember the past. I am frozen in the present and I can’t anticipate a future. It doesn’t seem like I’m here because I’m not. I will not warm up after we get married, have children or spend time together. A stone baking in the sun will give you more warmth. I need professional help.
Narcissist: I am arrogant because I am always right because I am a narcissist. I am perfect. I give advice to everyone else. I know exactly why I am better than everyone else. I generously share my opinions. You can’t love me more than I love myself. Please don’t remove my mirrors. I keep myself company by talking to myself. I am snobbish because I am a snob. I am always the smartest, most attractive, important person. I am special. I am unique. I know you admire me. It is okay to tell me how much you like me. Don’t expect me to love you. I’m too busy loving myself. I’m not taking advantage of other people. I am giving them the advantage of loving me. I have no boundaries. I deserve everything I have and everything you have. I don’t need help. You do.
Toxic people have personality disorders that were either developed in a toxic environment, inherited or both. Toxic people make toxic relationships. Both the victim and the abuser are toxic and need professional intervention.
Healthy people know when they come into contact with a toxic person because the eerie music comes on like in the movies and their gut tells them to get away before something bad happens.
CAUTION: If you are often caught off guard by toxic people or frequently find yourself in toxic relationships, you are probably a toxic person. Get help!
ATTENTION: If you are a perfectionist, controlling, rude, critical, negative, judgmental, frequently complain, angry, interrupt others, difficult to please, hold grudges, blame others, withhold appreciation, enjoy punishing others and think you are better than everyone else. You are toxic. Get Help!
Toxic people do not know how to resolve conflict.
- Who taught you how to resolve conflict? What did they teach you? Does it work?
God gave us the Commandments to teach us how to love each other (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5). We first prepare ourselves for relationships by constantly developing our skills to love. Jesus taught us how to resolve conflict when we harm others. Read Luke 6:42
How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Jesus further advised us in Matthew 5:23-48 (paraphrased):
When we realize our brother or sister has something against us, we should immediately go, ask for forgiveness and be reconciled to them. We should settle our disagreements quickly. If they are not satisfied, we seek counsel.
We should seek professional help if we find we are unable to love our family, friends, neighbors or self. `
We don’t need to swear or make oaths. We should be honest.
We should be generous with our forgiveness, our apologies and restitution. Apologize when we are wrong and restore what we have harmed.
We should love like God. Love the people who hate us. Greet everyone with kindness. Pray for everyone. Love.
In this way we love others the way we want to be loved.
Love is the key ingredient to a healthy relationship. A relationship without love is not healthy. Relationships fall short when we don’t know how to love. And the most beautiful expressions of love is grace, mercy and forgiveness. Resolving conflict is the gateway to a deeper long lasting love.
Our love letter from God doesn’t advise us to pretend we aren’t hurt. God’s Word repeatedly tells us how much sin hurts. We were born equipped with the ability to scream out for help. We weren’t taught to say Ouch! We just did. It was a normal natural sound to tell those who cared about us that we needed help.
- Why is it so difficult to ask for help? Why do we avoid conflict? Why is it so difficult to express pain?
“They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt! They beat me, but I don’t feel it! When will I wake up…” Proverbs 23:29-35
Proverbs asks “when will we wake up”. It implies that if we are hit and claim it doesn’t hurt, we must be drunk, something must be numbing the pain. When we deny being hurt those who wish to harm us will hit harder.
During our journey for the greatest truth, LOVE, we are called to make an honest assessment of unhealthy attitudes, beliefs and habits (sin) blocking our path. The Holy Spirit is trying to lovingly shake us; to wake us up.
We are called to resolve conflict, not create or ignore conflict. Conflict resolution must be rooted in love. Remember and read Philippians 2:3
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
The first step to resolving conflict is to prepare our hearts. Read Luke 6:37
[ Judging Others ] “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
We must forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean conflict is resolved or that the relationship is completely restored. It also doesn’t mean we allow them to continue to hurt us.
Forgiveness frees us from the anger and resentment. It stops the hurt. Forgiveness restores our health and makes conflict resolution possible. But it isn’t automatic. The other person has a choice.
We must forgive them when they repent, no matter how many times they hurt us (Luke 17:4). But we don’t have to let them keep hurting us. Nor do we have to maintain a relationship with a toxic person. Sometimes the healthiest way to resolve conflict is to let go.
Jesus gave us the biblical steps to resolve conflict at home, work, school and at church. Read Matthew 18:15
“If your brother or sister hurts you or someone else, go and talk to them, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”
We must be in constant prayer before, during and after our conversation. We must be ready to forgive, be open, listen, apologize for our sins and restore health to the relationship. How to respond if you have hurt them, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”
We also must be fair and realize they may not be ready to restore the relationship. Read Matthew 18:16
But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
Once again, be in constant prayer before, during and after your conversation. Be ready to forgive, listen, apologize and restore health to the relationship.
Be fair and realize they may not be ready. They may have other issues blinding them from the truth.
Don’t speak for God! Things often get worse before they get better. Telling someone in quick sand to trust you and that everything will be OK doesn’t help. Stay in the moment, leave their future to God.
Keep them in prayer. Pray that God speaks directly to them, that they will feel the Holy Spirit comforting them. If they are toxic and a risk to themselves or others. Read Matthew 18:17
If they still refuse to listen, don’t meet with them again without professional help; and if they refuse to listen leave them to the mercies of God and the world.
Remember we have a choice. God doesn’t force us to resolve our conflicts so we shouldn’t force anyone to resolve their conflicts. Sometimes the most peaceful and loving resolution is a healthy farewell.
God’s formula for conflict resolution comes with a promise. Read Matthew 19-20
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Homework: Make a list of the people you have hurt or have hurt you. Talk to God for these people. Keep praying every time they enter your mind. Matthew 7:7
[Effective Prayer ] “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you”.
Not sure what to say:
“God be with my _____, hold him/her, love him/her and give _______ your grace. Help me restore our relationship. Amen”
Stay Focused: You may not know what wall is preventing them from resolving conflict. Your experiences may or may not be relevant. God promises to use your experiences when the time is right. Don’t waste time and energy sharing something personal and precious with someone who isn’t capable of listening. The rule is simple: Share your story if/when they ask for it. Or start a blog so they can read it if/when they want. Amen.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline