I was born into a toxic home. My parents are both choleric, abusive, gossipy and they favour my siblings and their children over me. Extended family too behaves this way – I feel ashamed of my relatives. I seem to attract toxic friends too! My children and husband feel neglected, angry and hurt when we visit my family. My friends and even my priest has told me to stay away, for my own sanity. I have no happy memories of my childhood and even today am in tears when I visit. I don’t see them changing. I don’t want to cut off ties. But I can’t deal with this. Please advise.
You want to be a good Christian and do the right thing, but the situation at home is completely unhealthy, everyone is miserable and nothing is working, no matter how much you try. No matter how much you love, forgive and turn the other cheek, the mistreatment never stops — it only gets worse and sadly, its within your family.
So now you’re wondering, “What does the Bible say about dealing with toxic families?”
As Christians, we cannot just cut off our loved ones or keep responding in anger and hurt. We want to know how to deal with toxic family members Biblically so we can use these Bible’s wisdom to guide our actions.
How to deal with toxic family members biblically?
The good news is, if you have toxic people in your family or you are in a toxic relationship, you are not alone!
Pray and seek the Lord, FORGIVE, then speak to them
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25) God commands us: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28)
You may feel very angry or resentful towards toxic family members and friends who have hurt you and ruined your relationships, but the Bible is clear. We have to forgive, even when we don’t feel like it.
Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that what they did is okay or that they shouldn’t receive any consequences for their action. Explain politely, that while you love them, you cannot allow them to continue to hurt you, your husband and your children by throwing tantrums. Be straightforward and avoid saying anything that could be taken as accusatory.
Assess the situation fairly
Once the pain of the family scene subsides a bit and you can think calmly, assess the situation in prayer.
“Am I in a toxic relationship with my family?” Or, “Is my parent/sibling/friend a toxic person?”
Let’s turn to the Bible for an answer.
The Bible describes what love is supposed to look like in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. It says:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
We see several signs of a toxic person or signs of a toxic relationship:
- Is verbally/physically abusive
- Does not treat you with respect publicly/privately
- Is jealous, spiteful
- Gossips to you and then gossips about you
- Does not rejoice in your victories
- Dishonours others
- Reminds you of past mistakes
- Delights in your pain or suffering
- Neglects or refuses to protect or defend you
- Refuses to trust you
- Lacks hope
- Gives up easily on your relationship
Examine the situation in His grace.
You may realise that the other party isn’t any of the above – he/she truly didn’t mean to hurt you Tactless people are often unaware that their behaviour is coming across as hurtful. If this is the case, then you may simply need to have an open, heart-to-heart conversation.
Alternately, if the behaviour is just silly, you may simply be able to ignore it. Life isn’t perfect and sometimes we just have to deal with certain annoyances from even good people.
Yes, there are absolutely times when you may need to take action, but can the behaviour simply be overlooked? Does is need to be resolved? If it does, don’t delay – don’t let the enemy have a foothold.
Have you said or done anything hurtful to the other person? (even unintentionally!) Have you ever failed to treat them as kindly or as respectfully as you should have? Have you discussed them with your other friends and extended family? Treat people with respect – even in private.
Have YOU ever been unforgiving, gossipy, selfish, self-centred or mean-spirited?
- Is the other person actually toxic, or simply annoying, thoughtless, etc?
- Is the problem serious enough to warrant action, or can you simply overlook it for the sake of family unity?
- Are you sure the other person’s actions are intentional, not simply perceived?
- What type of effect is the behaviour having on you and your family?
- What have you done to remedy the situation in the past, if anything?
- Have you actually lovingly told the other person how you are feeling and what you’d like to change?
- Are things getting better, staying the same, or getting worse?
Accept responsibility for your errors
Think and pray over the part you may have played in the issue: Have you done anything to make the situation worse? Or failed to do something to make the situation better?
While the situation may not be ultimately “your fault” (especially in cases of outright abuse), once we reach adulthood, each of us is responsible for and accountable for our own actions.
You have the power and ability to choose different responses and to improve your situation.
The mistreatment is may not be your fault. But if you have done (or continue to do) things that hurt the other party, they may be acting out of that hurt. And a heartfelt apology for any wrongdoings on your part may be just what the other person needs to heal.
Give and also take respect
Manipulation is a very wicked trait that we see within so-called holy churches and church goers. Be firm but kind in dealing with emotional manipulators.
The Bible does not ask us to be super polite, calm and passive to the point of being walked over and enabling others in their sins.
Loving someone well does not mean always playing “nice,” always being the peacemaker, or just letting other people walk all over you. This isn’t love–it’s called enabling.
A better definition of love would be: honouring the true dignity of another person, acknowledging their inherent worth as human beings, created and loved by God, and doing everything in your power to do good for them and to act in their best interest.
In fact, Jesus instructs the apostles to “leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet” in Matthew 10:14 and to “treat [unrepentant sinners] as you would a pagan or a tax collector” in Matthew 18:17.
Jesus’s plan for our lives isn’t to make us “nice.” It’s to make us (and our loved ones) holy. Sometimes that means treating others kindly. But other times that means protecting ourselves and our families instead of protecting the feelings of others who insist on pursuing sinful attitudes or behaviours.
Set healthy boundaries
What behaviours will you accept? Which behaviours will you not accept? Where is the boundary?
When you are dealing with people and situations who are truly toxic, manipulative, crazy or even abusive, it can really make you question your sanity and your decision making! You want to do the right thing, but you may question what the right thing is or what requests are reasonable. It can be hard to tell.
Make sure your boundaries are reasonable, let the other party know what your boundaries are and then stick to them.
Lay out a biblical framework to help you understand what truly is your responsibility, what requests are unreasonable, where you should draw the line and how you can do so without guilt.
Asking yourself if your behaviour to them would hurt JESUS – would be the perfect way to set a boundary.
Keep praying for healing and restoration
What you lost is much, but what you can gain with Christ’s help is much, much greater.
Effective resolutions in prayer can not only help your enemies, but also improve the situation and change you into a better human being.
Pray that God will heal your hurt and their pain, that he would open the eyes of both sides and that your relationship can be restored and made better and richer.
Pray that God would help you love your toxic family members and friends more and that He would give you wisdom to deal with them wisely.
God will help you learn how to respond to toxic loved ones — you just have to ask!
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