Sunday, July 8, 2012

Boundaries and the Gospel - Coping with Toxic People


We all have people in our lives who rub us the wrong way, press our buttons, or see the glass half empty about everything in life. This can be mentally, emotionally and spiritually draining for everyone. 

During the last 7 months I had a few people in my life who fell into the above description. It was as if a black cloud followed them everywhere they went. Everything in their lives (according to them) was going wrong. They were swimming in trials, challenges and struggles and their way of coping with it was to complain. It was everyone else's fault - they were the victims. 

Now being a positive person, I am like a magnet. I attract these people into my lives unexpectedly. They come to me wanting to vent, feel listened to, validated,  justified, and uplifted. I have always done my best to listen and be a shoulder to cry on. 

Over time, it was starting to wear on me. A negative energy seems to follow these people around and if around them to long, that negative energy sucks the life right out of you. Because there were a handful of these people I was spending time with, it was triple the amount of negative energy and I began to feel stress, anxiety and exhaustion.

Now, I don't mind lending a helping hand, listening ear or my time in general to those who are just going through a tough moment. That's understandable and the Christ-like thing to do. Being there for others often helps them through the tough moment and then they are able to move onward and upward. However, the handful of people in my life were not moving onward and upward they were stuck in a state of negativity and had been for months, even since the day we had met.

Before I tell you my solution - I want to describe the unhealthy aspects that these people had in common. Maybe you can relate to someone in your life.

  • If you say 'what they want to hear' then you "love them and you understand"
  • If you say something they don’t want to hear but it’s being truthful (even if in a loving manner) then you are not listening and you do not understand which means you do not care.
  • They frequently say, "I'm glad God is the final judge and not me..." but they do judge by pointing out others' wrongdoings or having offended them and then saying that those people are going to have to face God's judgements. Is that not judging?
  • They are passive aggressive. Saying and doing things to get what they want or to get you to react the way they want.
  • They are offended easily and worried that they are being judged constantly.
  • They analyze everything a person says even down to their body language. To them, everyone has an alternate motive.
  • They cannot seem to forgive and hold grudges. They either say they have forgiven someone but clearly they have not, or they say what that person has done does not warrant forgiveness and the Lord will understand. 
  • When someone else repents of a wrongdoing - these people cannot let that former action go. They constantly bring up what that person did even if it was 20 years ago and that person has changed their lives for the better.
  • They are envious of others who have good lives and are happy. They say it's not fair. "Why can't I have that? I'm a good person. Why me?"
  • They are selfish inwardly. On the outside they make efforts to serve others in a self gratifying way as to point out to others that they do in fact, serve. Yet they keep tally points. Keeping track of who serves them and who doesn’t. Rather than focusing on others the focus is on themselves. Always focusing on what people are or aren’t doing for them to make their lives easier or better. 
  • They'd rather have someone do something for them than show them how so they can do for themselves. 
  • When someone does something kind, they point out that it could have been kinder. They emphasize what that person lacked in their service.
  • They don’t have any friends. Everyone is "out to get them", has abandoned them or turned on them. They are lonely. 
  • They want to always have a sense of control, in every situation and in every relationship.
  •  They take on "stalker -like" qualities. Wanting your attention several times throughout the day or week. If you don't answer the phone, they continue calling and leaving messages asking why you are not responding. Demanding that you call them right away. They want to know where you have been and what you have been doing, to see if your behaviors are justified. 
  • You feel the need to make excuses even when you shouldn't have to. It's as though making an excuse somehow alleviates the pressure  and prevents them from becoming offended or angry. Yet, it makes you become angry. 
  • Though you really were not avoiding these people when you didn't answer the phone when they called (you just have a family to take care of and other responsibilities in your life that take priority) you now feel the desire to avoid them. You get a sick feeling in your stomach when you see their name on your phone. You lose sleep and your eating habits change. It becomes a hazard to your health.