Toxic People

It’s Narcissist Friday!

What is our responsibility, as believers, to the toxic people in our lives?

Can another believer be toxic to me?

What is a toxic person? A toxic person is someone who affects you in a negative way, poisoning your heart. In the presence of a toxic person, you become something you don’t want to be. You may be fearful, weak, angry, or even sad, but the emotions you experience will be inconsistent with how you want to feel and how you should feel in a normal relationship. In other words, a toxic person will damage you much like a poison destroys your health.

Narcissists are usually toxic people, toxic at least to certain others. Often through criticism, narcissists consistently bring certain people down. Sometimes by expectations or job requirements. Sometimes by gossip, or negative talk, or comparisons. Sometimes even by violent verbal and personal attacks. However they do it, narcissists bring people down.

You know what I mean. You are having a great day until the phone rings. It’s the narcissist. You know she will say something to discourage you, some unkind word. There goes your day. Work is great until the narcissist comes in, then everything goes downhill. I wonder how many drivers will narrowly escape an accident because another driver has been upset by a narcissist. I wonder how many kids and spouses will get yelled at. I wonder how many dogs and cats will be kicked. Toxic people bring everybody down.

And, of course, they go merrily on their way with no care about the harm they have done. When others are down, they feel lifted up. When others suffer, the narcissist is there to “help.”

So, as Christians, what are we supposed to do with toxic people? How should we respond to them, relate to them? What are our responsibilities as people who try to do the right things?

Before I try to answer that, let’s insert another question: Can another believer be toxic to me? In other words, if we are supposed to be one in Christ, should I be able to relate to everyone with peace and joy?

Let’s be honest. Some of the most difficult relationships in our lives are with people who consider themselves Christians. Whether they are or not may not be for us to say. All we know is that they are challenges to our sanity and peace.

Toxic people bring something into the relationship that hurts. I do not believe that Christians have two natures, but I do understand that Christians have their feet in two worlds. We read that we can walk with the Spirit or in the flesh. We can choose fleshly responses to life, or we can look to the Spirit for our help day by day. We live with that choice. The reality is that the flesh is the familiar and comfortable way for us. The flesh is self-serving, anxious, abusive, manipulating, and so much more. In relationships, the flesh is toxic. When a believer acts out of the flesh (which may be a regular pattern) that believer may be toxic, bringing hurt into our lives.

So, yes, believers can be toxic people even to other believers.

Now, as a Christian, how am I supposed to deal with toxic people?

First, we must be who we are. In Christ, we love others. In Christ, we forgive. In Christ, we desire peace with others. That’s who we are. To act contrary to that is to be (and feel) inconsistent.

Second, we are called to sacrifice, suffer, and serve in our relationships. Jesus modeled that for us. He put others first and suffered because of His love for them.

Third, we are not to entrust ourselves to toxic people or to anyone other than Christ. Knowing that people will use us, we must not let them define us or burden us with shame. Loving them does not mean agreeing with their assessment of us. Nor does it mean allowing our identity to be lost in the vacuum of theirs.

Fourth, love is possible from a safe distance. Once I identify someone as toxic, I have a responsibility to decide how closely I will relate to them. I don’t have to get together regularly, pretending that would be a good thing. Instead, I may choose to pray without contact. If a person will hurt me, I am certainly free to protect myself while I find ways to love from a distance. Yes, you can set boundaries even against other believers. You can also love them without contact.

Fifth, distance can be maintained in the heart even if not physically. In other words, I may have to work with the person or even live with the person, but wise and strong boundaries keep me safe. This may not be as easy as no-contact, but that isn’t always possible. I can choose to let criticisms and comparisons slide off as though I didn’t hear them. I can disagree with the toxic person. I can protect myself.

Sixth, my emotional health, along with physical, mental, and spiritual, must be maintained if I am to be of any value in any of my relationships. If your narcissistic mother brings her toxic criticisms to you, and you take them to your kids, you are hurting your kids. Keeping a safe distance from your mother may be the best gift you can give your kids. You must be healthy to give and to love.

Yes, Jesus sacrificed, but reading the Scriptures leads me to believe that He chose when and where and how to sacrifice. He didn’t heal everyone. He didn’t submit Himself to authorities until He was ready. He didn’t listen to the criticisms. He didn’t trust the crowds. Out of His health, He maintained His identity and purpose until the gift of love could be given. Surrounded by toxic people, even some of those closest to Him, He kept a distance in His heart. He could love them without losing Himself in their needs or desires.

And, in Him, so can we.


Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]


Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized

21 responses to “Toxic People

  1. There’s a lot to think about, here. I need to read this again. Maybe several more times.

  2. Mindy

    This is enormously helpful for me- thank you!!

  3. Although I’m not a Christian, I am the daughter of two clinical psychologists. My mom had a word for certain toxic people. She called them “troubledumpers.” They come to you and pour out their hearts, their disappointments, depression, terrible experiences, etc.,etc. At the end of each conversation, they feel refreshed and healed. You feel drained and miserable. They do it over and over, but are never there to do the same for you. Loving from a distance is a great term. I’m going to use it.

  4. Batya Ahul

    Wonderful Pastor Dave I was trying to articulate this earlier in the week when trying to explain that you can love, forgive & pray for someone without having to have contact & this is not being a “bad Christian. Especially if every time you spend with them you feel somehow damaged or drained- this applies to family members as well. Thank you again for all the wonderful work you do & God bless you.

  5. Cookie

    Excellent post, as usual! I love the sentence, “Yes, Jesus sacrificed, but reading the Scriptures leads me to believe that He chose when and where and how to sacrifice.” I often struggle with this as I am unsure as to when to say “yes” and when to say “no” to sacrificing for others. Unlike, Jesus, I don’t always know exactly when, where and how I am supposed to sacrifice. And as a Christian, I think we are taught that our default response should always be to put others before ourselves and sacrifice for them. Do you have anything that would help us to discern when to say “yes” and when to say “no” to the opportunity to sacrifice our resources to serve others?

  6. TRStupar


  7. Adele

    So well said. Thank you.

  8. This is wonderfully put! I will be sharing this much within my circle. Thank you for laying it out so well!

  9. Lisa Davey

    Sent from my iPhone

  10. Lea Curtis

    Very good, Pastor Dave. God has given you so much wisdom. I am so thankful.

  11. SD

    So timely! I had been praying about a family gathering in the near future, knowing someone else would also be there and being pretty sure at some point “toxic” would be a mild word for the resulting environment… even in the same room or same building. Struggling with speaking out to make sure the ‘family history’ shared was truthful and accurate; or, not speaking out to “keep the peace” and letting the past be rewritten perhaps (as there is a history of flexing-the-truth)? Definitely needing guidance from the Holy Spirit! This person has claimed in recent years to definitely be a believer in Jesus Christ, and I suddenly had flash into my mind a passage about there being a difference in how to respond if they claim to be a believer vs. a nonbeliever. And if someone reading this is not “a Christian” this isn’t meant for you, sorry, probably move on to the next comment with no offense either meant or taken. 🙂

    The passage came to mind from I Cor. 5:9-12, where Paul draws a clear distinction between what he called ‘people of this world’ and ‘any so-called brother:’

    “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?”

    I am both grateful that the Spirit points back to the Word for wisdom and guidance by principles recorded for our benefit, and also sad that if I want to be obedient and act wisely I will have to grit my teeth and close my ears to what I think may be a chorus of what a “cold and uncaring” person I will show myself to be (in some eyes, perhaps many) because I will (with relief, to be honest) obey what God has said in His Word and not attend with my regrets, but be a horrible, nasty and hateful monster because I choose to NOT play my preassigned part of being the black sheep yet again. And probably a lot of you folks know how it almost seems it was set up to always have you play out that role, no matter how hard you tried to avoid the drama!

    But again, God’s principles given so long ago in both the Old and New Testaments are deep enough to guide (me at least) through the minefield of Nrelationships (or, really, god-lessness, maybe?)

    Jesus through the Spirit is a savior in so many ways and circumstances. “If the Son makes you free, you are truly free.” (my paraphrase and doesn’t mean I always remember to walk in that freedom!)

    Thank you Pastor Dave and God bless you.

  12. An excellent lesson, both for believers and non-believers. With your permission, I would like to reblog it on A Voice Reclaimed

  13. Anggie

    I have lived with a husband who emotionally and financially abused me for more than two decades. I am not in a position to leave him so I will just have to stay well in the marriage (for now). MY husband abandoned me years ago and I pretty much lived my own life. MY family does not know what happened.

    My husband loves to spend time with his family either by visiting them or getting them to come over to our home. I am not particularly close with his family. More so since I found out my husband has had relationships with women and has not been faithful to me. This is not his family’s fault I know but I find it very difficult to be close with them when my marriage has broken down and I am not even close to my husband. My husband’s family who are Christians expect me to sacrifice myself and continue to stay on in the marriage and serve God. They do not want me to expose my husband’s cover to my family as they want my family to continue respecting my husband. To the world. my husband is a great guy.

    I don’t want to spend too much time with my husband’s family. My husband insists that I visit his family each time he visits them and I find this intolerable. Is it all right if I stayed away? I think that all this keeping up with family is cool if the husband and wife have a normal relationship but in my situation my husband is so toxic that I want to limit my contact with his family.

    • What a horrible situation. When I was reading this I kept thinking of Ephesians 5:11 and exposing the deeds of darkness. But if he’s a believer, Matthew 18:15-18 comes to mind. If he refuses to listen to you, then you and one or two other believers, then the church (pastor) is to speak to him– if he still keeps on cheating, you are not obligated to stay. He wants the appearance of a marriage without the work and commitment, and he isn’t concerned with who he harms to accomplish that. His image means everything to him, more than you, more than God. And his family are accomplices.. My heart goes out to you. I know how it is to be used and how the public persona is drastically different from the private person. You are worth so much more than his warped perception of you. He does sound like a narcissist. I pray you are able to break free of this oppression. A word before you take steps to expose his infidelity because if he’s a true narc, he will rage and make you his forever enemy.
      A little practicality, or what I call God’s wisdom, is useful. Small steps can be empowering. He’s got the financial purse strings but start making copies of records, bank statements, and whatever other pertinent legal documents. Sock away any money you can. Get a safe deposit box. And tape record conversations that might be useful in court (check with your state’s recording laws, each one is different). There is an app on the iPhone for voice memos. You can email the recording and transfer it to a computer file. Google “legality of recording conversations in [state of _____). There are attorneys that give free consultations, find one and get your legal standing if you divorced -what are you entitled to (half his retirement, house, spousal support?). He could possibly be responsible for your attorney fees, depending oh salary and cause of divorce. Gather info, keep records, and pray for God’s direction and timing. If he’s a true narcissist, he may never change. If not, and he does, then nothing is lost. I have done all the above (my family narc is my mother, but pretty sure my ex from 20 years ago was too, and it cost me financially, physically, mentally, and more).
      You need a support system as well. If your family is safe and discreet, or a close friend at church, whoever can be trusted – you need contact with healthy, loving, Godly people on a consistent basis and preferably outside your common living abode. Living with a narc causes you to lose all sense of normalcy. Abuse, lying, manipulation, blaming, gas-lighting, and more all become the norm.
      I have also worked in family law court for over 10 years and have seen many divorce, custody, and restraining orders cases. Records count, documentation is everything – the more the better. Just make sure it is stored in a secure place he does not have access to. Also, keep track of his affairs (who, when, where, duration) and consider an AIDS/HIV test if there has been any marital relations. There are many scenarios where the offending spouse can be held responsible for things such as alienation of affection. While you’re at it, you might look into domestic violence assistance (does he make threats to harm you?). Even if you decide never to take action, or delay taking action, you will have made an informed choice, not surrendered control to the psycho- narc. I’m getting the sense of resignation in your post and I know that feeling all too’s a helpless state of being. God will make a way. Don’t give up. Much love and prayers for you.

  14. This is so what I needed today, after another run-in with my narcissist husband (we’re separated). It reminded me of the conclusion I came to, via Scripture, a few weeks ago, when reading 2Ti 3:1-9 ESV: 1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self…5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. To me this epitomizes the epidemic of narcissism that is present inside and outside of the church today. But what really struck me was the end of verse 5: “Avoid such people.” There it is, plain and simple – doesn’t get much clearer than that!:

  15. Excellent post! After many, many years of dealing with certain toxic relationships, several months ago I finally came to the conclusion that the only solution was to “love from a distance”. A weight was lifted from me, and there is no going back.

  16. Penny

    I recently watched a documentary about Charles Manson. It has been 50 years since the infamous “Manson Family Murders”, so there was a lot of hindsight & clarity into this notorious person. (Note: it was hard to watch & I am not necessarily recommending it.) At the conclusion, various people involved in the documentary gave some parting comments, but the one that struck me the most was also the simplest: “Charles Manson hurt everyone he touched”.
    Wow. How simple is that? I got chills realizing that I can say the same of my narc: everyone, literally EVERYONE, touched by the narc gets hurt.
    Perhaps that may be a useful tool for measuring toxicity?
    People who have an established pattern of routinely hurting others could be properly labled as toxic.

  17. beautiful swan

    Thank you.

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