I’m sitting on a plane approximately 30,000 feet in the air somewhere over the United States. Interestingly enough, this is the first time I’ve ever bought on-board Wi-Fi. My thought processes seem a little off. Before, when I worked for the airlines and all our travel was free we refused to pay for anything on-board. Not internet, snacks, drinks. Nothing. Today I reasoned (apparently) that since I paid for this ticket, shelling out even more for Wi-Fi is acceptable. Um? Not sure about that.
But it is enabling me to do this so I’m not complaining.
I’ve had this post circulating inside my head for awhile and I figure now is as good a time as any to write it.
I’m reading this book by Lysa TerKeurst called Unglued. I’ve been reading it, putting it down, and coming back to it, so I haven’t flown through it like I do most books. She writes about making imperfect progress towards “making wise choices in the midst of raw emotions.” Being neither a stuffer nor exploder.
This chapter I’m working on now has to do with others when they’re the ones causing damage to us. As far as it’s depended on us we’ve worked to make peace with them but they continue to bring destructive or unsafe qualities to the relationship. She’s not talking about abuse, physical or otherwise – that should be dealt with licensed outsiders immediately. She’s talking about people who cause your relationship with them to be one that tears you down in some way or another on a regular basis.
Toxic people. Toxic relationships.
She has a great description but I’m going to offer my own here because this is something that really grabbed my attention. Because I have had toxic friendships. Boy, have I had them. And some in the not so distant past. But more importantly, I’ve been a toxic friend to others.
There was a season of my life towards the end of college and the year after that I was a very toxic person. I was in a very unhealthy relationship and I was doing everything in my power (and not in my power) to make it work. The fallout of it fell on everyone around me. I was stuffing anger and anxiety and a broken heart and it was spilling out through every crack and crevasse in the forms of defensiveness, moodiness, sullenness, hyper-spirituality (can anyone else relate with that one?), anger. Everything was everyone else’s fault if they could just get it together for the love of everything good and holy. I was a walking case of hurting people hurt people.
So I’m not pointing the finger here. I’ve been that toxic friend. I’ve been that toxic relationship for others. And as I reflect back on my own actions and also the actions of toxic friends to me, here are some common qualities I see emerge:
1. You never know if they’ll be hot or cold, up or down, happy or sad to you. And I said to you because you really do feel like you’re the target. Before you get together you wonder if you’ll be on their good side or bad side, if they’re happy to see you or are going to punish you through some sort of passive aggressive behavior.
2. You expect criticism in some form from them, either direct or implied.
3. They make you feel inferior to them. And I’m not talking insecurity, that’s on you. But because the toxic person is usually dealing with insecurity or anger or pain of their own, they offset that in some way by making you feel inferior to them.
4. They’re unable to encourage you or praise any of your qualities. They deliberately withhold it. I can think of a specific example of this in my own life. During my own toxic season I was flooded with insecurity and I felt threatened by everything, particularly by qualities from a good friend of mine. This friend has a witty sense of humor but I had stopped being able to appreciate it and only felt threatened by it. So when she would say something funny I would purposefully not laugh or try to one-up her. I know this isn’t shining a good light on me but I’m trying to be real and, thank the Lord, he’s brought me out of that and healed my heart in so many ways. But I’m not above going back to that and I want to be mindful of triggers and behaviors. (I’ll expound on that more in a later post.)
5. You feel like the relationship is one-sided. Somehow everything seems to always be about the toxic person.
6. You have to constantly watch what you’re saying for fear of attack. Anything is game for a volatile reaction and you never quite know what it’ll be.
These are some of the main ones that came to mind as I thought about it from personal experience on both sides of the toxic relationship. In my next post I’ll talk about what are some healthy, needed, things that can be done either if you’re the toxic person or you’re friends with one.
I had a relationship in the not so distant past that really fell into all of these categories at some time or another. I tried very hard to make it work but eventually came to a place where I realized it wasn’t a healthy place to be and someone else could be a better friend to this person. What this looked like for me was I simply kept my distance. I didn’t initiate hanging out and kept conversations at the surface as much as I could. What I’m learning from this book is that probably wasn’t the best way to deal with it. That’s stuffing. If I truly was looking for peace as far as it depended on me (Romans 12) then I should have been honest in a kind, loving way that gave this person grace (Ephesians 4) even as I said difficult things. And if nothing changed and they refused to receive anything then I could honestly say I did the right thing and keep a healthy distance.
Ultimately this relationship ended very abruptly (not on my part) and it still makes me sad to think that things could’ve looked differently if there had been loving transparency and humility on both sides. That doesn’t mean that the end would’ve looked differently but we could have still honored God in it.
Have you experienced a toxic friendship or been that toxic friend? What did it look like for you?