I use to struggle with finding the balance between “people-pleasing” and saying “no” or “enough” for the sake of my own well-being. I’ve been guilty of trying to be everything for everyone. I’ve been guilty of weighing the opinions of others higher than my own esteem. I’ve been guilty of wanting to keep peace with others so much that I sacrifice my own voice. I’ve been guilty of being a target of mistreatment because I lacked the proper boundaries in respect of myself. I’ve been told I was “too nice” and “too sweet” and my kindness has been abused over and over again.
However, I learned soon enough that God called us to be people-lovers not people-pleasers. We can have the power to love people without being their slave. Because there are those who will run over you with their drama and agendas and not think twice about you. There will be times to endure and be a witness and there will be times to cut the rope! That’s a matter of your discernment. But let me tell you, what you allow WILL continue and more than likely grow. So while there is a time to pick and choose our battles, at some point us people-pleasers must speak up for ourselves and set the tone for how we should be treated and the direction in which we’re called.
“Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” -Galatians 1:10
Have enough love and respect for yourself to have a healthy standard of what is and isn’t allowed in your life. Healthy living comes from healthy boundaries. You are at the door deciding who and what gets entrance. At some point many times a line needs to be drawn challenged either by a firm conversation, change or distance in extremely toxic situations. This is the time to decide what your life will be and what will and will not be allowed in it and you have the power to do it.
Should you decide to confront this person about their behavior make sure that you’re in the right state of mind and spirit to begin with. Going in led by emotions can not only escalate to a lack of self-control but it can also cloud your judgment on the effectiveness of what needs to be said and how it should be said. Also be mindful of the timing- ideally when things are at a calm and not emotionally charged. Consider praying first. While it may not always change the other person, it can definitely change you- coming from a place of humility, honesty and the heart. I would even recommend writing down what you’re feeling and what you would like to say beforehand so that you have a solid idea on how you want to approach the situation and are prepared to communicate it clearly.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about toxic and aggressive people, it’s that they have no problem being direct with you or many times are careless about the destructive effects they have on you. In many cases the best way to address your issues is to also confront things head on- to turn on the light, to lift the veil, to open their eyes, to have a real wake up call- you get the picture. I don’t mean out of spite or rudeness but directly making them aware of their disrespectful behavior and why it is not okay or at some point will no longer be tolerated. If you have examples of events that have taken place, share them and the effect it had. Some people have operated in their ways so long they become blind to their actions.
The goal is not to instigate an argument but to have a mature conversation. The goal is not to condescend or condemn but to share the truth in love. When emotions are high defenses go up and nothing gets through. In these situations, it’s best to either reclaim your emotions and bring yourself back to a place of self-control, retain the conversation for another time or literally give it to God and be at peace that you at least tried to pursue constructive reconciliation. When the conversation is no longer helpful or fruitful it will only prolong the robbing of your energy, your peace, your mental health. Don’t give the enemy that foothold any longer.
Take Some Space
Sometimes a time of complete separation is necessary to re-gather yourself and reassess the situation. Do you need to remain in this environment? Is it worth it? Is it healthy for either of you? Taking space is also an indicator that someone has crossed a line that needs to be thought about.
I’m the type of person that has been known to stay entangled in a person’s web longer than I should in the name of grace and holds on to the very end with everything in me. However, in many situations that person has given themselves over and becomes a tool for the enemy to use over and over again in the destruction of those around them (Titus 3:11). We want to believe that we can save them and that is the Savior Syndrome. We plant the seed, we foster the relationship the best we can but after that it is a work between them and God. Only God can change their hearts. Until then, many times it is wise for us to remove ourselves from their bondage so we can continue to remain focused on where God is calling us, so we are not both brought down. Whether that be switching jobs, moving out, breaking off a friendship, ending a dysfunctional relationship etc., have the courage and self-respect to make the change.
A true mark of spiritual maturity is when you can pray for a person with the compassion for whatever it is that may have shaped them this way instead of wanting harm to fall on back on them. Pray to let go of any resentment. Pray that God would reach them and change their heart. Pray and release them to God.
Remember in all cases we are called to forgive. Forgiveness is given but trust is earned and boundaries are wise. Forgiving someone doesn’t always mean accepting them back into your life. It’s genuinely releasing them from the offense and letting yourself be free of the hold it has on you. We’re called to forgive because we have been forgiven! However, we equally have to be careful of the company we keep.
Side Note: I’ve gotten the question asking, “What if it’s my parent?”
- If you are a teenager or young adult living under their roof, it is still your place to respect them. However, think and pray about entering a conversation with a respectful exchange about how you have been feeling and having the maturity to also understand why they may be reacting the way they do. Continue to show honor and do your part in the house, at school, at work to the best of your ability in reverence to God and in witness to your character. If it’s extremely toxic, that should be all the more motivation to study and work yourself to a stable place outside of the home.
- If you are an adult and your parent is stuck in their toxic ways, it may be time to come to terms with who they are. This reality stops us from holding unrealistic expectations that continuously disappoint us when they fail to be who we need them to be over and over again. Pray and release them to God.
5 Scriptures on dealing with toxic individuals and setting boundaries:
- “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” –Matthew 18:15-17
- “If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.” –Titus 3:10-11
- “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” –Proverbs 15:1
- “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” Luke 6:37
- “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” – Romans 12:17-19
Have you ever been in a situation with an ongoing toxic relationship? How did you handle it? Was this helpful? Let’s chat! Comment below.