How to deal with "Toxic People"

I seem to come back to this blog when something has been bothering me. When I feel the need to speak my mind about a topic, an incident, a trend, or other "happening" that starts niggling in the back of my mind. I've never been good at keeping a journal, and frankly I don't see the point of boring people with happenings of my every-day life. (when I look back at some old posts on this blog, I cringe a little!) But I keep this blog for times like this, when I feel I have something to say.

No, I'm not going to write about the American election, or Trump, or Clinton, or any of that. Although, there is a link; the whole "me first" attitude that has been prevalent in this election and the protests that have followed is very much a part of what has been bothering me lately.

I have seen several articles/blogs shared on Facebook, all about being happy and having a happy life, and one of the main ways to do so is to cut "toxic" people out of your life. All around the internet, we are being advised to no longer associate with these people, essentially because they bring you down, and you don't need that in your life. Articles abound with titles like "10 Toxic People to Avoid".

This bothers me.

Those who know me well, will likely know why this bothers me.

Being friends, or even just interacting regularly, with someone who is "toxic" is certainly no walk in the park. It's tiring, draining, doesn't appear to be particularly rewarding, and can lead to a lot of discouragement and down-right heartache. Hence the clarion call of modern society, "Cut them out of your life! You don't need this!"

It seems that the main thrust of this advice is that a toxic person will never change, and nothing you can do will ever make a difference.

I must disagree with this point of view. A toxic person certainly will change, and you will make a difference. By cutting them out of your life (especially if they were once a friend), they will become worse. By investing in them, you can help to make their lives better. And you can also make the lives of their families better.

One of the most important things to consider, is that this person is the way they are for a reason. Something (or things) happened in their life for them to develop this way. Yes, they likely had a natural disposition to be rather self-centered and difficult to get along with, but most often the reason for their behaviour is a deep-rooted belief that they are actually worthless. That they can't do anything right. Their self-esteem and self-confidence is in the toilet, and their outward behaviour is an attempt to compensate and cover up their deepest fears.

They are often the loneliest people you will ever meet.

The most oft-heard comment about this is that they have done it to themselves. As my Dad used to say, "they are the architect of their own misery." Why should we feel any kind of sympathy or empathy toward them when their own behaviour is the reason for their isolation?

Believe it or not, they don't realize it. They actually cannot see that they are the problem. One of the more prevalent attributes of a "toxic" person is their tendency to blame everything on everyone else. Once again, it's a defence mechanism, protecting what is left of their fragile self-esteem. They don't even realize they are doing it, it is so ingrained. And on the occasion when they are presented with irrefutable evidence that the problem is indeed their fault, the emotional effect is often catastrophic. Their protective bubble bursts, and the psychological consequences of realizing that they truly are in the wrong are all-encompassing and far-reaching. If and when they do recover from this, they build the defensive walls ever higher and stronger, and even purposefully drive people away to keep it from happening again.

And the more they are driven from the social groups around them, the more isolated and toxic they become. One of the saddest off-shoots of the spiralling toxicity and isolation is that it is the families - the spouses and children - of these people that are affected the most. They become more isolated as well, finding that old friends no longer want to associate with them because their spouse/parent is difficult to deal with. It's often the spouse that bears the brunt of the actions of society cutting a toxic person out, not the toxic person. And pressure is actually often put on the spouse by well-meaning friends around them to end the marriage to "protect themselves".

It's a vicious circle that never stops.

But we can make a difference, simply by following the age-old (and scripturally based) instruction that we continue to teach our children today: "treat others the way you would want them to treat you." The old "Do Unto Others" edict is never more important than when you are dealing with a "toxic" person. Would you want people to cut you out of their lives? No? Then why do it to them?

You see, if you want a "toxic" person to respect you, then you need to show respect to them. Want them to be nice to you? Be nice to them. Include them in things. They may try to drive you away at some point. Don't let them. Continue to be kind to them, even if they haven't been particularly kind to you. I'm not saying let them walk all over you, you still need to make boundaries clear, but if they feel valued and respected, they will be much more likely to treat you the same way.

There are many who would argue, "they don't deserve to be treated nicely!" "They treated me like dirt! They need to learn a lesson!" And my favourite, "I'm not going to reward their bad behaviour!" Here the thing: They won't learn. They CAN'T learn. They won't change by being "punished" because they will not see the connection between their behaviour and your response. Very often, what we see as bad behaviour (usually in the form of what we would view as arrogance, finger-pointing, whining, or an out-right adult temper tantrum) is actually what they view as "standing up for themselves". And if people walk away from them, or cut them out because of it, it only confirms in their mind that the other person is a bad person, and it was a good thing they stood up for themselves.

Are you seeing the problem yet?

It's not easy to deal with someone who is labelled a "toxic" person. Believe me, I know. However, one big aspect of the situation to keep in mind is that, often, these people are dealing with legitimate emotional and psychological issues that they are desperate to keep hidden. There is so much exposure on social media these days regarding support for those suffering from mental illness, particularly with respect to depression and anxiety. And yet, it comes along with advice to cut "toxic" people out of your lives, when they are the most likely people to be suffering from a mental illness. How does this make sense? Usually the most obvious "toxic" people suffer from some degree of narcissism, which is a legitimate mental illness, along with depression and anxiety. Are we only going to support those that we find easy to support? The ones we find it easy to "feel sorry for"? No, it's not easy to feel sorry for a narcissist, mostly due to their tendency to take their issues out on the people around them. But again, it comes back to the defensive mechanisms that have become ingrained over years.

Here is my challenge to you: Love a Narcissist. Get to know a "toxic" person. Be kind to them. Include them. Let them feel "safe" around you. Leave your judgements at home, and treat them the way you wish they could treat you. It won't be easy, and you'll be going against the grain, so-to-speak, but you may be surprised at what happens.

Where are we going with this?

There is an ongoing debate on Facebook (at least, in my newsfeed - don't know about yours...) which really is decades old. The 2 main sides of the debate are quite polarized, each with vehement arguments and opinions as to who is right, and who is a heretic.

Ah, yes.

The old "Hymns" vs. "Modern Worship Songs" debate.

I have done my best to keep out of it. I certainly have my own views, but people don't want to hear my perspective. Probably because (a) it's biblical, and (b) they wouldn't agree with the premise anyway.

"Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels." (2 Timothy 2:23)

Of course, there are those who would immediately counter with the "this is out of context" argument, or be quite offended that I would consider such a seemingly important topic as music style in worship to be "foolish and stupid".

But really, it is. Foolish and stupid, that is.

Paul goes on to state in verse 24, "The Lord's servant must not quarrel". What does this whole hymns vs worship songs debate result in? You got it: quarrels. Of the worst kind. "My music is best, it is more biblical than yours!" "Yours is irrelevant to today's youth! We have to target the youth!" "I can't worship to your music, I can't stand it!" "I can't stand your music, it's boring!"

There is a much bigger question to ask: What does God think? Does He have a preference regarding the kind of songs we sing?

I would dare to answer that question with a resounding "NO."

"Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord..." (Ephesians 5:19)

Did you get that? All styles of music are acceptable to God *if* you are making music in your heart to the Lord. For The Lord does not listen to what is coming out of our mouths, or our instruments, he is listening to what is coming from our hearts. If we are just making music because we like that style of music and we enjoy it, then we are no more worshiping that if we were reading a romance novel. True worship comes from a contrite heart, one that is focussed on The Lord, not on whether we like this tune, or if the chord structure is interesting or boring, or if this was written by Charles Wesley or Chris Tomlin.

In the grand scheme of things, the style of music doesn't matter. To argue that hymns are better than worship songs for "true worship" is a foolish and stupid argument, because everyone has their own preferences. God's only requirement for worship to be acceptable is that we bring our best from our heart and lay it at His feet.

If there was one thing that Paul emphasized repeatedly in his letters, it was the necessity of unity in the church. If we allow debates, such as the style of music used in worship, to divide our churches as deeply as they have been, then there is no way the church can survive. There is no possible way that every member of every church is going to appreciate every song that is sung in a particular service. It just isn't going to happen. The challenge is to not allow our focus to be taken away from worshiping, by a difference in personal preferences.

Because if we continually allow that to happen, the divided church will fall.

No, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth....

Wow, I guess it's been a while! But I think I've had some pretty good reasons for being away from the blogosphere, not the least of which was a very old dinosaur of a computer. Well, we splurged this Christmas, so no more excuses!

It's been a couple of years of significant change. Change which has been quite hellish at times. When I look back to what my life looked like 2 years ago, I'm astounded at how much has happened in such a little time.

But, as Rick Warren said in The Purpose Driven Life, "God's not concerned about our comfort, He's concerned about our character." Well, if the events of the last 2 years were meant to build character, I hope my character has built enough for now. I need a break!

Or, as a recent Facebook meme stated, "Dear Whatever Doesn't Kill Me: I'm strong enough now. Really."

Personal experiences aside, there is a certain topic of debate that has really been bothering me. I will cover it in my next post (which will NOT be 2 years from now), and there are other topics that have been percolating in the ol' brain.

But for now, I have to go help change a bum and put kids to bed.....

Until next time!...

Family Dynamics

It's very true what they say, you know: you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your relatives.

If you have a friend who does not treat you the way you feel you should be treated, or behaves in an inappropriate manner in your presence, you can end the friendship and choose to not associate with them any more. You can choose to stop calling them, stop hanging out with them, it can actually be relatively easy to cut them out of your life and leave them behind.

But what about family?

Not so easy.

I'm sure there are those of you who are saying to yourselves, "well I really don't like Cousin So-and-so, so I just don't associate with them anymore", or "Uncle What's-his-name was really mean to me, so I just don't talk to him anymore." That's fine and dandy for some relatives. But what about immediate family? What if the offensive person is a parent, grandparent, or sibling?

Well, a sibling can be relatively easy. I know of plenty of siblings who don't get along with each other; they just try to avoid each other as much as they can, and pretend to get along and be civil at family gatherings.

All well and good.

But what do you do when it's a parent?

It's really quite heart-wrenching. You're torn between the love and loyalty you feel for a parent who sacrificed and gave of themselves so you could have the life you do, and the pain you feel when their behaviour toward you is hurtful. You can't cut them out of your life like you could an unrelated acquaintance, but to maintain contact with them means putting yourself in the position of being hurt and angry over and over.

It's worse when you've tried to explain to them repeatedly that what they are doing is hurtful, but they just don't understand, and continue to behave the way they have for years, all the while placing the blame on you without acknowledging their own contribution to the mess. (of course, let's not forget the guilt trips) It becomes a true love-hate relationship: you love them because they are your parents, but you hate being around them when they cause fights and arguments.

Throw in a grandchild or 2, and it just raises the whole mess to a new level. On one hand, you want your children to know their grandparents; on the other hand, the last thing you want is for them to be exposed to the fighting that inevitably erupts when everyone is in the same room.

Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place.

It's something I've had to witness for several years now. I really don't know what the solution is, and as much as I want to help the situation, I know there's really nothing I can do. It's a toxic atmosphere that doesn't show any signs of improving any time in the near future, and believe me when I say, it's painful to watch.

If only it was as simple as cutting the ties and walking away. But when have family dynamics ever been simple?...

Who's life am I living, anyway???

It's a question I often find myself asking these days. I truly don't recognize my life! Since when am I a mother of 2 kids???

I don't think I'm necessarily having an identity crisis, or mid-life crisis, or anything like that, it's just a case of coming to terms with how my life has changed over the last 3 years or so. Especially as Connor gets older - I've pretty much gotten used to the mother-of-small-infant routine, but this whole older-toddler thing is something else altogether. There are times when I just find myself staring at Connor in amazement. He's truly becoming a little person.

At least I'm starting to recognize myself a bit more these days. I was just getting back to feeling like myself when I had a slight interruption known as an emergency appendectomy...thankfully everything seems to have healed well, and my energy level and strength are continuing to return to normal levels. We even went camping this past week and I survived with only a small dose of total exhaustion about half-way through the week. ;)

But to be honest, did I really, truly, ever believe that I actually would be a wife and mother some day? The more I think about it, it's like it was just something that other people had the chance to do, and I would live out my days as a single, child-less woman who did her own thing and lived vicariously through friends and family. And yet, here I sit with a husband of nearly 10 years and 2 wee babes sleeping upstairs in my cookie-cutter house in suburbia.

Don't get me wrong, I certainly don't dislike my life. I'm just finding myself constantly adjusting to the fact that this is indeed my life. Maybe the fact that I was always so socially awkward and unpopular as a kid and teenager contributed to the disbelief that I would ever have that "normal" life that I am now living. I often wonder if those who knew me back in my youth would be surprised to see where (and who!) I am now...

I'm back!

Well, kinda...

Yes, we have a new little one - Zachary was born right on his due date (much to the surprise of many people who insisted he would come early, including me!), and is now 3 months old and growing like a weed!

He was (and still is!) quite the cheeky little fellow, although "little" is relative. At nearly a full pound bigger than his big brother, Zachary quickly earned the title of "Big Little Brother". (in fact, the first words I heard in the delivery room as he was being born were, "Look at those cheeks!!")

He looks enough like Connor that you can tell they are brothers, but he is definitely his own little person, with his own personality.

Now that we are (finally!) beginning to settle into a routine, I'm hoping to write a little more often. There have been a few things percolating in the mind lately, some things funny, others disturbing, and some that just make you say, "hmmmmm...."

As for me personally, I'm hoping in the next few months to kind of find myself again. Not sure if I really lost myself entirely over the last year or so, but I feel a little at loose ends, if you know what I mean.

This could be an interesting journey...

Is there anybody out there?....

I'm not sure anyone still reads this blog...it's been so long since I posted, and even longer since I posted regularly...

Life just seems to get in the way these days. As if being a wife and mother with a full-time outside-the-home job weren't enough, I'm about 5 weeks away from meeting our second little one. As a result, any time I do have at the end of the day is usually spent crashed on the couch!

I'm hoping to get back in the habit of writing again when I'm off on mat leave - the rare times when both kids are asleep, or maybe one is asleep and the other at daycare...I hope...but there are so many things I'm hoping to do while I'm off, I'm afraid I'll be even busier than I am now!

At least I'll have my body and some semblance of an energy level back....

....I hope....