Can you believe we are almost done with January? How are you doing in this new decade? I’ve begun implementing some small habit changes that have started to show some real results. For example, while brushing my teeth each day, I started doing 50 squats morning and evening. Before that, I didn’t do any exercise other than pickleball and hiking. But this small change has allowed me to fit into a once too-tight skirt. No weight loss, but now it fits fine. And I’m learning to think of ten things I’m grateful for when I’m aggravated. This habit can shift a cranky mood pretty quickly. What new habits are you trying to add to your life? Remember, taking small steps consistently will yield bigger changes over time than taking big steps only occasionally.
Don’t forget to register for my free webinar on Four Lies That Will Leave You Feeling Miserable, Afraid, and Stuck in a Destructive Marriage on February 4th. You won’t get to attend or watch a replay if you don’t register…and please invite a friend. Register here.
Today’s Question: Why does it seem like I’m surrounded by toxic people! Because I have a tendency to blame myself, is there something in me that may be attracting them or are they just in abundance? I grew up with a narcissistic sister and father. Behavior seemingly normal for me it seems.
Answer: First, you are not the cause of someone else’s toxic behavior. We are each responsible for our own character development. However, growing up with toxic people around you probably got confused on what’s a healthy and normal behavior in relationships. Plus, when one grows up with a narcissistic parent and sibling, you usually have only one role to play and that is to serve the narcissist. Every child needs to feel safe, valued, and wanted, so to survive, most children are resourceful enough to adapt their behavior even if it costs them their own personhood.
In addition, Christian teaching has sometimes glorified the Biblical virtues of sacrifice, servanthood, and suffering as well as dying to self. Good people sometimes believe they are obeying God when they allow toxic people to repeatedly carnage their life with no consequences. But the Bible does not teach that. We see Jesus himself escaping from situations where people intended to harm him (See Luke 4:31). The Bible also teaches us to steward our self and resources (Proverbs 6:1-5), speak the truth in love, expose the unfruitful deeds of darkness, (Ephesians 4 and 5), and have appropriate boundaries (Proverbs 4:23).
However, let me also say that unhealthy and toxic people do seem to have a sort of internal radar of who they can target. People who will let them get away with their lies, their foolishness, their addictions, their betrayals, their indifference. Instinctively they know that most people will not put up with it. So they look for people who will. Is that you? I don’t know, but here is a list of traits that toxic people gravitate to in people who might be too nice, too naive or too trusting.
Remember some of your greatest strengths can also become weaknesses when not tempered with wisdom and discernment. Here are seven positive qualities you may have that can also make you more vulnerable to toxic individuals.
- People Pleasing – Pleasing people is fine as long as you are also able to say no when you need to. A compulsive need to make people happy at your own expense can make you more vulnerable to those who will take you upon it (Galatians 1:10; Proverbs 29:25).
- High Loyalty – God calls us to be faithful and loyal. However, when we are unquestionably loyal towards someone who continues to lie to us, cheat us, betray us, or not care about who you are or what you feel is foolish. Jesus loved people but when they didn’t love him back, he didn’t consider them his friend and often distanced himself from them (John 2:24; Mark 10:21).
- Forgiving – God calls us all to forgive, generously. However, when we forgive without seeing any repentance or change from abusive/destructive individuals, be cautious. Abusive individuals look for someone that will allow them to keep doing the same thing over and over again without any consequences. If your forgiveness gives someone a “get out of jail free card” it only invites him or her to keep hurting you again and again. That’s not only not good for you, but it’s also not good for him or your relationship.
- Forbearing – God calls us to be forbearing people (Philippians 4:5-7). It’s a strength to overlook small things and not be easily offended. However, when we overlook repeated sin or refuse to speak up or stand up, we are not being honest with ourselves or the other person (Matthew 18:15-17). Plus, often what appears forbearing isn’t true Biblical forbearance, but rather fear and passivity. You’re afraid to speak up or rock the boat with the truth about how you feel or what’s wrong.
- Kindness – Kindness is one of the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22).You can be kind and set boundaries and be firm at the same time. However, when we are kind with no boundaries or never speak up on what’s not okay with us, we invite those who will take advantage of our kindness to do so over and over again. Click To Tweet
- Selflessness – You probably learned to be selfless growing up with two narcissistic people in your family. There was no room for you to be you. However, Biblical selflessness, or dying to self does not mean becoming a non-person. Rather we’re not to become self-focused or self-absorbed either with our flaws and failures or our strengths and virtues (Romans 12:3). Dying to self doesn’t mean abdicating your personhood, it means dying to your pride/ego, so that you grow into the person God designed you to become, much like a seed dies to itself as a seed. Not to become nothing but to grow into the oak tree or rose bush God designed it to become.
- Naïve Trust – The Bible says that “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthian’s 13:7). Sometimes Christians have been taught that love means always trusting someone’s words. However, a verse before this passage, 1 Corinthians 13:6 says “Love rejoices in the truth.” Jesus didn’t trust people because he knew what was in their hearts (John 2:24). John the Baptist said to the religious leaders, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sin and turned to God” (Luke 3:8).
You can learn to be a godly and a healthy person. If you see yourself having some of these strengths yet coupled with the inability to set boundaries or speak up for yourself, you can learn. I’ll be offering a new two-session introduction class to building CORE strength. If you’re interested in finding out more about it, click here.
Friends, what other good qualities do you have that you’ve found attract toxic individuals?
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I saw so much of myself in these character traits and it took great pain and significant work to change to healthier patterns. My natural bent remains to slip back into the old patterns of relating, so I appreciate this refresher!
I think the important thing to keep in mind is that all these character traits are virtues when exercised with boundaries and self control….or rather, Spirit control! No shame in them if used wisely.
Yes. This. And, these people are usually black and white thinkers. You’re amazing or you’re bad. They don’t even understand that there’s a big difference between a sin and a mistake. They are all over you, but if you make one mistake, you’re suddenly bad and they reject you. Then your instinct is to try harder and be nicer, and they milk that to the hilt. You will be punished with words or silence or other games.Don’t fall for it.
Connie, you worded that very well. Many times I have experienced this flipped switch Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde thing not even for something I did wrong, but just what the person didn’t like!
Thank you very well written. What do you think the verse in John 15:13 means? What do you think he is talking about when he says no greater love has no man than this to lay down his life for his friends?
It is a Christian virtue to lay down your life in order to save someone else’s life. The responders to 9/11 did just that, rushing into the twin towers to save lives, knowing that their life could be lost Jumping into an icy pond to save a drowning child, interrupting a robbery or rape by screaming or shouting may cost you your own life. These are admirable sacrifices. Donating a kidney to help someone who has zero kidney function is a noble sacrifice. However, no where does the Bible recommend voluntarily laying down your life (which is what Jesus is talking about here), in order to ENABLE someone to continue to sin against you or to further allow his or her own foolishness at your expense. For example in Proverbs 6 the Bible strongly warns us against being too nice by co-signing on a loan for someone who is irresponsible with their own money. Why would it say that if we are ALWAYS to lay down our life for others? Because that instance is not a noble cause. It only enables someone else not to take personal responsibility for his or her own credit rating and irresponsible handling of their money and not bearing a burden that he or she should bear themself. Hope that helps you see the difference. Jesus didn’t ALWAYS lay down his life. Sometimes he left and went off to a quiet place by himself even when the crowds were clamoring for him. HE went to sleep even tho people were left at Peters house waiting to be healed. Plenty of times he escaped from those who were seeking to harm him. He only voluntarily laid down his physical life when it served a higher purpose. God’s redemption of you and me. All the other times, he escaped from those seeking to harm him.
thanks Leslie. I am 75 years old and married 52 years and i have heard all these scriptures for most of my life. Trying to untangle Jesus’s truth in these passages is hard for me. Keep reminding us conquer women.
Great post! And I’m learning…I’m fighting to live the reality….that in order for any of these good character traits that may have become perverted or exaggerated to be put back into their normal, healthy place, one almost inevitably must separate one’s self from the people who may be either consciously or subconsciously trying to keep you in the unhealthy state. And if you’re used to unhealthy, healthy can seem awkward, or even unreachable at times. But the latter is just a lie…it can be obtained. But again, it will be difficult if not impossible to do so if the toxic person or people aren’t willing to address their own toxicity. Then it does become a matter of distancing. As hard as that may be. God bless.
Well said, healthy can feel awkward, but there’s always hope in God that I can be healthy and have a healthy marriage as my husband continues to respond to God .
Leslie, thank you so much for your wisdom. I did see myself in probably every one of these and am learning that I should not allow my spouse to continue to chronically sin against me in many ways. It has taken 20 years to understand that I have the obligation in love to address his sin toward me. I have had to include our church leaders to respond to his apathy toward my needs and to address his addictions implementing Mtt.18 .God is teaching me so much and I praise Him for Godly elders to support us and that God is beginning a work in my husband’s heart.
thank you Leslie. As a conquer woman of 75 years and 50+ years of marriage i am trying to learn Jesus’ truth in these passages as i have old conceptions. Keep reminding us of the new mindset.
Sometimes what helps me, is to think, “How do any of my behaviors align with what I understand to be the nature and purpose of God?” Our participation in supporting a sinful man, just benefits the sinful man, right? How does this glorify God?
Yes, I believe selfish people look for easy targets. The question is why are you and easy target, how did you get that way and how do you intend to change your foolish behavior?
I find it so disheartening as I read the above traits and realize that I have all of them. The good news is that you posted them so I could see them and start to work on myself.