Toxic people are much better at being toxic than we are at knowing how to deal with them. Toxic people enjoy conflict like a pig enjoys mud. They don’t want us to act like Christians; instead, they want us to do what they want us to do and and they revel in our desperate attempts to engage with them. As Jesus demonstrated, there comes a time to walk away. As Jesus said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Mt 7:6). Spiritually dead people don’t recognize truth or love for what they are, and they derail us from our mission. Thus, we must determine not to waste our time on toxic people.
Now that we have explored the concept of toxicity and delved into how we can identify people who are toxic to us, we can explore the concept theologically, employing biblical-theological categories to understand the phenomenon and to craft a faithfully Christian posture toward toxic people.
As Gary Thomas writes in When to Walk Away, Scripture reveals at least three traits of toxic people: a murderous spirit, a desire for control, and a love for hatred. To Thomas’ three points we will add a fourth: an addiction to heart-theft. Taken together, these four traits provide Christians with a helpful theological categorization of the types of characteristics (Toxic People 102) and styles (Toxic People 103) we outlined previously.
A Murderous Spirit
The first category to be noted is a “murderous spirit.” Toxic people want to take you down and derail your mission. They want you cause you to feel shame, guilt, and discouragement. They enjoy making self-righteous and rash judgments and intend to discourage you with them. And, if you let them, they will systematically diminish, and finally destroy, your inner life. You cannot allow this to happen. Ultimately, Satan is the one manipulating toxic people to do his bidding. In essence, he is a murderer, and quite skillful at what he does (Jn 8:44).
A Desire for Control
The second category is a “desire for control.” Toxic people want to control you in some manner, if not entirely. If they can’t control you overtly, they will do so covertly through skillful manipulation. In so doing, they have become a tool of the Evil One. God doesn’t control us; this is seen clearly in the life of Jesus, who did not attempt to control those around him. Thus, when toxic people attempt to control us, they are assuming the authority of God but using the tools of Satan. They want you to bow to them, to be directed by them, instead of focusing on God’s will for your life.
A Love for Hatred
The third category is “a love for hatred.” People who love God are wired for humility, gentleness, and kindness (Col 3:12,14). Toxic people, however, are wired for anger, rage, malice, and deceit (Col 3:8-9). In fact, people who love God have a very difficult time understanding how a person claiming to be a Christian can be so hateful. Thus, we must realize that toxic people have an entirely different set of motivations and fears than healthy people, and that “normal” methods of interacting with them are ineffective and, in fact, counterproductive.
An Addiction to Heart-Theft
The fourth category is “heart-theft.” When a toxic person realizes he can’t control you overtly, he will seek to bully you covertly through manipulation. When a person engages in manipulation, she is trying to control you without your permission, and thus infringes on your autonomy.