If you are a Christian, you MUST be open, accepting, forgiving, tolerant of mediocrity, tolerant of abuse, tolerant of manipulation. Often, for the kind people who are Christian, we think it the antithesis of who we are to explicitly and absolutely cut ourselves off from people. I know that is the way that I have always thought.
What if I could be a good influence on them? What if I hurt them by rejecting them? What if they will never come to God if I do not persist with lovingly accepting abuse? What if I could change them? What if God wants me to be here?
So in honor of the unsaint and unholy Judas Iscariot, I thought I would share some of my experiences and thoughts on the issue. Finally, I hope to clarify a few things from Scripture that can reasonably be applied to Toxic Relationships.
When I speak here of Toxic or Poisonous relationships, it seems to refer to some sort of exclusive romantic relationship with the opposite sex. I am speaking more broadly, because toxic relationships can exist anywhere. Two of the examples that I refer to here have nothing to do with the opposite
Poisonous Relationships can often exist in families, and most of what I am writing about here cannot be simply applied to families. If you have a poisonous relationship with a parent, aunt/uncle, sibling, cousin, these things cannot be dealt with in the same way, and may require counseling and interventions that go beyond the scope of what I am writing here.
I also do not intend the use of the term Toxic to apply to the relationship, and not the person. Therefore, you cannot take what I say out of context to apply to persons who misunderstand or disagree with Church teaching or whatever. I know in my own case, I have some culpability for the continuation of the toxic relationship to continue, that does not mean that you do, so neither is this post about moral culpability.
These relationships were built upon a mutual neediness, that outlived its usefulness. But like an addiction, a need was believed to be present, when indeed it was not.
Arnold the flake: Different expectations
Sometimes friendships carry different expectations, these can be a poisonous relationship.
Arnold was a friend in high school. We shared mutual interests in high school, and eventually had, what I thought, was a real meaningful friendship. He was, originally a cleaner kid then I was at the beginning of high school. We drifted apart after high school, and I got more into Church.
We reconnected at some point during a tragedy in my own life. It wasn’t even a matter that I changed and he hadn’t. It was more like, he was much more reckless and immature than I remember him, and I was somewhere else. I tried to carry on the pretense that we could keep in touch, but he always flaked out every single time.
Sometimes, I tried to be understanding, imaging that he was subconsciously afraid of my moral integrity, and would avoid me to get high or something. I really don’t know, and I don’t want to ascribe motives to others. All I can say, is that the relationship was mildly toxic based on different expectations.
Beatrice the promise-maker: the futility of promises in a toxic relationship.
Sometimes friendships begin at a time of immaturity and mutual neediness. There are a lot of words, promises, and well wishing, with no connection to the reality of the persons in the relationship. Beatrice comes to mind immediately when I think of poisonous relationships. We became friends at Church when we were teenagers, and she was fun at that time. Typically, she sought me out during crises, and I helped her resolve them.
Often, after a short time of expressing adulations to me, or general promises of hanging out, she would disappear. At some point I challenged Beatrice, because Beatrice excluded a mutual friend of ours. Beatrice heard a rumor that our mutual friend was speaking ill. I didn’t hear from Beatrice for several years, and by that time I had already observed that the relationship was toxic.
You see, someone who makes more promises than they can keep appears to be really caring. They seem to open up possibilities for the better tomorrow. Some people are really doing that to keep others bonded to them. Some people are so desperate to have long term connections with people that they will say things that they have no capacity to follow through on. I have reason to believe that Beatrice is in a much better place, married, and with kids. I no longer live near here, and keeping in touch with even my closest friends and family is a lot of work. In addition, the pattern of the toxic relationship demonstrated itself, in that every time we reconnected in the past, we got back into our bad habits.
Miguel the leach: difficulties coping with life
Sometimes an individual suffers from multiple personality flaws, perhaps with impounding by other challenges that life presents. Sometimes they are real personality disorders are so problematic that can pose a danger to those around
Miguel was a friend since I before I can remember. He had his share of imperfections, some which would sound unfair trying to explain. Ever since we were kids. In elementary school, I was small, unathletic, and artistic, not putting me in a favorable
position to say the least. He always looked for drama, and there were times we weren’t friends and friends again for reasons that never made sense to me at the time. His family broke up, and he moved away. Eventually he moved closer to me again.
After, I found he would be more dependent on me for things. New music, food, beer. Even if he wasn’t doing the worse drugs, he was still sometimes looking for a fix.
Since we also had a hip hop crew together, and I believed in the Gospel, that drove me to keep things together. His lyrics became more nihilistic and anti-Catholic as time went on. He would flake out, especially at more important events, and then return with a million apologies. He was still looking for drama, and mixing up with people who always jeopardized his safety.
I finally resolved to end the abuse when he started posting very diabolical stuff on his social networks. Yes, he
showed indications of being involved with the official Church of accuser. So I thought it was time to stop lying to myself.
Scripture and Boundaries
A plethora of Scriptural passages connote the importance of forgiveness, and perhaps do not need to be referenced here. Reconciliation has always been an important Christian ministry. Perhaps it is important to understand that, balanced by the remainder of Scripture, Forgiveness is not an absolute mandate. Forgiveness could easily open up the possibility for more abuse & sin.
Matthew Chapter 18, verses 15 through 17 suggest that there were plenty of instances where absolute forgiveness would not be beneficial: “If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” This passage does not seem to address the issue that the one who sins against you may have caused physical or psychological trauma and an intervention of this sort may be more harmful to the offended one then beneficial.
2 Corinthians refers to disassociating yourself from nonbelievers. I think some of the principles derived from this passage also make a lot of sense for the issue of toxic relationships. Someone may indeed have all the outward show of being a believer. They may label themselves as such. The actual effect is, that they do not do their fair share of work with those who share the yolk. In a toxic relationship, they, like a leech, are completely dependent on the other person to labor for them, and to silently accept abuse.
Finally, in no soft words, Luke 17 has Jesus warning the one who causes another to sin, that it were better for a millstone to be tied to his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. From a moral theology standpoint, a person who suffers from serious abuse may not bear the full culpability from sin. I also wonder if this passage applies to those who refuse to open passageways of grace to the broken and damaged, but that can be a whole other blog post. In applying this to Toxic Relationships, it is important to remember that you are one of Jesus little ones, one who is dear to him, one who is infinitely valued by God. Because you are so valued and loved, you have a moral imperative to take a stand for your integrity. I do not think that Jesus mandates or justifies you actually tying a millstone around their neck, but it certainly means removing yourself from a situation where you continue to “sin” by allowing a persistent toxic relationships to continue.