I read two articles recently on Forbes & Yahoo that explained how highly emotionally intelligent people deal with toxic persons in their life. I’ve really messed up in this area by either trying to engage in communication with them, or confronting them on their unhealthy behaviors, when in reality, I should’ve been kind, but walked away sooner.
It’s amazing how God can use even nasty, difficult people to try to grow you in ways that nice, considerate people would never cause you to grow. It’s ironic that we can learn some of our best lessons in dealing with truly mean, unhealthy people… because the nice “normal” human beings don’t dare push us that far. He can use even our enemies to develop character in us that we wouldn’t have been capable of having if it hadn’t been for a “thorny” person (“thorny” is the word I’ve heard Beth Moore use in describing a person that’s difficult to love).
Thorny… you come away from dealing with them (or talking to them… even on the phone) looking like this:
It’s painful to deal with a “thorny” person. They never seem to get it, nor do they seem to “care” about the real, researched affects they can have on you physically, your psyche, and even your spiritual well-being.
Maybe you’ve been this thorny person – I have 😦 … and the grief and pain I caused to other people was very real, no matter how I tried to explain it away or justify my actions. I was undeniably wrong to make someone feel the way this poor dog must’ve felt above… it came from unhealthy behavior, and to try to justify or make excuses was truly arrogant of me.
If you realize you’ve been this person… this “thorny,” let me give you hope in that God can use that too! Not only does He help the one hurt to develop more character in their trial, He can help you grow and mature if you realize and acknowledge what you were doing to others (& yourself). Usually when people realize that they’ve been this “thorny” the first thing they want to do is apologize and try to engage in reconciliation. Apologizing is beautiful, and forgiveness is wonderful, but don’t be surprised if the person you hurt doesn’t want to be close to you again. It’s possible that you were too toxic and thorny to the degree that the other person feels a real necessity of getting you out of their life. It honestly doesn’t matter if the relationship is solvable, the only thing that matters is for you yourself to grow and mature beyond it, to use it as a life lesson, to let God continue His work in you to become spiritually whole.
If you’re dealing with a toxic person…
(or have done so in the past), keep in mind that confronting them is probably not the best idea or plan of action. From what I read in the 2 articles mentioned before, and in my own experience, it usually never works to open their eyes to how they are hurting others (& ultimately themselves). Continuing to try to talk with them them about their behavior will only exhaust and frustrate you, often tempting you to get angry and (like one article mentioned) act in a toxic way yourself.
The Yahoo article states that researches have found that,
“dealing with a toxic person causes your brain to have a massive stress response.”
A toxic person will often deny the stress they cause you to experience, saying that you’re just too sensitive, acting like a “victim,” or using your emotions in a manipulative way. Ironically, hearing them say this will only cause you more stress!! Isn’t it kind of comical – in a horrible sort of way??
The article further warned of the long-term damage to your brain that dealing with a toxic person in life could have if you don’t take the necessary measures to get them out of your life. The Forbes article compared dealing with them to trying to set a mentally ill person on the street (who thinks they’re someone famous) “straight.” You just wouldn’t take the time and effort to engage with a mentally ill stranger, and yet we always seem to expect toxic people to be mentally capable enough to understand reason, and be able to see the simple reality of the way they’re unbalanced or unhealthy. The difference is obvious… it’s because we care about the toxic Thornies in our life, so it becomes valuable (or worth it) to try to make them comprehend. They’re after all, in our life for a reason… they’re usually either a relative we need to keep relationship with, a coworker we need to be able to work effectively with, or a friend that we love, so it makes sense that we can exhaust ourselves in trying to get them to understand – however, the sad reality is that they usually never accept it, and often try to hurt us even more back.
Remember… they’re “thorny” for a reason. They were thorny before you, and they will most likely stay thorny after you.
If you’re pregnant,
you need to be extra careful in how much time you decide to spend on engaging with a toxic person. The fact that they’ve now proven that dealing with just one person like this in your life, causes your brain to have that massive stress response, can be not only damaging to you, but also to your child you’re carrying! They’ve known for a long time now, that stress causes the hormone cortisol to be secreted, which affects the baby in womb (see article).
“In the later stages of pregnancy, extreme stress can lead to premature labour, premature birth and low birth-weight babies. The latest findings indicate that prenatal stress can also increase the risk of a baby being born with asthma or allergies.” This article goes on to suggest pregnant women “Avoid people who irritate you.”
They’ve also recently been finding out that severe long-term stress in pregnancy is capable of causing enough to the baby’s brain to make them more likely to develop schizophrenia later in life.
There is simply no excuse to endanger the future health of your child by engaging with a toxic person. They are usually too selfish to see the affects they cause, and will often insult you even more by turn it around on you (calling you manipulative, or saying you’re playing the role of a victim) if you even try to enlighten them with these facts.
My first pregnancy with my son was when we were under some pretty awful stress, we were both full-time students and were working in the apartment business as event or retention specialists for a woman who honestly wanted a couple with more time than we had to give. The couple that filled our role before us was more able to spend more hours beyond the job because the wife was a stay at home mom. The wife had tried to have a tiny side job, but realized that she needed to quit her side business in order to focus on the apartment job. The woman tried to get another couple team (and had every right to – we honestly just weren’t what she wanted, and neither of us were willing to quit school so we could focus on this part-time job alone), and our manager managed to convince her to keep us. But the continual stress of working under someone who really wanted more than we were able to give at that time, while trying to juggle upper level university classes, was very intense.
Our son ended up coming a month early, scarying everyone, and having to stay in NICU (Neo-natal intensive care unit) for 5 days. Our doctor talked to us and believed that the stress I was under (physically and emotionally) could’ve been a major factor in why the baby came a month early.
This pregnancy has been so beautifully different. I’m a stay at home mom, very content with our peaceful life, and while it isn’t that there is “no stress” (no mother of any amount of children is completely stress-free), and while my husband’s work schedule makes things a little harder at times, there is just no comparison to the amount of stress I was under with my first pregnancy. My ob talked with me at the first pre-natal visit for this pregnancy, and I assured her that I was not under the same stress that I was with my first. It is something I’ve learned to manage much better!
I’m relaxed most of the time, able to cook or bake anything my heart desires, in a peaceful house with beautiful calming music & access to around the clock air-conditioning, and fresh iced water (which to me, is like eating candy)! I actually have time to make homemade treats with my son, go to our zoo or botanical gardens to relax out in nature. We were just at the zoo with my mom this last Thursday, and my son was playing in their beautiful children’s outdoor play area. My mom commented on how relaxing it was to just recline there … there was no time rush, no schedule … just simple beauty and serenity, and the benefits my son gets from experiencing that kind of outdoor play is immense!
There were school children there on a field trip, and they were so rushed, frantically trying to play a few seconds before their teachers told them to move on – none were allowed to get dirty in the sandbox, they didn’t get to have that same relaxed play my son was really enjoying. This isn’t me trying to criticize, I understand field trips are stressful for teachers, and they absolutely need to stick to a strict schedule in trying to manage all those kids. The difference is that going to the zoo to relax and play is normal for us – last year we went weekly – being a stay at home mom allows for you to make “field trips” that are mostly stress-free part of your daily week – indeed part of your life… and not something you feel must be crammed in and rushed. When you’ve lived like this for while, you become accustomed to a peaceful, positive life surrounded by beauty that you actually have the time to really notice.