Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What do I do with a toxic friend

If it were only one conversation, I don't think I'd blog this one. Yet the pattern seems all too frequent. What starts out as friendship turns poisonous and then they come to me -- "What do I do about this toxic friend?" What is a toxic friend? -- see the fine article here. Or perhaps you want a more known source, then check out the CBS article on this subject

The problem is usually the same -- we're Christians. We're supposed to be loving and self-sacrificing and give of ourselves even when it hurts. We're supposed to love the unlovable and embrace the unembracable.

That's true.

But we're not Jesus. We're Jesus' disciples; but we're not Jesus.

Most toxic people are looking for others to fill their void -- that void that is infinate. What makes them toxic (rather than neurotic) is that they have developed strategies (whether consciously or subconsciously) for making others feel guilty for the toxic friend's inner void. Life becomes an increasing quagmire of drama, phone calls, tearful conversations, continued impositions, and accusations. The toxic person seeks to draw others into their own misery, rather than actually being rescued from their misery.

You cannot fill that void; neither can I. Only Jesus can. The problem of the inner void is only solved by surrender -- you cannot do that for your toxic friend.

However here is what we can do as Christians.

1) Pray -- first and foremost, we pray. Not just that God would "help this person in their troubles." You also need to pray that the Holy Spirit would grab their heart and that they might start obsessing more about the living God, and less about their own circumstances. You also need to confess your own feelings -- be they of frustration and anger and exhaustion. Finally in prayer, you need to have your own time of surrender -- surrender the toxic friend to God, resting in his sovereignty.

2) Set boundaries -- this does not mean to say "I won't help you." Setting boundaries means you make very clear what you CAN do with integrity. By setting boundaries, you may have to weather all kinds of bad behavior and unfair accusations. Remember, you're not responsible for making this person happy. If they cut off the friendship because you've pulled back to save your sanity, your marraige, your job -- then that is their perogative. Mourn the loss, pray God's blessing on their lives, and move on. Don't become a prisoner to someone else's misery.

3) Stay involved. Once you've set boundaries and said what you can do, then you have freedom to do it. It may feel awkward after the first conversation where you've set boundaries -- but the act of demonstrating that the friendship, as far as you go, isn't over will do wonders.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one -- comments are open!