How To Handle Toxic and Critical People

Originally published by Leslie Vernick

We all have encounters with difficult people who leave us rattled and shaken. A co-worker undermines us in front of our boss; our friend puts us down and says she was "just kidding;" our spouse rages and then turns everything around to make us think that it's our fault.


Most of us would prefer to minimize our contact with people like this but sometimes it's just not possible. We may work with them, be married to them, or have some other connection that keeps us in regular contact with toxic individuals. For a long time Christians have been taught to forbear and forgive. While Biblical in essence, most of us aren't exactly sure how to live it out in real life.


We know that Jesus tells us that we're to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us but actually doing it is much more challenging. The apostle Paul counsels us in these instances not to be overcome with evil but instead, to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). But honestly, there are times when evil feels stronger and we are not sure how to stop it from getting the best of us.


Below are 5 specific steps I have found helpful in putting these Biblical truths into practice, especially when dealing with a toxic or destructive person:

  1. Press Pause. As soon as you feel that poisonous dart, take a deep breath and pray for God's help. The words or behaviors of another person have just knocked you off balance and will infect you with its toxic effects if you don't quickly apply an anecdote.

  2. Don't panic and overreact or be passive and under react. Stay calm and don't fall for their bait. Try not to take what they have done or said personally (which is very tempting to do). Remember, the way someone treats you, whether it be good or bad, really has little to do with you. It reveals something about who they are.

  3. Ask yourself this question: What in this present moment do I need to learn (or change) in order to become the person I want to become? Here are a few examples of things I have found I needed after I asked myself this question:

  • Courage

  • Humility

  • Generosity

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