Today’s post is a continuation of our February blog series on mental and emotional health. In it I tackle a subject most of us would rather avoid—protecting ourselves from abuse.

In 2 Timothy 4:14-15 the Apostle Paul wrote to his young apprentice, Timothy, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.”

Here’s something I didn’t learn in college while preparing for ministry: Difficult people go to church. The 2nd thing I didn’t learn? Difficult people who go to church can cause a great deal of harm. In most churches, the people who do the pastor a “great deal of harm” represent a small minority . . . however that minority has grown larger in the past two years . . . and has grown more vocal than ever.

It seems to me that as our world gets crazier, the number of abusive personalities increases proportionately. And if we fail to identify these types of people, and learn how to protect ourselves from them, we set ourselves up for all kinds of trouble. Developing the ability to spot them before they pounce will save you a significant amount of grief. We need a finely tuned jerkometer, (the ability to spot jerks), to protect ourselves.

An abusive person is someone who harms you—verbally, or emotionally, or spiritually, or physically, or sexually—or maybe even in a combination of one or more of these ways. Abusers have no interest in a real relationship with you—their only interest is to control you.

So today, let me give you four safeguards leaders (or anybody for that matter) can use to protect themselves from abusive people who attend the church they lead or are in the company they work for. These principles can be applied to relationships in our personal life as well. (I’ll only touch on these four safeguards today—for a fuller explanation, pick up a copy of my book, Unshakable You: Five Choices of Emotionally Healthy People. We’re offering it at a 50% discount for the entire month of February.)

Safeguard 1: Be convinced that standing up for yourself is the right thing to do

This first safeguard is the cornerstone of protecting yourself from abuse. if you don’t believe it’s the right thing to do, you’re going to struggle.

When one of my sons was in third grade, he was getting knocked around every day during recess by a much larger schoolmate. My son was understandably upset by this ongoing behavior, so I sketched out a strategy for him to deal with it. “The next time Guber (not his schoolmate’s real name) puts his hands on you, I want you to ball up your fist and swing as hard as you can and pop him in the nose.” The very next day the drama unfolded. Guber started shoving my son around again and he responded with a right cross to Guber’s schnazz. Problem solved. Yes, I realize this was not politically correct, and I had to smooth things over with the principal, but Guber never bullied my son again.

I’m not recommending you start punching out people in your neighborhood, workplace, or family, or church. The point here is when you are confronted with abuse from a toxic personality, understand you have the right to draw a clear relational boundary and protect yourself from his poor behavior

Safeguard 2: Understand the difference between persecution and abuse

In Matthew 5:11 Jesus told his disciples: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.”  Protecting ourselves from abuse requires us to discern between being persecuted for our faith vs. simply being in the path of mean-spirited bullies. These two are not the same.

My son wasn’t being persecuted on that playground many years ago, he was being bullied. Getting persecuted because we refuse to compromise our morals, or let go of our integrity, or deny Jesus, is different than getting knocked around by a bully on a playground.

Safeguard 3: Understand what “loving your enemy” really means

In Matthew 5:44 Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, love your neighbor, but hate your enemies. But I tell you: Love your enemies.”  He was addressing a perversion of the Old Testament Scripture in Leviticus 19 that simply stated: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Somewhere along the line “hate your enemy” was tacked on to the end of that verse. Jesus brought correction by declaring “Don’t just love your neighbor – love your enemy too.”

What was Jesus trying to teach us here? What does it mean to genuinely love our enemies? When someone abuses you, he or she is sinning. Is it loving to let them continue to sin against you? Is that in their long-term best interests? NOPE. Loving people who abuse you means you care about them and hope the best for them and pray for them on occasion.  It does not mean you allow them to take advantage of youIt’s not loving to let someone abuse you.

Safeguard 4: Hang out with healthy people

Finding a circle of good friends will provide a measure of protection from abusive relationships. It will give you the support you need to break free from your abuser. Understand healthy people are not perfect—we are all works-in-progress. A good friend gives you permission to be human, does not try to control you, is trustworthy, and allows you to express your opinion—even when it is contrary to hers. Choose wisely who you spend your discretionary time with and your emotional health will prosper.

So . . . getting and staying health emotionally requires us not only to become our own best friend, and to discover the power of assertiveness. If we want to get and stay healthy, we must learn to protect ourselves from people whose mission in life is to hurt us. The good news is that with practice, and God’s help, and the support of loving friends, and often with guidance from a counselor, coach, or mentor, we can develop this skill.

Reminder: pick up a copy of Unshakable You today. For the entire month of February, we are offering it at a 50% discount. In it, I devote an entire chapter to the subject of protecting yourself from narcissistic abusers. You can purchase a copy here.

Rooting and praying for you to be well,