The word bully conjures images of the schoolyard ruffian pounding the lunch money out of a poor, defenseless soul. Add the modern-day equivalent of a middle school student enduring social media harassment at the fingertips (or thumbs) of a cyberbully. We tend to hope that individuals grow out of this abusive behavior by the time they are adults. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
An abusive or toxic person can harm you verbally, emotionally, physically, sexually or spiritually. These behaviors are wrong and if you want to be emotionally sound, should not be tolerated. Our emotional wellbeing often hinges on the third choice in John Opalewski’s book, Unshakable You: 5 Choices of Emotionally Healthy People. The third choice is: Protect yourself from abuse.
Historically, abusive people have utilized the same tactics. The scriptures illustrate an example of this in the book of John chapter 9. Jesus healed a blind man. When that man gave credit to Jesus, the Pharisees—through fear and intimidation—attempted to make the man retract his testimony.
Again, in scripture, the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:14-15 refers to Alexander the metalworker having done him “a great deal of harm.” Not a little bit of harm. A “great deal” of harm. Paul doesn’t minimize this brute’s behavior, and he warns Timothy to be on his guard against Alexander.
Those are words of wisdom: Be on your guard. How can we do this in a world full of bullies and abusers? Over the next couple of weeks, we will discuss some action steps that we can take to protect ourselves from abuse and thus continue making good choices to protect our emotional wellbeing and mental health.
Disclaimer: If abuse is physical in nature, put geographic distance between you and the abuser. If needed, notify authorities, find a shelter, obtain a restraining order . . . whatever it takes to be safe. And then, surround yourself with support, loving people, and professionals to obtain help. Also, leaders exhibiting gross abuses of authority should be reported as well.
However, if a toxic personality insists on verbal or emotional barbs and/or manipulation and you have the ability to maintain safety, here are some strategies to put in place.
- Stand up for yourself. You have the right to draw clear relational boundaries. Make it plain to the offender that you will not tolerate their abusive behavior and there will be consequences if it continues (for example, if a family member repeatedly criticizes and berates you every time you visit for dinner, a healthy boundary may be that you will no longer visit if the behavior continues.)
- Understand the difference between persecution and abuse. Sometimes Christians mistake abuse for the persecution that Jesus spoke about in the New Testament. Thinking “Oh, this person is treating me badly because I professed my faith,” when the individual is just a mean-spirited, abusive person, leads to emotional health issues. Please know the difference between these two and do not subject yourself to toxic behaviors from others.
- Identify your own unhealthy relational patterns. If you were raised in a chaotic, dysfunctional environment, that may feel strangely comfortable to you. But that feeling of comfort does not mean this is a healthy behavior to perpetuate. Please do the hard work to break that pattern. You’ll likely need the assistance of a qualified coach or counselor to help you work through this.
- Spend time with healthy people. Surround yourself with friends and family who are safe and feed your soul. When you hang out with these types of people, it becomes easier to spot and STOP the abusive relationships in your life.
In next week’s post, we’ll cover some additional steps you can take to maintain emotional health. In the meantime, we urge you to protect yourself from people whose mission in life is to hurt you.
We’re rooting and praying and rooting for you!