Lately, I’ve noticed how social media glorifies letting go of the “toxic people” in our lives. At some point in our lives, we have probably labelled someone as “toxic.” I’m no exception. I’ve called certain relationships in my life “toxic” in the past. Then I experienced being on the receiving end of the “toxic” label. It was unbearably hurtful to be called toxic, especially when I was hardly given a chance to say where I’m coming from and even try to repair any damage I caused to the relationship. At that point, I questioned if I wanted to keep on using the term “toxic” so loosely, especially when toxic labelling becomes a response to hurt.
“This person is toxic; therefore, I can let go of my relationship with them”.
There are several social media platforms that talk about self-care, telling us what we deserve, what we need, and what we can do to put ourselves first. While many of them are helpful, we need to carefully examine what we embrace as truth. Some advice may seem like good solutions on the surface, but they might fail to address the healing of a wounded heart. Part of true healing is allowing God to expose the sinful issues of our own hearts that may have led to the break in the relationship and yet receiving affirmation from the gospel that His love for us is unconditional. Part of true healing is also moving by the power of the Holy Spirit to humble ourselves to apologize and to extend understanding and forgiveness to the other person.
(I’m not talking about serious abusive relationships that can be a real threat to your life or that has caused injustice and oppression to you.)
When someone hurts us, it is so easy to focus solely on what was said or done that we often forget to ask why it was said or done. Sometimes, toxic labelling can cause us to grow greater offenses towards the people who hurt us. It makes us believe that any response to our hurt is justified. Hurt is valid, but as we set healthy boundaries, it's also good to check our hearts if we are putting boundaries out of hurt, anger, or bitterness.
Yes, it’s good to set boundaries and maybe let go of unhealthy relationships. Not all friendships last a lifetime. Romans 12:18 says “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Living at peace with everyone does not mean we have to be friends with each person. It simply means we accord dignity and respect to every individual, and sometimes this is only possible when we let go of a friendship that no longer glorifies God or demeans your value as a person. But just because a person is not your friend (or you are in a difficult season in your friendship), does not warrant the label “toxic.” It goes against the biblical principle of valuing an individual made in the image of God.
The truth is, just because we are hurt does not mean God sees the other person as “toxic.” The dangerous thing about seeing and calling people “toxic” is not knowing how it can easily influence our hearts to put ourselves in higher regard. We start to believe the lie that we are better than the person who hurt us, so much so that we refuse to look at them the way God does. We eventually forget the forgiveness that God has extended to us for the very same reasons.
Regardless of what kind of person someone is, they are made in the image of God. We still need to see them with value and respect. While we are healing and getting some deserved space, we also need to watch out for offenses because more often than not, these same offenses grow in our hearts and eventually cause us to fall away from the foundations of our faith. Bitterness, anger, and resentment hinder our ability to hear God.
To the person who has been offended, I understand how hurt you must be. But just because your hurt is valid does not justify causing hurt to the one who offended you. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Bitterness will not just cause a wedge between two people. It affects our other relationships in ways you probably have not imagined. Going the route of toxic labelling will not help us develop and maintain healthy relationships with people in our lives.
Sometimes, we just need to be reminded that we are all works in progress, and there is good news: in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can find the balance of placing importance to our well-being while seeing others the way God does.
Hannah is a student from Ateneo de Manila who aims to speak life, hope, and encouragement through art and creativity. She hopes her words bring wisdom and encouragement to those who are healing from relational hurts.
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We’ve all experienced getting hurt by someone in church and it seems easier to cut off ties rather than to do the hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation. How can we choose to stay in community when it seems easier to leave?