I participate in two online forums which frequently face questions about how to deal with toxic people. Many times these are family members, but at other times co-workers, bosses, friends, others they need to deal with on a daily basis. I’ve dealt with folks like that in the past (although no one like that now.)
Frequently the person says, “How do I get this toxic person to understand?” And also, “Should I let them know that what they’re doing isn’t right?”
I came across this quote in a letter by Father Malachi Martin. I think it applies. In it he talks about the truth he’s discovered about trying to defend yourself,
Which is: abusers and calumniators are not out to get the truth, to build up, to edify. Their bent is to destroy, to liquidate. Hence, no matter what information you give them, they will not desist; they will use it to further their distrustful ambition. Hence, I found that there was no point in even trying to communicate with them; anything they learned became merely grist for their grindstones of hate.
Good people assume others are good like themselves. They assume their attacker wants common ground, wants peace, wants understanding. That if only you tell the person the truth, the other person will back down. He’ll see the light and be changed. She’ll realize you aren’t out to get her. And so on.
In the course of the letter, Father Martin talks about how there’s something more important, and maybe the reason the Bible urges us not to worry about defending ourselves against these sort of attacks: because there’s too much work to be done, too many truly needy individuals, too many people we can help.
Remember those women from the bus stop who thought I was Satan incarnate? I never tried to defend myself to them and never would have succeeded anyhow. The woman who mailed back all my books? I tried to find common ground but she always saw me as an ignorant slob in need of enlightenment. But in the meantime, I have children to raise, books to write, a house to maintain, food to donate, loved ones to listen to.
Maybe that’s been my big change in the past few years: I quit caring what random people thought. My close friends and family — I care what they think. But people who don’t want what’s best for me are no longer people whose good opinion I care to cultivate.
Your goodness, your holiness, your truth, your commitment can become weapons for others who hunger for control, praise, power, and competition. If you cease competing, cease caring that they hate you, cease cooperating with their attempt to control you, there’s nothing they can do. They can’t win a tug-of-war, said someone on one forum, if you drop the rope.
And in the meantime, there’s no shortage of good work to be done. Deprive your enemies of their ammunition. Disengage from a futile fight. Spend your energies where they’re best applied.