I have witnessed some hurting, controlling, and destructive behaviors in people; not only with those that I know as non-believers, but believers, as well. I think we all have some relationship in our life which is discouraging (i.e. won’t build us up, only tear us down). So, what do we do with these relationships? We’re told to love everyone, right? How long should we hang on to destructive relationships? Should we allow ourselves and our faith to be overwhelmed by bitterness or the thought of it? You know, those negative people who love trouble, manipulation, and drama? These are real questions for sons and daughters of the Kingdom; for those of us who desire to be a “peacemaker.”
How Should We Relate To Negative People?
Let me say this, sometimes negative relationships are placed there by God to mold our own weaknesses or expose them (i.e. anger, forgiveness, envy, etc.). Sometimes, negative people can become the sandpaper that buffs away our “rough” edges. Discernment is the hardest part.
There are other times when the compassionate side of us tends to be a magnet for these people to cling. It’s obvious, we’re Christians; we’re supposed to be a welcome mat for dirty feet to trod, right? Not exactly. Manipulators may see a “good shoulder” or someone who will listen, but only for their self-centeredness, to for building a relationship. And once they feel satisfied with using your time and resources, they’ll leave, only to return to suck the life from you again.
In itself, these are great qualities for us; namely, that we’re approachable, forgivable, good listeners, and patient–these are all good attributes. But we should be aware of being taken advantage of and use discernment with these types of relationships. Some people just have a neurotic desire for empathy, which is based on self-control and approval. This does not mean that the neurotic person should be left without our sympathy, prayers, or love. In actuality, this individual may indeed be experiencing real life trauma, and be in earnest need for our prayers; however, be careful with those who are always seeking attention, discouraging, hurtful, or always in utter need to demand your attention. We are called to be encouragers, but negative people do not seek encouragement, only control.
Hurting and Controlling
These types of hurting or controlling relationships, as I have counseled with people, seem to be more dominant with relatives, family members, or those you have bonded with from an early age. This could be due from being raised with the person; as relationships and people mature from dependence to independence, the controlling person loses that once obtained approval. I’ve witnessed this when speaking to many church pastors too, how some small churches run by a family or demanding deacon are not comfortable with growth, as this leads to the diminishing of their power. Change is not good for them, as change shows a shift in power. These types of people will sabotage a relationship or church if they have to, to remain in power. Honestly, I believe these people are hurting deep inside and are in need of our love even more.
The Apostle Paul understood conflict in the Christian life, as he had many who resisted his Apostolic calling; basically calling him a fraud. Paul was never worried about these accusations, as they were baseless and rooted in either false teaching or a misunderstanding of Paul’s character. You may know this type of person, when things don’t go their way, the pull out the saying, “You’re not acting Christ-like” or throw the “judgment” card at you. Needless to say, God was the one who called Paul, and you and I, not the conflict-provoking person. Paul mentions, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).
Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s just not possible to live in peace with everyone–it’s a sad reality of the fall. Assuredly, Paul had conflicts within the church and without. Paul even disagreed bitterly with one of his closest of friends, Barnabas (Acts 15:39). While Barnabas was an encourager and not a conflicting person, the application of this verse demonstrates that even good friends and brothers may need time apart; which leads to out next point.
Tough Decisions: When Is It Time to Get Out?
Sometimes, as the Biblical precedent is met, it is better to walk away from a destructive, hurting, or controlling relationship than to try and “ride it out,” or change a person. In fact, none of us can change someone. These are tough decisions and tough decisions need God—including lots of prayers! But in other times, there is a need to leave a situation immediately and pray later; this would be one reason why Paul states, whenever possible, or “if possible.” This is life; it’s not always possible—people will have conflict. People will say hurtful things–walk away. Jesus said we must love one another, but that is not the same as liking the personality, attitudes, or characteristics—we love the soul, not the flesh!
In the time of Ezra, after the exile of Israel, the Israelites once again began to marry and join themselves to ungodly people. It was declared, “…Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” Then all the assembly answered with a loud voice, “It is so; we must do as you have said…” (Ezra 10:11b-12). This is an extremely tough decision and tough passage, but the overall message is not that God wanted Israel to dishonor the covenant of marriage, He wanted His people to live holy and upright lives; destructive behavior will take your eyes off of Christ—period! Negativity produces negativity!
At this point, if you find yourself in a relationship that is draining your soul, causing you to need constant replenishment, then you may want to make a spiritual, emotional, and even physical (is it causing sickness, headaches, etc.) assessment. Pray about the situation and “if possible” politely depart from the relationship for a period of time.
But here’s a tip: some people, especially neurotic ones, will not leave quietly and may desire to pull you into an argument in anyway possible, just to keep you and the drama in their life. In this case, it may be best to break all ties for an undisclosed period of time—for your spiritual welfare and for those around you.
Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV, “…walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” In all circumstances, we should pray for negative people, and pray that their hurt and deep scars would be healed and also pray that our hearts are right before God–never assume that it’s “their fault,” without taking it to God.
This post first appeared at Men’s Daily Life and is posted here with permission.