Is family drama making your life miserable? Don’t sit back and let them slowly drive you insane. Here’s what the Bible says about toxic family members.
Are you struggling to figure out how to deal with toxic family members Biblically?
Maybe you’ve been wondering, “What does the Bible say about cutting ties with family?” and now you’re looking up Bible verses about toxic family or Bible verses about toxic relationships in general.
You want to be a good Christian and do the right thing, but it seems like no matter how much you love, forgive and turn the other cheek, the mistreatment never stops — only gets worse.
The situation is completely unhealthy, everyone involved is miserable, and nothing is working, no matter how much you try.
If so, you aren’t alone.
In fact, I had a sweet reader write in and ask me how to deal with toxic family members Biblically not that long ago, and I thought you might benefit from hearing my answer to her as well.
After all, as Christians we don’t just want to go off on our loved ones or respond in anger and hurt. We want to know “What does the Bible say about toxic family members?” so we can use that to guide our actions.
Here’s what I told her. I hope it helps you too…
Reader Question: How Do I Deal With Toxic Family Members Biblically?
My relationship with my family isn’t a healthy one. Both my parents and my siblings clearly favor my sister and her kids over me and mine, and it hurts me and my kids the way this favoritism is displayed.
For example, they don’t visit me unless they need favors and they brush my concerns aside when I try to share how their actions make me feel. My feelings are minimized, dismissed and discarded. It’s hurtful.
Even my kids are aware of this blatant favoritism. They ask questions about why their cousins get more attention, etc, and it breaks my heart.
I want to remain respectful to my parents and siblings, yet this has been happening for over five years now with no signs of remorse, and I don’t know how to make them understand how hurtful their actions are to me and my children.
How can I handle this without going against God’s words or teachings? What does the Bible say about disowning toxic family members?
First of all, I’m sorry you are dealing with this.
It’s hard enough when people are mean to you, but it’s especially hard when those people are your own family. I think it’s great that you want to know what the Bible says about dealing with toxic family members, rather than just lashing out in response to your hurt feelings.
Unfortunately, you may never get toxic family members to treat you fairly. The good news, however, is that you don’t have to put up with being mistreated. And in this post, I’m sharing the step-by-step Biblical steps you can take to improve your situation.
Side note — The BEST resource I’ve found for figuring out how to deal with toxic family members is the book “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
In this very popular New York Times bestseller, Drs. Cloud and Townsend offer a TON of great Biblical insight on what behaviors are appropriate and not, how to set boundaries, and how to stick up for yourself without being a jerk OR a pushover in the process.
If you ever wonder, “How do I set limits and still be a loving person?” “Where should those limits be?” or “How can I learn to say no without feeling so guilty,” this book will absolutely help.
I’ve recommended it to quite a few people now, and I know you’ll really enjoy it and benefit from it too.
*This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase after clicking through one of my links, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps cover the many costs of running this site and allows me to help provide for my growing family. Thank you!
What Does The Bible Say About Toxic Family Members?
As Christians, many of us are aware of these Bible verses:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” — Luke 6:27-31
And yes, we absolutely should love our enemies. But I think sometimes we forget what love really means.
Loving someone well does not mean always playing “nice,” always being the peacemaker, or just letting other people walk all over you. This isn’t love–it’s called enabling.
A better definition of love would be: honoring the true dignity of another person, acknowledging their inherent worth as human beings, created and loved by God, and doing everything in your power to do good for them and to act in their best interest.
Yes, it absolutely can include being “kind” (see 1 Cor. 13:4), but it’s so much more than that. And in fact, if you really examine the way Jesus behaves in the Gospels, his actions aren’t always what we consider “nice.”
When a Canaanite woman asks Jesus for his help in Matthew 15:26, “He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.'”
Jesus tells the Pharisees, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” in Matthew 12:34.
And let’s not forget how “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves” in Matthew 21:12.
Now, I wouldn’t actually recommend you calling your in-laws dogs or vipers or flipping their tables! My point here is ONLY that the Bible does not teach us that we need to be super polite, calm and passive to the point of being walked over and enabling others in their sins.
In fact, Jesus instructs the apostles to “leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet” in Matthew 10:14 and to “treat [unrepentant sinners] as you would a pagan or a tax collector” in Matthew 18:17.
Jesus’s plan for our lives isn’t to make us “nice.” It’s to make us (and our loved ones) holy. Sometimes that means treating others kindly. But other times that means protecting ourselves and our families instead of protecting the feelings of others who insist on pursuing sinful attitudes or behaviors.
See also: Yes, Christians Should Judge
How to Deal With Toxic Family Members
So since the Bible doesn’t teach us to be passive doormats, how should we deal with toxic family members?
Here’s what I would advise:
1. Assess the Situation Honestly
When you feel as though others are mistreating you, it’s easy to let your feelings get the best of you, but it’s important to be honest.
- Is the other person actually toxic, or simply annoying, thoughtless, etc?
- Is the problem serious enough to warrant action, or can you simply overlook it for the sake of family unity?
- Are you sure the other person’s actions are intentional, not simply perceived?
- What type of effect is the behavior having on you and your family?
- What have you done to remedy the situation in the past, if anything?
- Have you actually told the other person how you are feeling, and what you’d like to change?
- Are things getting better, staying the same, or getting worse?
In the best case scenario: you may realize that the other party truly didn’t mean to hurt you and that they were unaware that their behavior was coming across so hurtful. If this is the case, then you may simply need to have a conversation.
Alternately, if the behavior is purposeful but small enough in nature, you may simply be able to ignore it or avoid the situation when possible. Life isn’t perfect and people are annoying, and sometimes we just have to deal with annoying people.
Yes, there are absolutely times when you may need to take action (and would have the Biblical grounds to do so), but let’s not jump there quite yet. Can the situation simply be resolved or overlooked? This is the best case scenario, IF the situation isn’t serious.
2. Accept Responsibility for Any Wrongdoing on Your Part
Next, let’s take a minute to look at yourself and any part you may have played in the issue: Have you done anything to make the situation worse? Or failed to do something to make the situation better?
While the situation may not be ultimately “your fault” (especially in cases of outright abuse), once we reach adulthood, each of us are are responsible for and accountable for our own actions. And this is good news! Because it means that you have the power and ability to choose different actions, and to improve your situation.
It’s time to get honest with yourself.
- Have you said or done anything hurtful to the other person? (even unintentionally!)
- Have you ever failed to treat them as kindly or as respectfully as you should have?
- Have you ever been selfish, self-centered or mean-spirited?
Again, I’m not saying the mistreatment is your fault. But if you have done (or continue to do) things that hurt the other party, they may be acting out of that hurt. And a heartfelt apology for any wrongdoings on your part may be just what the other person needs to heal.
You aren’t responsible for them, but you are responsible and accountable for YOU — no matter what they’ve done to “deserve it.”
(Plus, this helps you extend them grace and forgiveness when you remember that none of us are perfect, and you try to see things from their side a little more. And oftentimes, that in and of itself can lead to greater healing and reconciliation.)
3. Set Healthy Boundaries
Next, once you’ve gotten honest about how the situation is currently, it’s time to set some healthy boundaries for what the situation should be.
What behaviors will you accept? Which behaviors will you not accept? Where is the boundary?
And, again, this is where the book “Boundaries” comes in really helpful!
If the other person is truly toxic, manipulative, crazy or even abusive, it can really make you question your sanity and your decision making! You want to do the right thing, but you may question what the right thing is or what requests are reasonable. It can be hard to tell.
It’s hard to stand up under guilt trips, manipulation and feigned innocence!
That’s where Boundaries does a great job of laying out a Biblical framework to help you understand what truly is your responsibility, what requests are unreasonable, where you should draw the line, and how you can do so without guilt.
As far as where the boundaries should be, I told the reader above:
Personally, I would explain, incredibly politely, that while you love them, you cannot allow them to continue to hurt you and your children in this way.
(If you even want to explain at all. I mean, you’ve had this conversation several times now. I don’t know if it is necessary to say anything else.)
I would be careful to be as unemotional, straightforward and polite as possible, to avoid saying anything that could be taken as accusatory, and to just speak out of your concern for the children.
For example, “We’ve spoken with you several times about how we feel as though you favor the other family over us. This has really hurt us and our family, as we want to have a relationship with you too, but it never seems to happen. Unfortunately, I cannot allow my children to have their hopes up and be so disappointed every time. For this reason, we will not be spending as much time with you” etc etc in your own words.
Then, if they call, you’re busy or cannot help them out at this time.
(Which is true–you are busy… doing anything else other than being mistreated by toxic family members… even if that’s just washing the dishes or playing with the kids. That counts as busy.)
For you, it may simply mean limiting visits, or restricting your visits to a certain format. For example, maybe you are happy to call on the phone, but you can no longer visit in person.
Maybe you set the boundary that you can only visit X times a year, that you can only give X dollars a month, or that you will only continue to be around them as long as the conversation remains healthy and polite.
Seek wise counsel from friends and family you trust to make sure your boundaries are reasonable, let the other party know what your boundaries are, and then stick to them.
There’s no need to feel guilty. And if you do — definitely read the Boundaries book. It will help immensely!!
4. Stick to Your Boundaries!
It’s NOT easy, I know. Learning how to deal with toxic family members takes time and practice. You won’t get it all right right away. You will make mistakes, but stick with it.
Because if you’re continually “bending the rules,” your family will just learn that your “rules” aren’t really rules at all.
Seek Godly counsel, determine (through prayer) where your boundaries should be, and then stick to them!
Readers respond: Have you ever had to deal with toxic family members (or friends)? What helpful advice would you offer to our anonymous reader?
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