separating from toxic relationships

separating from toxic relationships June 8, 2012

david hayward nakedpastor painting

No friends are better than bad friends.

I was just talking to a friend recently who said she needed to change her friends. I told her I’ve done it a few times. Even my own children have decided to do it recently.

It’s not easy. It is very difficult. There are times of real loneliness. But it is better than drowning in a sea of toxicity, codependence, and negativity.

This is one of the more difficult realities of leaving a church community. If you have relationships there but they are toxic, you are not only leaving the religious institution but the relationships. Difficult!

But I have good news: you can do it. Here’s how you do it: just say no to all invitations or events or whatever from your old friends. Start saying yes to all invitations or events from your new ones. Or create moments yourself. It can be as easy as offering to buy someone you work with a cup of coffee. I’ve started some good friendships recently that way. It works.

I have done it. My children have done it. You’ll find new friends. Friends who are better for you. People who make you feel larger rather than smaller.

Jesus knew this as well: whoever you leave you will receive back a hundred fold. Keep your eyes open. You’ll see them.

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  • We do need to remove ourselves from relationships which are detrimental and demeaning. And, no, it is not easy, but if we are to live fully and for Christ, we can continue to love and pray for these people, but we can’t keep being brought low by them.
    Great advice and thoughts, David!

  • David Eastham

    To turn away from toxic relationships, face loneliness, and to reach out to new people. That’s wonderful, David. Thank you. I have been in that lonely place myself and I have experienced that pain. It is excruciating. It is terrifying. I cannot count how many times that I tried to change myself to mend a fault and gain forgiveness. All that effort simply created more pain. Letting go was the best thing that I have done.

    I’m happy to say that my mind is at ease now. I walk away from toxic relationships. I also realize that even good relationships come and go for a variety of reasons. I do not stop loving the people that I meet. That is built into who I am. And I look forward to meeting as many new faces as I can. For me, that’s growth.

    Have a good weekend!

  • John Taylor

    I don’t believe God expects for anyone to remain in unhealthy, toxic or abusive relationships — be it with a spouse, friend, partner, employer, relative, etc.

    In the case of marriage: God doesn’t bless mess. Some marriages never should have taken place. Divorce is the best thing that could happen to some married couples. I wish that more Christians could recognize this.

  • I know the perfect way to prevent toxic human relationships from crowding in on you.

    Move into a cave (by yourself).

  • A good ‘1 Minute…’ on this topic:


  • Ruthie

    Thank you David, I so needed to hear that today. I really appreciate you!

  • I like this post, but to me the underlying message is be careful about who you allow into your life as friends. As I move in and out of church life one thing I learn is who my real friends are. There will always be people who are nice to you, and never toxic, yet when you move on in your life, they cannot see past the bounds of what initially created your relationship (eg: a specific church, but this is not limited to that). True friends are happy for you in your new life, and will continue to enjoy that life with you. Needless to say these folks are very rare. When you do find them, hang on and love them no matter what. And let them love you back.

  • Jo

    Many of your illustrations & thoughts resonate David. This one comes in a week where a friend (of toxic relationship variety, but no longer in the same town) has made contact on Facebook. Also the week where we spent a rare & precious day with special friends that I call ‘fellow-mill-goer-throughers’. Tomorrow’s sermon is the next in the series of ‘Things I wish God would not use to help me grow’ – it is… People!
    Funny how both types of people help us grow – I definitely wouldn’t be where I am with God today without having experienced the toxic relationship. I want to be wise about these things yet when I stand before God to be able to say I gave it my best shot.
    Keep drawing & sharing thoughts!

  • thanks jo. i will 🙂

  • Jo, you called to mind a post on my blog by my cynical persona.


    The world would be a fine place, were it not for the people.

    (But for me and thee!)

    Alas, people need people, and I’m thankful for the folks in my life who are life-giving and soul-nourishing. Still, at times, I think I’d do well as a hermit.

    It’s true: we need to move away from toxic relationships, painful as it may be. After trying and trying, there comes a time to make the break. As Martha says, we can still love the people and pray for them.

  • We used to have a saying in the counseling profession for people who wouldn’t leave toxic relationships: “Bad breath is better than no breath at all.” Unfortunately most of the human race functions at that level.

  • Some might not take Steve Martin’s comment seriously (I’m not sure if he meant it to be serious or not), but I have made a firm decision, after 32 years of toxic relationships, one after another, not to seek out new friendships. I’m not going to live in a cave, nor will I live on the beach. But I will live, & people will have to deal with me.

  • i wonder, autisticaplanet, if it is better NOT to seek our new friendships, but to let them develop naturally. organically.

  • Doug

    I think, David & autisticaplanet, what you said takes us closer to a peaceful approach to having healthy relationships. May I add what David Eastham said above? “meeting as many new faces as I can. For me, that’s growth.”

    Let’s keep moving, be friendly, and follow God’s peace in it all. I believe that’s my best shot!