What Does The Bible Say About Toxic Family Members

Responding Biblically To Toxic Family Members

Christians are taught to extend grace, mercy and love to everyone, even when those around us may seem unlovable. Therefore, how does one approach the subject of toxic family members when living according to biblical teachings? Whether it is a parent, sibling, spouse, or other type of family relation, there are biblical principles in place to help us navigate this often tricky topic.

The first and foremost principle taught throughout scripture is to love others. In fact, Jesus stated that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). At times it can be a challenge to extend unconditional love to toxic family members, but this is what is expected of us when following the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Another way to respond biblically to toxic family members is to practice active forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean that we excuse the behavior of toxic family members, but we are in fact choosing to release feelings of resentment, hatred, and frustration so that a healthier emotional state can be maintained. Jesus stated multiple times in scripture to forgive our neighbor as we have been forgiven by God (Matthew 6:14). This is often easier said than done, yet it is a practice we must make a conscious effort to do on a daily basis.

Several scriptures talk about the importance of patience with others, especially when they are difficult to deal with. This means the attitudes and opinions of toxic family members must be tolerated with a kind and gentle spirit, even when it is difficult. Paul speaks in the book of Colossians about bearing with one another in love, understanding that everyone doesn’t have the same opinion (Colossians 3:13). In this way, we can respond to toxic family members with a spirit of love and gentleness, as James tells us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19).

Finally, in many cases it may be wise to exercise caution when dealing with toxic family members, particularly if the behavior is dangerous or cannot be changed. The book of Proverbs teaches us to be wise when it comes to our choices and to recognize when it is best to keep a distance (Proverbs 22:3). Families can often be complicated, but being intentional with our obedience to God is key when navigating these complicated situations.

Establishing Boundaries with Toxic Family Members

At times it can be necessary to set limits with our toxic family members in order to protect ourselves physically and emotionally. This can be difficult, especially when dealing with those who are very close to us. Nonetheless, it is essential for our own well-being to draw a line of what can and cannot be tolerated from toxicity.

An important first step is to evaluate if the toxicity is stemming from your family member’s own hurt and pain, or from a deeply embedded character flaw. It can be helpful to ask yourself if the toxicity can be changed and if so, what interventions may be beneficial for your family member?
However, if you have concluded that despite your best efforts, your family member is deeply embedded in their toxic behavior, it may be wise to set some limits to protect your own emotional state.

For example, you may need to limit communication, be it face to face, or even by telephone or social media. Expert therapist Dr. LeslieBeth Wish counsels that you have the right to “Stop the interruption of your life, career, or opportunity to create or have meaningful social relationships.” This may be especially helpful when the interaction is potentially damaging to you, both emotionally or mentally.

Another way to protect yourself is to avoid engaging in conversations with your family member that are toxic in nature. When setting limits, it is important to be firm and clear. If a topic cannot be discussed without negative consequences, then it is best not to engage. Additionally, if you ever feel threatened or unsafe in any situation, it is okay to remove yourself from the situation without further explanation.

Caring for Yourself When Dealing With Toxic Family Members

When dealing with toxic family members, it is important to remember to care for your own needs first. This includes identifying any hurt or pain from the past, so that it can be processed and healed. As they often say, proper self-care is not being selfish, rather it is equipping oneself with the ability to continue to have relationships with others, including those who are toxic.

A good first step to take is to allow yourself to feel the emotions that arise when dealing with difficult family members. As suggested by counselor Lori Lite in her book on difficult family members, “Feel the emotions that come up and listen to them. You can make positive choices based on these emotions or ignore them and lash out with an emotional reaction that may make matters worse.”

It can also be helpful to practice mindfulness meditation to self-soothe during difficult encounters. This means slowing down, being aware and in the present moment, and being kind and gentle to oneself. It can be helpful to practice mindfulness throughout the day, so that it can become more readily applied to more difficult situations.

Lastly, it is important to recognize one’s own value when dealing with toxic family members. This means understanding that we are worthy of respect, and that unkind words or actions from toxic family members do not define us as people. We are sons and daughters of God and we must remember our worth when coming into contact with toxic family members.

Confiding In Others For Support

In navigating relationships with toxic family members, it is important to confide in a trusted individual. This may be a friends, a pastor, or other confident. Often, it can be helpful to talk through difficult situations with wise people who can provide biblical perspective on a situation.

When it comes to talking about toxic family members, it is important to ensure that the individual with whom you are confiding is able to provide a good safe haven for those thoughts. Through many bible scriptures, it is clear that God himself is a safe place of refuge during times of distress (Psalm 9:9). The bible further encourages us to confess our weaknesses to each other and pray for each other in order to be healed (James 5: 16). This can be especially helpful when we are struggling to deal with toxic family members.

It can also be beneficial to have an individual or group of individuals with whom you can process events involving your toxic family members. Having an individual or a group to talk through emotions and difficult conversations can help to unlock feelings that may be hampering one’s own healing process. Allowing ourselves to open up to others in a safe, nonjudgmental environment can provide needed clarity to events involving toxic family members.

Seeking Biblical Counsel When Dealing With Toxic Family Members

When dealing with toxic family members, it can be beneficial to seek out counseling from a qualified biblical counselor who can provide sound advice rooted in of scripture. Speaking with an experienced, unbiased counselor can provide insight into how to proceed in difficult circumstances.

This is especially helpful in cases where a toxic family member is influencing behavior that is potentially damaging to oneself or those in the family. Speaking with a professional can often provide practical advice to help manage the situation in the most healthy way possible.

It is also beneficial to speak with a professional when family members have or are being physically or psychologically abusive. Often in these cases, it is best to have an impartial individual help choose the best course of action and provide sound advice rooted in scripture.

Lastly, counseling can be beneficial to process hurt from any type of toxic family system. Discussing these issues with an unbiased third party can provide helpful insight on how to forgive and move beyond the trauma of past relationships.

Turning To Scripture When Dealing With Toxic Family Members

Finally, it is important to remember to always turn to scripture when dealing with any type of difficult family situation. Scripture is full of truths and encouragements in times of distress, along with wisdom on how to respond in difficult situations.

The book of Colossians, for example, provides several verses to follow, such as “bear with each other and forgive one another, if anyone has a grievance against another” (Colossians 3:13) and “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” (Col. 3:12).

The book of Philippians also provides valuable insight, such as “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3) and “do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, bring your requests to God.” (Phil. 4:6).

The bible is a living document – saturating our practical lives with the wisdom of scripture. Verse such as these are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to using scripture to engage with toxic family members. We can also turn to the Proverbs, Psalms, and other books of the bible for further insight and encouragement in handling difficult family situations.

Marcos Reyna is a Christian author and speaker. He is dedicated to helping create disciples of Christ through spreading the power of the gospel to others. He has written several books and articles on a variety of theological topics, including matters of faith, worship, biblical studies, practical ethics, and social justice. A trained theologian and devotee of spiritual writing, Marcos has a mission to spread Christian love everywhere. He lives with his family in Nashville, TN where he spends his days encouraging others to seek Christ's grace in all things.

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