Standing up for yourself can be super scary. You might even wonder, “Am I being a loving person if I stand up for myself?”
A lot of times, assertiveness is confused with aggressiveness. I know I’ve mixed up the two of those at times. But assertiveness isn’t about yelling or screaming or getting in someone’s face about something. Assertiveness is just having the courage to say something respectfully to someone else (reference: Psychology Today). The reason why I think we get things all messed up is because sometimes we confront someone about something, and THEY don’t react normally to us. It might even be something silly like, “Hey, remember how you borrowed XYZ? I was wondering if I could have it back?”
A normal person would be like, “Yeah, of course!”
But a toxic person would flip it on you and make YOU the problem by either lying, denying, gaslighting, or blowing up. “What do you mean you let me borrow it? You said I could have it!”
“Yes! And remember how I bought you XYZ? And L-M-N-O-P? You’re so ungrateful. It’d be nice to get a thank you once in a while.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I really am thankful for everything you’ve done for me…etc.”
Isn’t that how these conversations usually go when we stand up for ourselves? We get lost in an argument, and we start going in circles, and somehow, we end up being the person at fault. What? How did that happen?
Sometimes, we don’t say anything at all to someone because we know they’ll just blow up at us, so we hold it in and bottle up all of our feelings until one day we just SNAP! And we finally yell at the person and “stand up for ourselves.” But really, we didn’t handle the situation the right way. We didn’t stand up for ourselves like the Bible tells us to.
So what does the Bible say to do?
Who are you dealing with?
Is it a normal person?
Or a toxic person?
Because the Bible instructs us to do certain things for certain kinds of people.
If you’re dealing with a normal person who takes feedback from others (the Bible refers to this kind of person as “the wise,” then it’s a good idea to talk to them and confront them about an issue. However, if you’re talking to a toxic person who gets mad at you easily, blames you, makes excuses, etc. (the Bible refers to this kind of person as a “fool” or a “mocker”), then it might be a good idea to take caution when confronting this person. Otherwise, you might end up in a twisted kind of argument like the Bible points out in these verses: (reference: NECESSARY ENDINGS by Dr. Henry Cloud; chapter 7)
Proverbs 9:7-8 “Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse. Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you.”
Proverbs 18:2 “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.”
Proverbs 23:9 “Do not speak to fools, for they will scorn your prudent words.”
Proverbs 26:4 “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.”
Proverbs 29:9 “If a wise person goes to court with a fool, the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace.”
You might ask yourself, “Is it worth it to even bring up this issue? Is it worth confronting the person?” Again, the answer to that depends on the scenario. We need to extend grace to others and not expect perfection (reference: THE EMOTIONALLY DESTRUCTIVE RELATIONSHIP by Leslie Vernick; chapter 8). If someone has a little road-rage with me, and they honk their horn incessantly, then I typically just extend grace and understand that they're probably having a bad day. In these kinds of instances, it’s wise to do what the Bible says:
Proverbs 12:16 “Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.”
Proverbs 19:11 “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
On the other hand, if the issue bothers you a lot, if it really affects your relationship with that person, if it is a repeated behavior, or if it is a dangerous behavior, then it can’t be overlooked (reference: THE EMOTIONALLY DESTRUCTIVE RELATIONSHIP by Leslie Vernick; chapter 8). In that case, the issue needs to be confronted. But use wisdom when doing so! Confronting someone isn’t something you should do on the fly, without any thought beforehand. It’s important to have a strategy and to go in it prepared. (references: HOW TO HAVE THAT DIFFICULT CONVERSATION: GAINING THE SKILLS FOR HONEST AND MEANINGFUL COMMUNICATION by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend; chapters 19-20; WHEN TO WALK AWAY: FINDING FREEDOM FROM TOXIC PEOPLE by Gary Thomas; chapter 13; THE EMOTIONALLY DESTRUCTIVE RELATIONSHIP by Leslie Vernick; chapter 8). Additionally, look at what the Bible says:
Proverbs 14:8 “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.”
Proverbs 15:28 “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.”
Proverbs 18:13 “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.”
Matthew 10:16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
It's also important to remember that if someone is upset with you, it's your responsibility to confront them. The Bible makes this clear in the following verse:
Matthew 5:23-24 "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift."
The thing about confrontation is, it’s not fun. It’s very uncomfortable. But the good thing is, confrontation can lead to a healthier relationship with someone (reference: HOW TO HAVE THAT DIFFICULT CONVERSATION: GAINING THE SKILLS FOR HONEST AND MEANINGFUL COMMUNICATION by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend). The Bible also illustrates how discomfort can lead to deeper connection:
Proverbs 27:6 "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses."
Notice, I didn’t say confrontation WILL lead to a healthier relationship. I said it CAN. Because, the truth is, not everyone will respond how you want them to respond. Again, if you’re dealing with a wise person (someone who takes feedback well), then your relationship can grow in a positive way when you confront the person. Yes, feelings may get hurt, but being honest with them, can lead to a closer/deeper relationship. But confrontation doesn’t always go how we’d like. Sometimes, the person is toxic, and the relationship can go down the drain.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t confront them. The Bible actually calls us to confront people in a loving way.
Ephesians 4:15 "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ."
But “loving” isn’t always received as “loving” by all people, especially toxic people. With them, you have to have tough love. Again, the Bible is clear that confrontation is essential regardless of the outcome. We have a duty to God when someone is sinning:
Ezekiel 3:18-19 "When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself."
Dealing with a toxic person is never fun. I know, because I’ve been there. I’ve had to deal with toxic people on a few different occasions. And the short answer for how to deal with them? Distance yourself, because these kinds of people only want to destroy you, tear you down, or control you (reference: WHEN TO WALK AWAY: FINDING FREEDOM FROM TOXIC PEOPLE by Gary Thomas; chapter 3). The Bible also encourages us to distance ourselves from toxic people:
Proverbs 27:12 "The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty."
Psalm 101:3-7 "I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it. The perverse of heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with what is evil. Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate. My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; the one whose walk is blameless will minister to me. No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence."
Now, before you go and cut ties with someone, please make sure you've done everything you can to preserve the relationship.
Romans 12:18 "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."
Matthew 18:15-17 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
Sometimes, we think someone is toxic, but really they’re not. We just haven’t had a conversation with them yet. Maybe they have no clue that they’re hurting us. Before we categorize them as toxic, it's important to have a conversation with them like Matthew 18:15-17 outlines.
If you HAVE had a conversation with them… If you HAVE talked to them multiple times about something hurtful they’re doing, if you HAVE invited a neutral third party to mediate the conversation, and they continue to keep doing it with no regard for how it’s affecting you, then…
You might be dealing with a toxic person.
In that case, it’s best to do what Matthew 18:17 says (reference: WHEN TO WALK AWAY: FINDING FREEDOM FROM TOXIC PEOPLE by Gary Thomas; chapter 12; THE EMOTIONALLY DESTRUCTIVE RELATIONSHIP by Leslie Vernick; chapter 9): "If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
In a recent relationship, I kindly confronted someone about something they were repeatedly doing that was disrespectful to me. They had continually violated a physical boundary of mine, and I had told them many times not to do that. Initially, they reacted by lying and saying they didn’t do it. Fortunately, I saw them do it with my own eyes. But since it was just the two of us there, it was my word against theirs. So, after someone else witnessed the toxic person disrespect me, the two of us went together to confront the toxic person. That didn’t go well either. Unfortunately, the issue escalated, and the toxic person started slandering me to other people. So, the next step was to find a neutral third party and have the conversation mediated by a professional. When that didn’t work, and the issue escalated even further (to harmful threats), I knew I had to do what verse 17 said in Matthew chapter 18.
And that’s where I am today.
The only way I could stop the toxic person from continuing their hurtful behavior was to distance myself from them. Emotionally and physically. Now, I no longer share personal information with this person, and I no longer hang out with them. We sometimes send cordial texts to each other on the holidays or birthdays, but that is the extent of our relationship. Unfortunately, this person couldn’t respect me enough, so I had to change the dynamic of our interactions.
Now that I’ve done that, I feel so much peace and relief. The amount of stress in my life has greatly decreased, and I can happily go about my day without having to worry about this person trying to hurt me or manipulate me. It took a lot of courage, a lot of firm boundaries, a lot of studying the Bible, and a lot of wise counsel in order to get to this point. And I’m so thankful that I can now share my experiences so you can be encouraged to stand up for yourself, too.
If you need more Bible verses to help you stand up for yourself and deal with toxic people, I created a free Bible Verse Study Sheet here.
On that webpage, you’ll get the opportunity to join my mailing list and follow along on my publishing journey. I write novels and picture books about toxic people, and I’m currently trying to get them published. I feel passionate about this topic, and I think it’s important for you to gain practice spotting the red flags and knowing how to identify manipulative, toxic people so you can stand up for yourself in a biblical way.
If you’re interested in staying in touch, join my mailing list.
Thanks for reading. I hope this was helpful information you can use for the people in your life.
Until next time,
For other articles on confrontation and toxic people, check out the links below:
"Boundaries" by Dr. Henry Cloud (Christian, psychologist, author, and podcast host)
"Does Love Cover a Multitude of Sin?" by Leslie Vernick, Christian, LCSW (licensed clinical social worker), author, and relationship coach