It was about a year ago at this time that I decided I was worth more than I let someone treat me. Looking back, I don’t understand why I let it go on that long. I wish I could have sat my slightly younger self down and very gently slapped her upside the head. (Seriously, that’s what I needed.)
What are you thinking? I want to say. Why have you allowed yourself to be a doormat for so long?
And a doormat was exactly what I was, in a two-ish-year-long “relationship” that I let go on for two years too long. “Relationship” is too strong a word. He got embarrassed when I called him my boyfriend. He never met my friends, barely met my family, and left a pretty big emotional dent in my heart when he left for good. I blame myself first when I think back on that. I hung onto him through all the “yes” and “no” and “I can’t be with you” and “I miss you” and more wishi-washiness than Charlie Brown ever had. Afterwards, I jumped into a relationship I thought would be stable – something that I thought would make me feel whole again. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t.)
This kind of person – whether it be boyfriend/girlfriend, friend, coworker, boss – is what we like to call toxic. When I think of toxic, I think of the radioactive symbol that you sometimes see in alien movies or those OSHA sheets that your employer is required to have. Those symbols and manuals warn the onlooker that whatever chemical they’re looking at can potentially harm them. You want to stay away from them because they might cause bodily, sometimes irreversible harm.
A toxic person can do the same thing. Once you’re “exposed” to them, they can cause irreversible damage to your heart, your other relationships, your faith, even how you feel about yourself. Like the safety data sheets at your workplace or symbols on chemical bottles, it’s good to have warning signs for potentially toxic people.
That’s why I devised this little list. Oftentimes we see articles entitled “5 Habits of Highly Successful/Motivated/Positive People.” But I think it’s healthy to have the opposite too. Not just to recognize the toxic people around us, but also to discern potential toxic habits in our own lives.
So here are five habits that toxic people tend to adopt:
1. People are commodities. Toxic people are always shopping. Not for goods, but for people. They need the next best thing. It’s like they’re watching TV and ordering the next 1-800 product that comes on the screen while the packages pile up unused at their door. For whatever reason (there are many,) toxic people require constant streams of validation, and once they stop getting that from someone, the vein is cut. Then once the toxic person cuts off everyone (which is usually inevitable,) they feel isolated, so they go back to the friends they cut off and make amends. It becomes a cycle. Shop, “buy” the person’s trust, feed off the validation, sense a lack of validation, cut off, repeat. This can happen in any relationship: romantic, friendship, workplace, you name it.
2. Relationships involve latching, not attaching. Although they sound similar (and rhyme,) “latch” and “attach” mean two fairly different things.
Here’s what the definitions of attach are:
“Attachment” connotes connection. In a sense, it’s becoming part of a unit (like in the military definition.) For the most part, it seems mutually beneficial. You attach a picture to an application because it increases your chance of being hired. You might call a healthy relationship an attachment.
Now here’s latch:
“Latch” makes you think of a tight grip, almost to the point of complete possession. Instead of connoting a healthy relationship, you might think of a leech latching onto your skin, or a baby latching onto its mother for food – a beautiful relationship, but at the same time, the baby is taking something from the mother.
What I mean when I say a toxic friend forms a relationship on “latching,” I mean that they cling to you with almost a death grip until they’ve been satisfied. A leech will fall off once it’s sucked enough blood, and a baby eventually is weaned. The need is gone, and there’s no more desire to be close to you.
Friendships (and most relationships) do have a level of costs and rewards associated with them, so a little bit of “latching” isn’t a bad thing. But when a toxic friend suddenly feels cheated in the rewards category, they’ll leave the friendship.
3. They put other people, even their closest “friends,” down to feel better about themselves. Toxic people tend to be toxic because they have a lot of baggage. Not to give them excuses, but they’ve probably been through some stuff. A lot of their toxic behavior is them taking it out and relieving that weight or stress. This can come in the form of heavily criticizing others. Usually, they point out their own flaws, but in other people. Oftentimes this comes when the toxic friend no longer feels the constant stream of validation and begins to lash out. But usually, the cycle will continue after this. The toxic person pushes you away, and depending on how forgiving (or, frankly, gullible) you are, you’ll come back and try to make amends, but for the duration of the friendship you’ll be walking on eggshells.
4. They’re a lot of talk but no walk. Toxic people love sharing their tragic backstory (because usually they have one.) Most people respond to this story in the way you respond to a wounded animal on the side of the road – “Aww! Poor thing!” Unless you’re smarter and more emotionally mature then most people, you want to care for the “cute animal” that is your toxic friend. You think you can mentor them, help them, even change them. You might be able to do two of the three of those things, but you definitely can’t change them.
Where the disconnect happens is the toxic person doesn’t do anything to help themself become better. They know and recognize their own flaws but instead of trying to work on it themselves, they “latch” onto other people who might be able to fix them. This is especially dangerous in romantic relationships for obvious reasons. That’s why you hear so many stories of women who think they can fix their boyfriends. “I can make him a better person, I know I can. I can fix him. People just don’t understand him.” It sounds really nice, but soon it gets emotionally draining because the toxic person is taking and taking and taking and never giving or sacrificing.
5. They’ll let you know when they need you, but disappear when you need them. This might be the worst habit. Toxic people acknowledge your existence for their benefit and their benefit only. The minute you need them, they don’t respond to texts or act uninterested. I call this selective attention. A toxic person is “toxic” because they’ve allowed self-centered habits to govern their life, so people only exist to meet a need (see #1.) I also call this a vacillating friendship. The toxic friend goes from extremely kind and affectionate to suddenly cold and temperamental with little to no explanation.
Now to ask the searching question – do any of these habits apply to you? Do you find yourself doing these things? It’s easy to point fingers, but it’s not always easy to look inward. I could probably name a time when I did each of these five things at least once. I’ve gone through seasons of life where I’ve suddenly realized how I’d been treating people and I didn’t like what I found. What about you? Here are some searching questions to help you examine your own life.
In the last week, how have I gone out of my way to help my friends? How often do I ask them for help?
Where is the first place I go to seek validation? What do I do when that source isn’t there?
What do my friends come to me for? How do I help them?
In this particular relationship, what are the costs and rewards? Does one outweigh the other in an unhealthy way?
In the last week (or even day,) what have I said about someone else that I regret saying? How often do I say these things?
I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in Germany in 1945, but I can imagine that there were probably few moments where the tension wasn’t tangible. I have no doubt that it shaped daily life. It shaped the life and legacy of those who lived it. It changed families, worldviews, politics, beliefs. So I can only imagine what day-to-day life was like.
If you travel west of Nuremburg you’ll find the small town of Brettheim nestled in the German countryside. It’s a blip on the radar, a tiny, unobtrusive town, but 73 years ago the small town was rocked to its core.
The long, bloody war was finally coming to an end in 1945. One evening in April, Hitler Youth arrived in Brettheim to defend against the oncoming American forces. The town knew that the boys were marching into nothing more than a bloody slaughter that would only prolong the war. The townspeople disarmed four of the boys of their guns, and all but threatened to give them a spanking for being so foolish. They threw the boys’ weapons into the pond and essentially publicly chastised the boys for their childishness.
The Hitler Youth reported the incident to their commanding officer, and that same night the SS showed up in Brettheim and began asking questions. One man confessed – a local farmer named Friedrich Hanselmann. He was almost immediately sentenced to death, but the mayor of the town refused to sign the death sentence – so he too was hastily condemned, as was a local schoolteacher who also refused to sign.
They were hanged from tall trees that stood at the entrance of the town’s cemetery. The commanding officer ordered that the bodies be left hanging for four days – on pain of death.
A year ago, a tall, solemn man named Father Michael led a group of travel-weary college students up a cobbled hill to Brettheim’s cemetery. It was a blue, hazy day – a day that made you feel as though nothing in the world could go wrong. The view was pastoral – beyond the quiet stones of the cemetery was rolling countryside dotted by small homes and criss-crosses of backroads. On that hill, Father Michael told us the story of the three men who lost their lives for throwing weapons in a pond.
“And if you look up,” he said, “these were the trees they were hanged on.”
I felt so many things at that moment, but more than anything I felt numb. I felt like I was standing there watching the swinging bodies of faces I’d seen, lived with, in my everyday life. Maybe numb isn’t the right word. Maybe it was surreal. How am I supposed to feel?
I was in Brettheim on a choral tour, so that night we sang at Father Michael’s church. One of our pieces was based on a poem simply titled “A Prayer,” though it had soul-stirring words that went much deeper than mere prayer. It was a song of the human heart when it aches. Our director began telling our audience that the song was dedicated to the three men who sacrificed themselves for the dignity of their town and their own humanity. Our director could barely finish, and hardly any of us could sing. Tears were welling in my eyes and spilling down my cheeks. The music connected me to the strong emotions I could barely feel earlier that day. Now I couldn’t help but feel them.
In that small German town, my life changed. The way I looked at history changed. Instead of seeing it as a sentence in a textbook, I saw the towns. The people. The real tragedy, even in the everyday. How even the tiniest town can change history in the worst or the best way.
And what do we do with that heaviness – dare I say, that guilt? How do we let our love be heard? It may be through tears, deep and bitter. Love can be spoken in weeping. Love has many languages – we need only speak it.
I knew that day how important it is to let my love be heard. In the midst of pain, tragedy, and heartache. You may never know the story of a person, or a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. There is sometimes deep sadness behind people’s smiles.
Whatever your song is, sing it with love. Whether you sing joy, or grief, or a mixture of both, sing it with love. Let your love be heard.
It was the last leg of a very long trip for me. A fun and fulfilling trip, but a long one. The trip I took to Europe last year was taxing both physically and emotionally. I took in so much wisdom, so many stories, and a good amount of chocolate. Europe was full to the brim with meaning for me. It still impacts my life to this day.
We were in Eisenach, Germany, at Wartburg Castle, where Martin Luther did the unthinkable and translated the Bible into German, a language that his people could understand without having to rely on the Catholic church. His translation essentially changed the world forever. He did it all on pain of death – even his friends risked their lives for his work.
Wartburg Castle is an incredible bastion overlooking the Eisenach countryside. Set atop a high, sheer cliff, it takes a good many flights of stairs just to reach the portcullis. The courtyard teems with birds, vines, and tourists. Walking into the fortress, you feel the history in the High Middle Ages architecture. It’s almost as though you can feel its meaning, even if you didn’t know anything about it.
Now I’m sort of a medieval nerd, so I loved exploring an ancient castle with centuries of history. I loved standing in the very room where Luther lived and wrote and cried out to God. When I finished the semi guided tour I found a quiet spot at one of the higher points in the courtyard to look over the countryside past the great walls of the fortress.
I found myself in a quiet moment where I could meditate, mull over the history I had just stepped into. What was I supposed to do with all that I had just seen? In that quiet moment, I opened my heart to God. Your servant is listening. Even on that spiritually-saturated trip, I was sometimes starved from the voice of God, allowing my busyness to take me from one event to the next. Now, he had me where he wanted me. And in that moment he spoke into my soul and his words will ring in the caverns of my mind forever.
“Be a Luther.”
Those words caught me by surprise on that quiet day. What could that possibly mean? After learning all the things that Luther had done, I was dumbfounded. How could I possibly do all of the things that he did? Where would I even start?
It’s mind-boggling to think of a legacy that spans generations. Think of the people from hundreds, even thousands of years ago, that we still talk about today. I mean there’s a reason we talk about some presidents more than others. Some of them made a bigger impact than others. Did they know that their legacy would be talked about decades later? Maybe they did, because they were president. But I don’t think they thought that when they were in their mid-twenties and still figuring out who they were going to be.
There are people living today that people will still talk about generations from now. You could be one of them.
You’re probably thinking exactly what I was thinking as I sat on that hilltop – How? I can’t do all the things Martin Luther did. Luther changed the way people approach God. His legacy was just celebrated 500 years later in Germany and in other reformed churches across the world – because he changed the way we do things.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was true. I could be a Luther. It started to make sense to me. Here’s what I figured out:
While he was living, Luther couldn’t have possibly known the impact he would make. Most of his days were spent thinking he was going to get killed for what he was doing. Then the Catholic church would have burned his Bible translation and it would’ve all been over. He started with faith, not this grandiose feeling of greatness. He had faith that God would use Him in any way He saw fit.
To be basic for a minute and quote from the musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton sings at the moment of his death, “What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden that you’ll never see.” Everyone who is walking on this earth right now is planting seeds. Those seeds will grow in some way or another – you’ll either grow a garden for your descendants or your roots will die with you. Part of that responsibility lies with you and how you live your life.
God’s hand is in that as well, as it was in Luther’s life. Luther dedicated his life to Christ after a particularly terrifying storm (that crap can get scary.) He was willing to face excommunication and even death in order to spread God’s word to more people. Luther obviously wasn’t a perfect man, but he did his best to remain faithful to the Lord. Our life ultimately belongs to the Lord, and He will use it the way He sees fit.
Along with that, Luther stood on the shoulders of mountain-movers who came before him. Luther was born far after the Reformation had begun, he just happened to be a fairly big catalyst who helped move it along. And as he continued his work he surrounded himself with faithful people who also wanted to spread the Gospel. He certainly didn’t do it on his own.
Gardens don’t grow overnight. A tree starts as a sapling and takes years, even decades, to grow into a mighty oak. As it grows it changes the landscape around it, its roots grow deep, and its branches stretch tall. But it needs time and good soil. Unlike a tree, you have a choice in how you nurture yourself. Will you commit your life to a God who will deepen your roots?
It’s fairly safe to say I won’t be opening my heart up for awhile.
I’ve been in two relationships, and both of them were emotionally abusive in their own way. Both of them played deeply into my present anxieties and trust issues. In the first, he didn’t even want me to call him my boyfriend. He was there for me when it was convenient to be there, and he acknowledged me when he was lonely. But other than that, I’d go days without hearing from him. My second relationship was too good to be true. He was very protective and very jealous – and very stifling. After four months, he decided that he didn’t think he could marry me, and he did what he promised he’d never do – he left.
I cried my eyes out over both relationships. I’ve had massive anxiety attacks over both relationships. And both of them have made me scared of opening up again. Why would I do that if it’s just going to lead to another heartbreak? Why not just block myself off and never love again?
Well, that’s not what love is for. Fortunately.
Oftentimes, we find worth solely in our earthly relationships. Maybe it’s not even a romantic one. We find worth in the love of our parents, or our friends, or our kids. They are our “world,” as some of us like to say. And they can be, but they’re better off as a part of a whole and not the entire thing. Because making someone your world is a lot of pressure – on you and them.
Maybe for you, it’s not people – it’s things. Your worth is found in the number of figures on your paycheck. Or what your boss says on your annual review – or what you say about your employees. What car you drive, what house you own, what you can afford to do and not do.
The common denominator is that all of these things can be taken away. Money can be gone in a flash (2008, anyone?) Spouses can up and leave. Children move away, parents pass on. Your boyfriend tells you he doesn’t love you anymore, or even worse, he’s found someone else. Just like that. Where is your worth now?
I’m making it sound easy to detach yourself from these things, but it never is, is it? I haven’t given birth to a child, so I don’t know the true strength of a mother-child relationship yet. I know how easy it is to become so attached to someone that your worth depends on them. And I know how it feels when they get taken away, and boom – there goes your worth. When both of my relationships respectively ended, there were times when I thought of doing the unspeakable. Literally thank God for my friends, who were there when I needed them the most and talked me off the ledge. It shouldn’t be that way. We shouldn’t be believing we are worthless just because someone left us. Because that’s simply not the case. No one is ever worth telling you how much you’re worth.
Because that’s just the point – in this life, people are going to make you feel worthless sometimes. When you’re six months out of college and still haven’t found a job, you might feel pretty worthless after rejection email after rejection email floats through your inbox. When you’re twenty-six and attending the sixth wedding you’ve been to that summer and can’t seem to get even one date, you’re probably not feeling super worthy.
It’s great to have people who make you feel worthy – in fact, you should have people in your life that remind you your worth. I’m not saying you should detach yourself from all human emotion and relations. I’m actually saying the opposite. Just remember where your true worth comes from. It’s not your children, your job, your boyfriend, your anything. It doesn’t even have to do with you.
Your worth comes from a God who loved you so much, despite your shortcomings, despite your “unworthiness,” that He drank a deadly cup and died for you. He endured unimaginable pain so that you might taste grace. That worth is paramount to all else. That worth doesn’t depend on anything you do or don’t do. And it certainly won’t change with the wind.
Jesus doesn’t leave you because He’s “just not sure anymore.” Jesus doesn’t only give you attention when He’s lonely. He’s not going to move away, or disappear, or think you’re worthless because you didn’t get that six-figure job. He is your world, and He wants to be your world.
People come and go – that’s just the truth of this broken world. An unfortunate truth, but a truth nonetheless. But the Love of the Lord remains forever.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was full-tilt crazy after it all went down. But who isn’t when something that significant happens? When one day someone is there and the next day they aren’t? When it seems like everything you had with that person means nothing at all?
Take it from me, it can make you crazy.
Whenever your brain has something to think about, it will think about it. And a breakup gives you plenty to think about. It revolves mostly around the age-old question – what went wrong? And sometimes, you don’t get a definitive answer. It just went wrong, and that’s it. Not much you can do.
But then comes that fun part called “moving on.” I know we all love that. Trying to go at least one day without thinking about them, without checking up on their social media, without being…well, not over it. Maybe you want to get back together, or maybe you’re just angry or sad. But whatever it is, it ain’t easy to just “get over it.” Whether the relationship lasted two years or two months, it hurts. Because something that was there isn’t there anymore.
I honestly don’t think there’s such thing as a clean break. I think it just hurts – and it’s supposed to hurt. That’s what makes us human. But the key is not to let the hurt consume you. I’ll admit, I let the hurt consume me (not just in breakup situations, but in other “heartbreak” type situations, if you know what I mean.) I wanted to talk about it. I wanted to talk about it so bad that I did some really stupid things. Things that I regret. Don’t let pain do that to you. Honestly, it’s not worth it in the end.
Then of course, comes the Taylor-Swift-ex-rage phase. Where you brush it off and pretend you never had three emotional breakdowns in the last week, where you put on your best red lipstick and pumps and devil-may-care attitude. Everything becomes his fault. He was the jerk. He let it end. He’s probably a sorry sap right now.
I honestly think that fault is usually on both sides. A lot of times it’s communication, or lack of time spent together, or difference of opinion, or all of the above. Whatever happened, one or both parties decided that it wasn’t worth it anymore. Sometimes it’s no one’s fault other than you weren’t compatible. Playing the blame game usually doesn’t make things go any better. It just causes more anger and resentment. And I don’t think you want that after all you shared together.
It’s really easy to compare post-breakup. Who’s moved on faster? Who’s finally happy again? Am I doing better or is he? It almost becomes a competition. Well, if I’m doing all these things and accomplishing all this, they must be failing at everything. They’ve got to be, because they let me go.
It’s certainly okay to be mad. Just don’t get bitter. After I was sad, I got so mad. The anger was almost all-consuming. It leaked into other parts of my life. My days were spent swimming through negativity and cynicism. Honestly, I’m not over that hump yet. I’m mad at everything that happened. I’m mad at the situation we found ourselves in at the time of the breakup.
But don’t let the anger become bitterness. Because that’s a lot harder to heal than a little bit of righteous anger. Bitterness puts layers on your heart, like concrete that hardens over time. It makes it a lot harder for healthy relationships to happen in the future.
So, is there such thing as a “gracious breakup?”
Probably not. Simply because the nature of a breakup is, well…breaking. And breaking isn’t a fun thing. Like, ever.
But is there such thing as moving on graciously after a breakup?
Of course there is. A good first step is not being too hard on yourself. Of course you hurt, whether you were broken up with or the one who did the breaking up. You can hurt. Because something’s broken. Broken things hurt.
A good second step is letting yourself feel everything that comes along with the breakup. Hurt, sadness, pain, anger. It’s not healthy to keep that inside. Let it out. Vent it to someone. Journal. Throw darts. Do what you have to do. Even if you feel like you aren’t “getting over” it, that will come with time. There’s no set time limit for getting over someone. But it will happen eventually.
Finally, move on graciously. It won’t be a magical switch-flip, though. Healing something broken takes a long time. You’ll have setbacks. It’s all in how you handle it. If you’re feeling sad, don’t text or call them (guilty party here.) Talk to a loved one instead. If you’re feeling mad, don’t broadcast it all over (also guilty.) Write it down and rip it up, or go for a long run and listen to angry music. Getting through it is what will help you get over it.
And friends, I know it’s not easy. But I do know that whatever is waiting for you on the other side of that pain is good. I think I’ve finally found my Good on the other side of the pain, and it was definitely worth it. So be patient with yourself. Keep waking up in the morning. Keep telling yourself that someday all of this won’t matter. Keep going knowing that you are worth far more than one breakup or misstep.
O sacred Head, now wounded, With grief and shame weighed down, Now scornfully surrounded With thorns, Thine only crown. O sacred Head, what glory, What bliss, till now was Thine! Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.
How are you feeling this week?
This week, we are following our Lord to the cross. We just celebrated Palm Sunday – a time of great jubilation for Jerusalem. But, petty as the human race is, that joy will not last. At the first sign of danger, we flee. We turn our backs. We deny Him three times.
How can a week begin with such great joy and end with great terror? I think you know how. Have you ever had a day begin with great joy and end in sadness? Kind words are spoken one minute, and the next you can barely speak because of the anger you feel?
This week starts with palms – beautiful, fresh branches cut down to be lain at the Savior’s feet. This week ends with the palms of our Savior bleeding out, the tendons ripping, our Christ in unimaginable pain.
How do you approach a week filled to the brim with unimaginable pain and unspeakable joy?
With palms open, ready to recieve.
To fully know and understand the sacrifice of our Lord for our betterment, we must also fully know and understand his anguish. Savor this Holy Week and all the flavors it provides – joy and celebration, death and betrayal. Denial. Hope.
Even our Lord begged for His cup to be taken from Him. But He surrendered, and He suffered so that we might be bathed in the blood of salvation and be with Him in glory.
He endured that pain so that we may never have to taste it in its fullness.
It was for you. Recieve that gift.
Greet pain with palms open, ready to recieve.
Greet joy with palms open, ready to recieve.
Remember during this Holy Week the suffering of our Lord. But remember also His glory.