In response to hatred

I participate in two online forums which frequently face questions about how to deal with toxic people. Many times these are family members, but at other times co-workers, bosses, friends, others they need to deal with on a daily basis. I’ve dealt with folks like that in the past (although no one like that now.)

Frequently the person says, “How do I get this toxic person to understand?” And also, “Should I let them know that what they’re doing isn’t right?”

I came across this quote in a letter by Father Malachi Martin. I think it applies. In it he talks about the truth he’s discovered about trying to defend yourself,

Which is: abusers and calumniators are not out to get the truth, to build up, to edify. Their bent is to destroy, to liquidate. Hence, no matter what information you give them, they will not desist; they will use it to further their distrustful ambition. Hence, I found that there was no point in even trying to communicate with them; anything they learned became merely grist for their grindstones of hate.

Good people assume others are good like themselves. They assume their attacker wants common ground, wants peace, wants understanding. That if only you tell the person the truth, the other person will back down. He’ll see the light and be changed. She’ll realize you aren’t out to get her. And so on.

In the course of the letter, Father Martin talks about how there’s something more important, and maybe the reason the Bible urges us not to worry about defending ourselves against these sort of attacks: because there’s too much work to be done, too many truly needy individuals, too many people we can help. 

Remember those women from the bus stop who thought I was Satan incarnate? I never tried to defend myself to them and never would have succeeded anyhow. The woman who mailed back all my books? I tried to find common ground but she always saw me as an ignorant slob in need of enlightenment. But in the meantime, I have children to raise, books to write, a house to maintain, food to donate, loved ones to listen to.

Maybe that’s been my big change in the past few years: I quit caring what random people thought. My close friends and family — I care what they think. But people who don’t want what’s best for me are no longer people whose good opinion I care to cultivate. 

Your goodness, your holiness, your truth, your commitment can become weapons for others who hunger for control, praise, power, and competition. If you cease competing, cease caring that they hate you, cease cooperating with their attempt to control you, there’s nothing they can do. They can’t win a tug-of-war, said someone on one forum, if you drop the rope. 

And in the meantime, there’s no shortage of good work to be done. Deprive your enemies of their ammunition. Disengage from a futile fight. Spend your energies where they’re best applied.


  1. Lane in PA

    I am going through one of, if not THE, most difficult times in my life. This morning when I realized the full extent of the deceptions and lies my mother and only sibling are exercising, I said a prayer to God and asked him to help me find a way to keep my heart from breaking, to restore me to the productive and happy life that has been taken from me for the past 2 years.

    Then I turned on the computer, decided to visit your site first, and I am literally in tears after reading this post. It is the answer, the tools, the map I need to find the path to healing.

    Thank you. Thank you for being an instrument of God and his Love and Giving.

  2. Ivy

    The answer, when it’s work, is to notify a manager or HR about a hostile work environment.

    When it’s social it’s harder because of the other people involved. If it’s a family member (as in the case of the bully you mentioned a few posts back) the rest of the family will want things to stay as they are. They won’t want drama. So they’ll circle the wagon around a bully, even an abuser. Attempts to reach those other family members, even though they are good people, often results in failure. Sometimes, the best answer is to walk away from the group as a whole. Sometimes a compromise can be reached. Always, the best answer is to walk away from the evil one.

    Lane, I’m praying for you.

  3. Deb

    My problem has never been acquaintences or people at work, I can deal with them. My problem is people who I should be able to trust and love. I understand it’s my problem, not theirs, because I’m the one bothered by it, but it’s still hard to just let go. Thanks for the wisdom!

  4. cricketB

    Lane, hugs.

    Ivy, I used to think leaving was always best, but I’ve lately begun to think about what Liadens refer to as “funding your choice”. Any action or inaction has a cost.

    Sometimes you need to work in two directions at once. Do what you can so the toxins stick as little as possible (emotionally and materially) as they pass through you. At the same time, look for a less costly way to leave the environment, or at least limit your time in it.

    This is the second blog post I’ve read today that reminds me of Covey’s Circles of Concern and Influence. Some things which affect you are beyond your control to change. Spend your energy on what you can change, and your circle of influence will grow.

    Give me a few hours. This and other thoughts have added up to what may become a post on my own blog.

  5. Ivy Reisner

    Cricket, you’re right that there is a choice, and it depends on each situation. I’ll never forget the woman who gave up her parents for Lent. She absolutlely had to get away from them (as in she was in physical danger) but she couldn’t make the break alone. It is that hard for some people. So she grasped G-d’s hand and asked Him to lead her away. Months later, she was a totally different person. She’d advanced at work, found a man she loved who was good for her, found new dreams to persue. It was a nightmare for her, but when it was done, she was so much happier. She never understood how much surviving that environment cost her in terms of emotional strength until she stopped having to pay.

    I walked away from my entire family. I haven’t spoken to one relative in years. I have no regrets.

    I realize I’ve travelled in some extreme circles. I knew a man who shot at his wife with a bee bee gun, then tried to stab her a few months later, then tried to shove a plant down her throat a few months after that, and she stayed with him because she couldn’t face the cost of leaving.

    I knew one woman who was disowned after she called the police on her father after he assaulted her daughter, age 5. The situation was too toxic for her and she didn’t even realize it until she saw her own child in it. I’ve known women to flee situations that aren’t appropriate to talk about on a G-Rated blog, and I’ve known some to return to that miasma.

    All I’m saying is, for some people, for some situations, there comes a point where the only word left is “goodbye”.

  6. Lane in PA

    Ivy, hugs and prayers for you as well.

    My therapist asked me why it was so hard to let go of my family. I could only reply that it seemed, in being brought up in a Christian culture, abandoning “family” felt taboo. Then he said, “But they’ve already abandoned you through their lies and their abuse.”

    Today has been a turning point for me. Things are going to get better, I know.

    On a lighter note, Ivy, I truly enjoyed the video about the chicken sweaters. I had no idea chickens appreciated fashion. 🙂

  7. cricketB

    I agree, sometimes leaving is the right choice. That was never in question. My point is that, even if the final balance is overwhelmingly on the side of leaving, it’s not right to ignore the costs. They need to be acknowledged and dealt with emotionally and physically. From my nice safe life, with an abundance of safety nets, I used to not respect people who didn’t leave an obviously toxic situation. I’ve never met anyone who regrets leaving. But, now that I’ve seen peers go through it, I realize it’s a lot harder than I thought.

  8. Amy Deardon

    What a thought-provoking message! Thank you; I will ponder this. I’m fortunate not to be dealing with toxic people right now, although have in the past accompanied by the hidden tears and stomach aches. Sure wish I’d had this wisdom then. Lane and Deb, I hope circumstances improve for you both soon.

  9. philangelus

    Lane, I have been praying for you. This was actually supposed to post on Saturday but something happened and I shuffled around the entries so it showed up yesterday, just in time for you. I’m glad you found what you needed,and I’m so sorry you’re dealing with such a trial right now.

    From a JudeoChristian POV, we have to honor our parents. But from what I’ve seen, there are a few cases where the only way to honor toxic parents is to do it from far away and with no contact. That’s a very hard thing and the rare exception, but sometimes necessary. I know you’re grieving for the loss of the family you wanted to have/deserved to have but didn’t, as well as the family you actually have.

    Usually, in most cases, just buckling down and not answering personal attacks does a world of good. **hugs** Lane.

  10. Becky aka doodlebug

    I grew up in a deeply religious home, for which I am thankful. I was taught about good and evil and understood the difference, but I was protected from people like this and as I became and adult I believed people are sinners, but that they are also somehow good.

    I think this play a substantial role in me getting married to an incredibly toxic person. I think that what this priest was is so true. The father I get away from that relationship and the older I get the more I understand what he is saying.

    In reality there is no reasoning with hatred. It is was it is, a force of destruction.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. philangelus

      Thanks for commenting, Becky. I think when we’ve been raised by good people and surrounded by good people and protected from toxic people from childhood, it really is difficult to understand that some people aren’t themselves good. That happens to anyone, religious or non-religious, but I think there’s a complication when there’s also the obligation to forgive. Not everyone is taught that forgiving and reconciling are two separate decisions.

      That’s the “innocent as doves/wise as serpents” dichotomy. But that’s hard to understand at first. All these toxic people did start as someone good. And where there’s life, there’s hope. Sometimes we just get in over our heads and it takes a lot of strength to realize the person isn’t invested in being good. In the end, we’re not responsible for converting anyone (only God can convert someone from evil to virtue) but we are responsible for the work God put in front of us.

      I’m sorry you went through such a wringer in your own life.

  11. Becky aka doodlebug

    Ahh, the Christian notion of forgiveness. Such a fun thing. So many people can’t tell (or teach) the difference between forgiveness and doing an impression of a doormat. Yeah that one was a fun one to learn as well.

  12. philangelus

    I fully believe in the “forgive but run like heck” philosophy. There’s no need to stick around and be treated badly, right? It’s possible to let go of anger against someone and at the same time not hand him a club to hit you over the head.

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