October 16, 2019

Finding Freedom from a Toxic Attack at Work

Gary Thomas — 

We all have limited energy and our family deserves the best “us” we can offer in the midst of work and life in general. Part of protecting your marriage and your peace of mind so that you can devote yourself to loving your family involves learning how to protect yourself from the toxic people who drain you, deplete your emotional resources, and who leave you so distracted that you barely have anything left to give to your family when you arrive home.

In my book I tell the story of Greg, whose coworker Aaron was as toxic as they come. Aaron gleefully attacked others and took a special pleasure in creating offensive nicknames for coworkers. He was controlling and political, policing the entire office (even people who didn’t report to him), to make sure they submitted to a policy he had lobbied to get passed. He was also a master sleuth at uncovering personal secrets and launching them into a juicy gossip chain (“Do you want to know why Janice really had to take some time off?”). He blatantly lied about coworkers to pit one person against another so that he could play both sides as a “comforting defender.”

The toxic work environment impacted Greg’s mental state, his family life, and his sleep. He needed the job, but Aaron was making his workplace torturous. It was so bad Greg admitted to me that he couldn’t leave Aaron at the office. Mentally, Aaron followed him home and haunted him at night. Greg’s wife or one of his children would start talking to him in the evening and Greg missed their entreaties, still mentally back in the office, second-guessing what he had said or done, trying to figure out a way to make sense of what felt like a crazy situation.

This all happened decades ago when I was as naïve as they come, so I wasn’t able to help Greg at all. “Toxic” wasn’t even in my vocabulary. I thought our faith could be especially proven true when we were the heroes who God used to breakthrough to “reach” and “heal” the toxic people no one else could help.

Many years later, this is the advice I wish I had given Greg (and this part isn’t in the book):

 

  1. Don’t bother trying to understand or “fix” toxic people; that’s wasted energy. Even trained psychologists have been known to fire particularly troublesome clients. This is a Christian posture of humility. Most of us can’t perform a root canal, nor can we perform the relational therapy most toxic people need. Focus on being the best employee you can be and devote your other thoughts to loving your family well.
  2. Don’t let misplaced guilt (that you should be able to “rescue” or “save” them) keep you in a toxic situation. In the Gospels, Jesus walked away many times from those who challenged him or hardened their hearts against him. If a transfer isn’t possible or your boss won’t step in, “mentally” quarantine the co-worker as much as you can by keeping your relationship strictly professional and by refusing to think about him or her when you don’t have to. A good friend of mine used a pond midway between his office and home as a symbol to dump work related concerns on his way home and to begin praying that God would free his mind to be fully present as a husband and father when he pulled into his driveway.
  3. One of the best antidotes for toxic relationships is healthy relationships. Build positive relationships at the office and find refuge there. Use the toxic situation at work to make you even more determined to be a fantastic spouse and encouraging parent at home, and a good friend to others on the weekend. Pray for a co-worker who doesn’t yet know the Lord and ask God to engineer an opportunity to share your faith in a compelling and compassionate way. Be ever more determined to have positive relationships that distract you from the toxic attack.
  4. King David was assaulted and attacked by numerous toxic people (including many who wanted to murder him) throughout his life but notice how the psalms he wrote are filled with exuberant celebrations of God, extolling God’s character, acts, and magnificence. I’ve found that when I must be around toxic people, meditating on the character and excellence of God in the morning is like brushing my teeth after a bad-tasting meal. Learn to renew your mind by reveling in God’s glory rather than a co-worker’s toxicity.
  5. Remember that your first priority is your family. If a work relationship is making you so weak that you can’t be “present” when you’re at home, you need to approach the appropriate authorities at your company so that they can address it, or seriously look for another job. Life is too short to let toxic people tear you apart and mentally invade your family life when you get home. I’ve talked to many people who have made such transitions, and you can literally see a difference in their countenance once the deed is done. They invariably say, “Why didn’t I do this a year ago?”

Family relationships are tough enough even when we’re at our best. Learn to leave toxic assaults at work. Nobody pays you enough to bring those toxic assaults home. Follow the example of Jesus and learn when to walk away.

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8 responses to Finding Freedom from a Toxic Attack at Work

  1. Does this apply if you are a pastor?
    My husband is a pastor and we live in the church drama and politics.. we are hoping and praying and persevering. We have gone through ups and downs of the church situations, but when is the time that we should walk away? I guess it really comes down to discerning God’s will.

  2. Wonderful post. I had a toxic boss. I reported her to HR at the same time she reported me for poor performance. Our mutual manager personally told me he was well aware of her treatment of me- yet he allowed her to continue. After I left the company for another role, they finally got rid of her- but has they acted earlier I would not have had to change jobs. It told me that I’m better off where people take action to protect good employees. It was a rough lesson. I’m sad for the many months I brought my stress home to my family. When in doubt, protect your mental health and family above all else.

  3. I am so thankful that you have written this book. For years, not only did I think I was doing something wrong, but my husband would also put the responsibility of peoples mistreatment on me. It wasn’t until decades later that I confided in my dad who is a psychotherapist of 50+ years. He brought truth and freedom to the situation. I have been telling him more people need this and encouraging him to write a book because I could not find anything for myself and others.

  4. I’d add potentially seeing a counselor to deal with the situation as well to the list. I had a toxic situation at work where I stuck in close proximity to coworkers where we’d had a big falling out. I was miserable and uncomfortable. I was fortunate to move to a new office but the issue didn’t fully resolve for me.

    It affected my home life for months. My wife was on board with me starting anti-depressants and I did. One day, a Christian friend said something to the effect that medication is ok but dealing with the actual issue and coworkers would be better. He connected me to a Christian counselor and after months of meeting and spending (investing?) a couple thousand dollars, I was able to have a couple crucial conversations with one of the individuals, having been well prepared by my counselor, where I was able to say my piece and draw firm boundaries. It was tough but incredibly freeing and I’m more mature for it. Also I got off the medication shortly thereafter and am happier and healthier than I’ve ever been.

    So, not making a blanket truth that a counselor should always be sought but it is definitely a tool in the shed in dealing with a toxic person or tough person.

  5. This will be my prayer today and in the future days: “That God would free my mind to be fully present.” Love this!!

  6. Just bought the book and so thankful to Gary for writing it, and posting nuggets of wisdom here as well.

  7. Patrick T. McAlister October 16, 2019 at 6:21 am

    I have read most of your books with profound awaking. When to Walk Away, has taken a hold on me to where I read it slowly. Taking in each truth presented and a deeper dive into the scriptural reference. Being newly divorced from a toxic person. I admit I have fought myself wondering what I could have done? How can I fix it now that the state has stamped the seal of its demise? I really thought I lost everything. Time and now this wonderfully written book, bring the sweet truth. That favor with God is more important than a shell. I just want to thank you for your efforts in putting this book together. I pray it brings a similar awakening to many other people.