If you adopt a wolverine and pour all your love into that animal; if you treat it like a puppy, hugging it and feeding it and playing with it; if you give it the very best care anyone has ever given to a wolverine, the day will still come when that wolverine will attack you, because no matter how kindly you treat a wolverine, it is still a vicious, wild animal, and in the end, its nature will win.
If you marry a toxic person and show extraordinary love, concern, care and compassion; if you are faithful in matters of kindness, communication, conflict resolution and sexual intimacy; if you go out of your way to be a model spouse to a toxic person, that toxic person will still most likely turn on you because that’s what toxic people do.
It’s not your fault.
It doesn’t mean you failed at love.
It just means you married a toxic person.
When Judas betrayed Jesus, Jesus didn’t beat himself up for not doing enough for Judas, for not coming up with the right words to correct and exhort Judas, for not loving him perfectly, for “missing” what, in hindsight, could seem obvious. On the contrary, Jesus released Judas to go and do what he was going to do.
What does this tell us? We have to let toxic people own their toxicity and not internalize it as a failure on our part.
A mom spoke to me with hurt in her eyes because her school district began blaming bullies on poor parenting. You can’t discipline a bully, the school seems to be saying, when the fault really lies with the parent.
This mother is distraught because she has two children who are model students and citizens at school, and one who enjoys being mean. She’s tried everything—prayer and fasting, counseling, time outs, etc. She feels like a failure as a parent. The school treats her like a failure. Throughout her life, if someone confronted her for something she was doing wrong, she could own it, repent and change it. But how can she own, repent and change what someone else—in this case, her son—is doing?
One of the most startling discoveries for me when writing When to Walk Away was the connection between control and evil. God calls us to choose (Josh. 24:15) and leaves the decision with us. The New Testament talks of demonic possession, but it doesn’t speak of “God possession.” Controlling or dominating someone is evil. So it stands to reason that if we can’t (and shouldn’t try to) control someone, then we can’t own or be responsible for others’ toxic behavior. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23); controlling others is a Satanic strategy.
Focus on yourself. Do what you know to be right. Call others to do what is right. When the relationship warrants it, admonish, correct and speak up. Do your part to love and serve and forgive and encourage as parents, friends and spouses are called to do. But if a toxic person acts in a toxic way, don’t own their response. You can’t. Own yours. Did you do what God called you to do? Then you were faithful, regardless of the outcome.
Don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t do everything perfectly, as if that would work anyway. We can safely assume that Jesus was perfect with Judas, but that didn’t “work” in the way we define “working” if “working” means toxic people always repent and change.
It is spiritually healthy—essential, even—to own our “stuff,” to humbly accept our weaknesses, receive correction, apologize and make changes, and walk in repentance and accountability. For most of us, that’s a full-time job, spiritually speaking. But we can’t own and be responsible for the “stuff” of others. So just stop doing that. Stop owning that.
Wolverines will be wolverines regardless of how you treat them.