Removing Toxic People from Your Life

Removing toxic people from our lives is critical for true joy.

(Each morning Jack Ryser writes what is on his mind starting with “Dear God.” After, that section, he writes, “Dear Son,” and writes what comes to mind without filtering the answer. This article comes from that practice.)

Dear God,

I am so grateful for the special people you have included in my life. I am also mindful that there are those toxic people that have been removed from my life and can no longer be included, though there is still love there. Removing them from my life does cause some guilt, though I know that the guilt is not of you, but the residue of the flawed thinking of my past.

Dear Son,

Just because you love someone does not mean you need to give them access to your life. The fact is, your life is sacred ground and only those that bring love, kindness, and joy are allowed in it in any meaningful way. It is still critical to continue to love them, but it is okay to love them and still say good-bye. Embrace this thought completely, it is okay to say goodbye to someone you love.

Have you ever thought, (insert name here) is such a good person most of the time, but sometimes he/she hurts me? For some reason, we often believe that those closest to us, have free reign to hurt us and treat us poorly. They do not! Often times religions will refer to our body as a temple. I love that! Our body indeed is a temple, that houses you and God, because you are inseparable from God. We, therefore, must treat it as hallowed ground.

In the New Testament it recounts a time when Jesus showed serious anger, something not normally associated with his personality. In this case, however, he was throwing out the people who were in the temple and using it for their evil ways. Most people would agree that this act of anger does not diminish Jesus as a spiritual leader. In fact, it may strengthen that belief. The temple was sacred ground and Jesus could not stand idle and let it be defiled. That didn’t diminish his love for the people, he just couldn’t allow them to behave in that manner in that sacred space.

Your life is holy, sacred territory and it is okay to do just what Jesus did, and remove toxic people that bring negativity to it. They are often someone close to you which makes it all the more difficult. It may be a husband that demeans you, a parent that emotionally abuses you, a friend that takes advantage of you. It can be virtually any relationship. The challenge is that you love this person and you see the good in them and keep hoping the good will overcome the bad in them. On top of that, the prevailing culture is that you should forgive them, after all, “they are family.” Forgiveness must still come, because love can’t be with you when forgiveness is absent, but forgiveness doesn’t mean granting access to your life.

Simply, if a person doesn’t bring joy to your life but rather, brings negativity, you have every right to remove toxic people from it.

After my wife Kameo passed away, I was a 34-year-old single parent of an eight, six, and two-year-old. It was a very difficult time of life. I decided to quit my job as a radio advertising salesperson and work out of my home by starting a small advertising agency. I felt that I needed to be home to be with my girls during this challenging time. It was a good decision.

Dating was not easy and I struggled to find the time to meet new people, though I knew I wanted to marry again. Kameo and I had discussed this a few times before she passed away. That’s a horrible, yet helpful, benefit of knowing that your relationship is going to end young with your partner’s untimely death; you can discuss the difficult things like re-marrying after she dies. I know the thought of me being married to someone else was a hard thing for her, but she wanted me to be happy and find joy that a committed, loving relationship brings.

Jen was beautiful and had the most engaging personality. When she walked into a room she owned it. She was charming, funny, and simply gorgeous. My ad agency was doing very well and Kameo had been gone for nearly three years when I met Jen. She worked at one of my clients and we started working together frequently. She knew that I was a single parent and one day offered to watch my kids for me so I could go to a football game with a friend. My girls loved their time with her and she seemed to really love them, so she started “babysitting” for me routinely. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that they were having more fun than I was when I went out, and I started inviting her over and then not leaving. We quickly fell in love and married several months later.

I couldn’t have been happier.

Jen didn’t have children of her own and she was quite young at only twenty-eight, to take on such a complicated family, but she did so amazingly well. The kids loved her and I was ecstatic in my new found love. The first couple years of our marriage were the closest thing to perfect I had ever experienced. Jen seemed to be adapting well to being a parent, the kids were flourishing, and I felt tremendous love.

Then life happened. The devastating event of 9/11 occurred, and it had a far-reaching impact beyond the obvious horrific devastation in New York, DC and Pennsylvania. The economy came to a screeching halt and 75% of my company’s revenue immediately stopped. I had made the mistake of growing the company very fast in the previous years and didn’t have the reserves set aside to absorb a huge downturn of business. Within a year, my very successful ad agency was out of business. It was heartbreaking for me. Sitting down with employees who were more like family to me and telling them I could no longer employ them was so painful. They had given so much to make the company successful, yet it was simply unavoidable, we had to close the doors.

Whenever you have a company that was very successful and it then goes out of business rapidly, there will be repercussions. Vendors sued me for any reason they could conjure trying to get to my personal assets. What they didn’t realize is that I had already liquidated everything I owned trying to keep the company solvent and ultimately had to file personal bankruptcy on top of losing the company. Such a failure was devastating for me.

A professional failure always will affect a person’s personal life, and mine was no different. There was a great deal of tension and obviously money became very tight. It didn’t seem to phase our marriage very much though. Jen truly was a gift to me at that time. She supported me more than I could have ever hoped.

About that time, Jen became pregnant. I have never seen anyone more excited to have a baby. She had not had any children previously and this was what she wanted more than anything. I remember one day walking into what would eventually be the baby’s room, and Jen was sitting there in her gliding chair with a baby outfit in her arms, just rocking her pretend baby, in anticipation of the real one coming in a few months. She couldn’t wait to be a mother to her own child.

About four months in we learned we would be having a beautiful baby girl. We joked that apparently I could only father females, and the thought of five females in the house and me seemed a little daunting. We went in for a routine ultrasound excited for the chance to hear the heartbeat and see how little Celeste was growing. It is always such a beautiful thing when you hear the fluttering of your unborn child’s heartbeat. One hundred and fifty-five beats per minute! That is where my heart rate is when I’m working out, I thought. As the technician circled the ultrasound wand, she stopped, and abruptly excused herself from the room.

After what seemed like forever, my wife’s OB came in the room. Picked up the wand and also scanned Jen’s pregnant belly. With a professional, sterile tone, the OB said, your baby’s head is not developing appropriately and is suffering from hydrocephalus. She is not “viable.” She went on to explain that we needed to go to the hospital and deliver the baby immediately. The baby will not survive.

Labor and delivery is what they call the floor where families begin and are grown. Labor is always painful and often includes shrills of agony, but usually is followed by the delivery of a crying baby, tears of joy, and the hope of a beautiful future. That isn’t what happened for us. Jen’s labor was induced, and it was very painful. She refused to get an epidural until she simply couldn’t take the pain anymore, and after twenty-eight unanesthetized hours of labor she at least received some relief from the pain.

Two hours later the OB came into the room, told Jen to push a couple times and the lifeless body of our baby girl Celeste was born. She was cleaned up, dressed in a cute little baby onesie with a tiny hat, and given to Jen to hold. There were no tears of joy, only tears of pain, no thoughts of her future, only the pain of losing what was dreamed of when Jen rocked our future baby in her gliding chair a month earlier.

Jen became pregnant again a few months later, and once again excitement and enthusiasm began cautiously creeping in. Almost as an exclamation point to the loss of Celeste, this pregnancy ended in a miscarriage a few months later.

Our marriage was never the same after that moment. There was extreme pain, sadness, depression, and anger. To Jen it appeared like my girls were reminders of the loss of Celeste and became targets of the pain rather than of the love previously there. A once happy family became filled with tension and unhappiness. We tried very hard for four more years to save the marriage by going to counseling and working through the issues, but I could see my children slipping away. A consistent atmosphere of anger, criticism, and darkness prevailed, so I divorced a woman I loved very much. It took me several years to get over her, but never have I doubted that our divorce was the best thing for my family.

Now, after many years have passed, I can see clearly that my relationship with my daughters and their well-being was saved by that decision. We are the closest of families and the years of the pain of my second marriage seem to be a distant memory, with little negative impact.

At some point we all have people in our lives who may be toxic. Removing toxic people is painful, but we can rise above it.

“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”

  • Maya Angelou Still I Rise

Eliminating a toxic person from your life, especially someone you love, is among the most difficult things you can do. You will have weak moments of sadness when you only remember the good things about that person. You will have moments of weakness when you take all of the blame. No doubt, as I did, you do share in the blame, in some regards, but understand we all are programmed to some extent to look at the best in others, and the worst in ourselves. Be strong and move your life into positivity, without that person. You deserve the joy that will come. You deserve to be happy.

Always remember, whether it is a toxic family member, toxic friend, or any other toxic relationship, you have the right to move on.

Other article you might enjoy: Holy Relationships by Wayne Dyer

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