Living in the freedom of God’s love will make you a better lover of people, but that doesn’t mean everyone will be able to recognize that love.
Instead, some will accuse you of not loving them because you don’t cater to their destructive whims. God knows this well as he lived it himself. Jesus was the perfect embodiment of God’s love to a broken world, and it got him killed by those that wanted to manipulate him and his gifts for their own ends. Love can be freely given, but it will be missed if it doesn’t find a resting place in one being loved.
Since I wrote the blog about Navigating Toxic Relationships, I heard from many of you who are doing exactly that. Friends, family, co-workers, or even a religious leader can become toxic when you become the focus of their unresolved issues or feel they are losing control over their own lives. They will falsely accuse you and then refuse to talk it through by cutting you off or throwing a tantrum. This is all the more painful when you deeply care for the person involved. I’m always a champion for staying in a relationship as long as you have the grace to endure the cost, hoping and praying for God’s light to win over the lies and anger. However, people caught in such toxicity need to recognize that any attempts to reach out to their attacker will only cause them greater pain and anguish. Loving someone like that from up close can actually drive them further into their pain and delusion.
That’s when it’s best to love from afar as the father does in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. There was nothing he could say to his son that would turn his heart toward home, so he gave his son the distance to savor the consequences of his false conclusions until he came to the end of himself. Then, he could embrace the affection his father had always had for him.
My heart goes out to those of you suffering through a toxic relationship and wondering every day if you’re doing the right thing in seeking a way to love them. After my blog, one person recommended a book I have found helpful. It’s called 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life by Bill Eddy. The subtitle is: “Identifying and Dealing with Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Other High-Conflict Personalities.” His research led him to conclude that ten percent of people are High Conflict Personalities, which are dangerous to engage. They create chaos in pools of relationships by fixating on a Target of Blame to focus their anger and fears. They will weaponize other relationships you have to seek to marginalize you as the one with “issues.” While they treat everyone else with kindness, they will gossip and attack their victim relentlessly.
You can detect a High Conflict Personality by their persistent anger and gossip, always blaming someone else for whatever goes wrong, and will refuse to have a reasoned conversation to resolve their concerns. He recommends doing everything you can not to become their Target of Blame, and if you do, not confronting them for it will only escalate their anger. It’s best, he suggests, to stay away from such the person targeting you. Yes, that’s easier said than done, but it is fruitless to try to love someone up close who perceives that love as a threat. When that happens, you need to withdraw for their good as well as your own.
I know that is hard to do, but you’re not responsible for those who cannot receive love from you. There’s no one better to share this with than God, whose love is also missed by those who are so locked in their pain they cannot see his love. You can love them from afar and hold them in your heart to see if they can come to the end of themselves and be open again to love. Most of these High Conflict Personalities are reacting to unresolved pain and trauma in their own lives. Targeting others is only a really bad coping mechanism to alleviate their own fear or pain. By taking yourself out of the way, they will more quickly come to see that the problem is not the person they are blaming but the brokenness in their own soul. They merit our compassion, not our judgment. At the same time, however, we can recognize our limitations in our ability to express love to them.
Here are some of my highlights from that book I found helpful:
You can trust 80 to 90 percent of people to be who they say they are; to do what they say they’ll do; and to follow most of the social rules that help us live together. But the people we’re concerned with are the 10 percent—the one person in ten—who has a Target of Blame and a personality disorder. These are the people who are so fixated on their Targets that they can’t let go, can’t stop themselves, can’t change and therefore can ruin lives—including yours.
It’s the combination of someone having a high-conflict personality (people who have Targets of Blame) and a personality disorder (those who never reflect on their own behavior nor try to change it) that creates a human being who can ruin your life. That combination is the subject we’ll explore together.
There are five types of people who can ruin your life. They can ruin your reputation, your self-esteem, or your career. They can destroy your finances, your physical health, or your sanity. Some of them will kill you, if you give them the opportunity. They usually do this by focusing on Targets of Blame, whom they mercilessly attack—verbally, emotionally, financially, reputationally, litigiously, and sometimes violently—often for months or years, even if the initial conflict was minor. Their Targets of Blame are usually someone close (a coworker, neighbor, friend, partner, or family member) or someone in a position of authority.
The author breaks these High Conflict Personalities (HCP) into five types:
- Narcissistic HCPs: They often seem very charming at first but believe they are hugely superior to others. They insult, humiliate, mislead, and lack empathy for their Targets of Blame. They also demand constant undeserved respect and attention from everyone.
- Borderline HCPs: They often start out extremely friendly—but they can suddenly and unpredictably shift into being extremely angry. When this shift occurs, they may seek revenge for minor or nonexistent slights. They may launch vicious attacks against their Targets of Blame that involve physical violence, verbal abuse, legal action, or attempts to destroy their Targets’ reputations.
- Antisocial (or Sociopathic) HCPs: They can be extremely charismatic—but their charm is a cover for their drive to dominate others through lying, stealing, publicly humiliating people, physically injuring them, and—in extreme cases—murdering them. They want what they want and they want it now. If you stand in their way, they will push you aside, or destroy your reputation, or even kill you to get what they want. They lack remorse, and some enjoy hurting people. In this regard, they are different from the other personalities who will ruin your life, but don’t harm you on purpose. Antisocial HCPs are driven by a need for dominance, and may ruin your life just to give themselves a sense of control over someone. They will talk fast and lie to your face so convincingly that you will second-guess your own instincts. Antisocial HCPs are remorseless and are said to have no conscience.
- Paranoid HCPs: They are deeply suspicious and constantly fear betrayal. Because they imagine conspiracies against them, they will launch preemptive attacks against their Targets of Blame, hoping to harm them first.
- Histrionic HCPs: They can have very dramatic and exciting personalities. They often tell wild and extreme stories (which are sometimes totally false). Over time, they can be very harmful and emotionally draining to those around them, especially their Targets of Blame.
Not every bump in a relationship ought to be blamed on these things. Only ten percent of people are high conflict personalities, and they usually have only one or two Targets of Blame. Fortunately, this isn’t an everyday occurrence, nor does everyone become a Target of Blame. Just keep your eyes open and remember that you cannot force someone to be loved. Sometimes loving well is giving someone the distance to come to the end of themselves and turn from their destructive ways to embrace the love they already have.