“Toxic” can be defined as harsh, malicious or harmful, and unfortunately, most of us have encountered at least one toxic person in our lives. Toxic people can be anyone: a friend, a teacher, a boss or, most difficultly, a family member. It is one thing to quit your job, quite another to quit your family. Dealing with toxic people is never easy and often challenges us emotionally, physically (in the sense of being drained), financially and spiritually. Below are some practicle steps you can try if you find yourself in a toxic relationship. These do not apply to severe emotional or physical abuse, as they should be handled by trained and qualified experts. Also, dealing with children is an entirely different phenomenon.
The life lessons of others – often through years of trial and painful error – can be useful in helping to deal with the less severe situations that may arise with the toxic adults in your life.
1. Don’t expect the toxic person to change. Expect and accept that he or she will not change. But you can change how you react to toxic situations and what toxic situations you are in.
2. Don’t expect anything from anyone – yes, have no expectations from others, but great expectations for yourself. In other words, do your duty towards that person, but don’t expect that person to do his or her duty towards you. For example, make the intention that you are trying to maintain family ties for the sake of Allah (SWT), even if that person rejects your overtures or makes it impossible for you to maintain a relationship. Fulfill your duty with the knowledge that you will be accountable to Allah (SWT), regardless of anyone else’s behaviour. In order to do this, you must know what your duties are to others, and they change depending upon who the other actor is. For example, your duty to a family member is far more extensive than your duty to a friend. There is a great deal of Islamic scholarship on this issue, which is readily available.
3. Ignore the bad behaviour when possible – behaviour that doesn’t hurt you, your spouse, your children etc. In other words, pick your battles.
4. Do not allow yourself to be used, abused or belittled. This might require setting up boundaries – how long you interact with that person, where you interact, limiting the types of conversations that are conducted in front of your children etc. People have triggers and mostly predictable behaviour. Identify those triggers and seek to eliminate them. For example, if there is a topic of conversation that always sets a toxic person off, do not discuss that topic with him or her. Some relationships might require more extensive and restrictive measures than others; thus, your response must be tailored to the particular situation.
5. Deal gently with that toxic person, as gentleness is one of the noblest traits in Islam. This will not be easy, as it is not easy to be kind in the face of abusive or hurtful behaviour. Try to remember the importance of gentleness in all matters, and recount the many beautiful examples of our beloved Prophet (SAW) in this regard.
6. With respect to a toxic family member, realise that Allah (SWT) has placed you in this particular family for a reason. There are certain family members you would not choose to be friends with, and perhaps you do not like them at all. But Allah (SWT), through His Infinite Wisdom, has chosen to connect you through familial ties and that, even if you cannot understand it, somehow is good for you.
“Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.” (Al-Baqarah: 216)
Realise that Allah (SWT) does not place a burden on us more than we can bear. Try to think of the benefits of having a relationship with that family member, even if it is simply learning that you do not want to behave like that person. Difficult people teach us patience, unconditional love and forgiveness. Try to embrace how you have grown by having that person in your life, and accept that Allah (SWT) knows best what is good for you in this life to get you to your ultimate goal in the Hereafter.
7. Make du’a for that person. When you ask Allah (SWT) for good things for someone, your heart softens towards them. Ironically, I first heard that from an atheist family member and it is part of Islam as well. You can also ask Allah (SWT) to forgive him or her for any bad deeds done to you. You can even ask that if you get a good deed from something bad that person has done to you, you can give that good deed back to that person as sadaqah. Know that it is possible to love someone that does not love you or even has disdain for you. Loving someone without expecting love in return is true love. Also know that you can love someone but not like that person; you can even dislike him or her. It only takes your love to soften your heart towards someone. It may seem impossible now, but it is possible. Do not expect your feelings towards that person to change overnight. It is a long process from wanting to rid yourself of anger and resentment and internalising it in your heart. Depending on the type of relationship and level of toxicity, it could take years.
8. While you’re at it, ask Allah (SWT) to forgive you for the bad deeds that you have done to that person. Chances are your behaviour hasn’t been spotless either!
9. Expect setbacks. You might be handling the situation very well for a while, but then you regress. That’s OK. Just regroup and move forward again. Dealing with toxic people requires constant “pep talks” to yourself.
10. Know that you are not alone, and other people have gone through similar challenges before you. There is a wealth of advice to be gained from others’ experiences, and there really is that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. But, of course, if you are in a severe emotionally or physically abusive situation, seek help from the experts and those qualified to help you.
“Detox” means “to remove a harmful toxin or render it harmless”. It is not always possible or advisable to sever ties with certain people, even if they happen to be “toxic”. But, you can change the situation and alter the dynamics so that their toxicity is virtually harmless to you.
Anas (RA) reported that the Prophet (SAW) said, “Anyone who possesses three attributes will experience the sweetness of belief: that he loves Allah and His Messenger more than anything else; that he loves someone for the sake of Allah alone; and that he hates the idea of reverting to disbelief as much as he would hate being thrown into a fire.” (Agreed upon)
J. Samia Mair is the author of three children’s books, Amira’s Totally Chocolate World, The Perfect Gift and How I Help My Neighbors. Two more children’s book are expected to be published in the coming year, insha Allah. She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.