The way I figure it, in life, toxic situations are unavoidable. I mean, I’ve come across my fair share of them, and, my bet is, you have, too. Sometimes, I don’t necessarily realize a situation is toxic, until I become entrenched in it.
What do I mean by “toxic?” Well, here are some general signs, courtesy of psychcentral.com:
- Being emotionally impacted by someone else’s drama
- Feelings of dread (or fear) around being in a specific situation or a certain person
- Feelings of exhaustion or anger after an interaction
- Feeling bad or ashamed about yourself
- Being stuck in a cycle of trying to rescue, fix or care for someone or something.
- When the word “No” isn’t respected as complete sentence
- Feeling like you need to “walk on eggshells
- Ignoring your own values
- Emotionally “checking out”
- Being controlled or being overly controlling
So, this past Friday, when I sat on my front porch, nursing a week long headache and trying to subdue my nausea, after yet another stressful work week, I had a sudden epiphany…
I am in a toxic environment.
How did I get here? Never mind that. What do I do now? My first thought was to get the heck out of dodge. Seriously. I started job hunting on my phone, right then. But, it didn’t feel right. You know? I got that feeling you get when the Holy Spirit is gently guiding you away from a decision. That still small voice whispering, “Don’t.”
What do I do? I can’t keep on like this. Wasn’t this supposed to be my “promised land”. I thought I’d arrived… Where do I go?
I thought about Joseph, a young man, sold into slavery, by his own brothers. He woke up that morning the favored one in his family, and, went to bed, a lowly slave in a caravan of strangers. I wondered if Potiphar purchased Joseph, because he was youthful and strong, intending for him to do hard labor, in the fields.
But, Joseph was a gifted leader, and God’s favor was upon him, so he was promoted to overseer of Potiphar’s entire household. I wondered if, in that moment, he thought his dream, that he would be a great leader, was beginning to come true. From field hand to second in command, in the house of an officer of Pharaoh. But, then, Potiphar’s wife began to sexually harass and stalk him. Joseph tried to avoid her, but…she lived there.
I imagine it was extremely stressful for Joseph. I can almost picture him taking great care to avoid her, while trying to get his work done. The other staff would snicker and make kissing noises, when they noticed her looking at him. Maybe, she would “accidentally” brush up against him, violating his space and disrespecting his body. He would be exasperated, while some of the other guys poked fun and told stories of their “adventures” with her, encouraging him to “partake”.
I wonder if he was always on edge, worried she was around a corner, tired of being the subject of gossip and giggles from the other woman. I’m sure it was difficult to report to Potiphar every day, unable to disclose the activities of his unfaithful spouse. I wonder if Joseph had a confidant with whom he discussed his woes, or did he keep it to himself, suffering in silence?
In short, Joseph, too, was in a toxic situation. Living and working in a stressful and unhealthy environment, with nowhere else to go.
So…here’s what I learned from studying his situation:
If it’s toxic, it’s temporary.
This means that relationship, that job, that situation is not your “end all be all.” It’s a stepping stone to a greater destiny. Learn the lessons it has to teach, all the while knowing that something better awaits you. Don’t get comfortable and settle into poisonous situations. Bad company corrupts good character.
Stick to your morals and ethics
One of the hallmarks of an unhealthy situation is that, at some point, you will be called on to bend or even break your personal moral or ethical code. Don’t. Hold fast to what you know is right. Stand strong, knowing that it will not be looked upon favorably by others, but God will continue to show you favor among even your foes. Besides, all things done in the dark come to the light, eventually (Luke 8:17).
Generally, whenever I have left toxic situations, things seem to get a little worse before they get better, but it does get better. That seemed to be the case for Joseph, too. Unhealthy people don’t like boundaries, and when Potiphar’s wife realized she couldn’t get what she wanted from him, she decided to get rid of Joseph. He went from overseer to prisoner, within a day. He was imprisoned, for at least two years, for a crime he did not commit, but he still used his gifts, in whatever situation he found himself.
And, when the time had come, God took him from dungeon to dignitary within hours. Upon interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, he was draped in robes and gold, his dignity restored and status…well…upgraded. It happened suddenly. There was no warning, no premonition, no sign. Joseph woke up ready to begin the day as he had done every day, since being thrown into jail, and, in an instant, his whole life changed.
So, as we must be prepared for the aftermath of exiting a harmful situation, we also must be prepared to receive the blessings of God, keeping our hopes high, our faith strong and using our talents and gifts, in whatever situation we find ourselves.
If you find yourself in a potentially toxic situation, know that you are not alone.
Be encouraged, and know this, too, shall pass. Remember, this is a temporary situation and, although it may be difficult, stand strong, and hold your head high. It is always darkest before dawn…but dawn is a-comin’(Psalm 46:5).
If you are in an abusive relationship or are being physically/mentally/emotionally harmed, get help immediately. It is NEVER okay to tolerate abuse.
Questions to ask during your quiet time with God:
- What do You want me to learn from this situation?
- How do I handle the pressure to conform?
- I don’t see this ending well. How will I get through this?
- Is it time to walk away?
- Where do I go from here?
As always, thank you for reading!