Possibly our first obstacle to overcome is our reluctance to judge. There are Biblical imperatives such as “Do not judge or you too will be judged.” There’s the uncertainty of true motivations and perhaps confusion about what is actually happening in the first place. There’s the very real possibility of becoming a hypocrite, and there’s generally a noticeable lack of clear, concrete evidence. Any one of these could prove enough reason to ride out the unpleasantness… There just isn’t enough to raise a fuss and be believed.
But we are told,”Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (Matthew 7:6) We cannot determine when and where to invest our pearls if we cannot first identify the dogs and swine. Paul advises, “Test everything. Hold onto what is good. Avoid every evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Proverbs is full of advice on how to deal with the foolish and wicked. But how can we even begin if were are forbidden to judge?! Clearly that is not what we are called to. We are called to judge. We need to know who to trust, where we should be on our guard, what can be believed. We do not judge to condemn but judge to protect (Is this a threat to what is good, right, and true?) or judge to evaluate (How can this be made better?). It needs to be done with fairness, wisdom, objectivity, and without a personal agenda. But judge we must.
As for the hidden dynamics and true motivation, we are not omniscient and cannot know. But as a tree is known by its fruit, we can measure general goodness by general outcomes. What is the behavior producing: fear or joy, burdens or blessings? Humanly, we cannot see why, but we can see what and how. This is where we need to pay attention and take heed to what we find. A bad road inevitably leads to a bad end and reveals bad roots.
The tactics toxic people use are generally innocent in themselves. It’s when they are misused that they become harmful. But then hypocrisy becomes a sticking point. “What right do I have to point out something he’s doing when I do do the same thing?” Only it usually isn’t to the same measure– persistence versus harassment, explanations versus excuses, persuasion versus coercion. You enter the dangerous waters of splitting hairs. Where exactly the line is is confusing and gives good cause for doubt, even if our gut is screaming that something is not right. It’s worth a look. Only if you are continually questioning this with an individual, there are likely deeper issues– and they are not with you. There are not so many grey areas naturally in life. Someone is muddying the waters.
As for the evidence, it will always be unclear. If it weren’t, toxic people would be obvious, and there would come to be some restraint established to curb their damage. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t very real. Trust the proddings of the Holy Spirit over the persuasive arguments and strong emotions. Dig a little deeper if your gut is telling you that something is not right. This is not something you need to justify to anyone else just now, even if they think you should. With toxicity: Better safe than sorry.
Judge we should, judge we must– justly and for good cause.