3 Signs You’re Enabling a Toxic Person

Are you the type who believes you can love a toxic person enough to make them change?

Do you constantly give with the hope that someday your efforts will pay off?

You could be enabling toxic behavior.

Toxic people may not be easy to spot at first, but when their behavior begins to infect your life, you certainly know it. By then, it’s likely that you are caught in a toxic pattern and to break that pattern seems unloving and downright cruel. After all, scripture reminds us to love one another, turn the other cheek, forgive all, and be more like Jesus. But are we misunderstanding these scriptures to our detriment?

Is it really love, or are you enabling toxic evil behavior?

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 says: 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

You may think to yourself, If I can just ‘love’ enough, there isn’t anything I can’t conquer.

And while I agree wholeheartedly with this scripture, where I feel we go wrong is in what we determine ‘love’ is.

So the question posed today is this: Is it love, or is it enabling?

To first determine this, let’s break down what the two words mean biblically.

The word ‘love’ used in this Scripture is the Greek word agape. Agape love is the kind of love that comes from God. It’s the love He has for us. It is constantly seeking the benefit of others; not just a feeling or a friendship but a commitment. This type of love can only come the LOVE itself, God. 

Now let’s look to see what the Bible says about enabling. While the actual word ‘enable’ doesn’t appear, there are scriptures that speak to how we handle toxic behavior.

Galatians 6:5 is the first one to say: “For each will have to bear his own load.”

And Ephesians 5:11 reminds us firmly to “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”

So when is it love and when is it enabling? If you have a mother who is struggling with a gambling addiction and needs money, is it loving to give it to her? If an adult child refuses to support themselves, is it love to allow them to continue to live at home?

Sometimes as Christians we confuse God’s love with tolerating. Yet God’s word never condones the support of wicked or irresponsible behavior.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul finds out there is a man in the church who is sleeping with his step-mother and he tells them to throw him out. In our church world, it would be more like, “Oh, he’s going through a hard time, we’ll pray for him. At least he’s still in church.” 

But Paul said, “Get out.” Believe it or not, the intent here was love. Yes, love. He wanted the man to be removed from the community to come to himself so that he would turn back to God and turn from sins. That was love.

Here are three signs that you are enabling a toxic person to stay toxic.

Sign #1: You say nothing. 

Ephesians 5:11 reminds us firmly to “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Yes, there are times when it’s wise to keep your mouth shut but if you are not vocalizing your disagreement with evil toxic behavior, your silence could be interpreted as acceptance/agreement.

Sign #2: You struggle with boundaries.

Those who enable toxic behavior struggle with boundaries in two ways: By not placing healthy boundaries with the toxic person, and by abusing the boundaries of a toxic person. Every relationship needs healthy boundaries, even healthy relationships. Just because you are trying to help this person, all in the name of love (or avoidance), it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have limits. 

Sign #3: You give to get.

This is typically the toughest one for enablers to understand. Many who struggle with codependency/enabling view themselves as self-sacrificing, caring, giving people. And while that is likely true, in some cases, it goes too far. It’s likely that you want something from the relationship. You want love, understanding, compassion, connection. While those are all healthy, where it crosses the line is when you keep giving because you believe that your giving will lead to you getting. Don’t believe me? See what happens to you emotionally the next time this toxic person lets you down. 

Sign #4: You’re being abused. 

Physical abuse should never be tolerated, but mental and emotional abuse are just as destructive. If you are being abused by a toxic person and doing nothing about it, you are not sharing love, you are perpetuating evil. 

As an aside, I just want to note that if you believe you’re in an abusive situation, please get help to be sure that what you’re experiencing is truly abuse. It’s very easy for a codependent person who has not learned how to manage their emotions to think that people who have a more dominant personality are automatically abusive simply because of how they communicate.

This is in no way to say you’re at fault, but God wants us to own our own stuff. I want to see you healthy and whole.

Toxic people are not just difficult people in disguise. Their actions are hurtful and often times downright evil. They need to take responsibility for their own actions. You’re not Jesus. You can’t pay the price for them.

Toxic People Survival Guide