So you’ve finally put your foot down. Maybe you’ve kicked the narcissist to the curb or cut ties with toxic family members. After much prayer and soul searching, you’re ready to move on.
But before you can cue the confetti, you get the message, “I’ve changed.”
Could this be the turnaround you’ve been praying for? Or just another tool in their manipulation toolbox?
That confusion is why I want to talk to you today about the three powerful clues that will show you that this person has actually changed, as well as the ONE thing that guarantees they haven’t.
I think of relationships with toxic people like a garden that was once beautiful and vibrant with so much potential, but that is now completely wilted and shriveled.
Some people would walk past this garden and think nothing of it. Either they don’t recognize the garden is dying, or worse, they just don’t care.
But run-down gardens don’t happen by accident. They’re a result of neglect and maybe even abuse.
The hurt you experience in relationships doesn’t happen by accident, either.
Clue #1: Recognition
If your relationship is like a garden where all the plants are either dying or dead, both parties need to recognize that (a) there’s a problem, and (b) that each person has contributed to the problem.
Typically, people who have sinned against you won’t recognize their role in creating the problem. And if you try to point out the ways they have contributed, you will most likely be accused of nagging and holding on to the past, when all you are seeking is acknowledgment of the actions that brought this beautiful garden to this awful place.
If you have been in a relationship with a toxic gardener, you need to hear them own their contributions. Don’t settle for mere recognition that the relationship is withering on the vine.
When recognition is present, it’s like turning on a light in a dark room. It might be a mess but at least you can see where you’re going and what needs to be done.
Clue #2: Repentance
Clue #2 is what so many of us long for, beg for, and argue over.
My client, Crystal made the mistake of demanding it from her mother who would belittle her in front of others but call it ‘mothering.’ Crystal was 56. She didn’t need ‘mothering.’ She needed her mother to say the words she so longed to hear. And they weren’t “I love you.” They were the words “I’m sorry.”
But Crystal’s mother didn’t even recognize that was she was doing was wrong. Instead, she justified her behavior and even blamed Crystal for ‘making’ her behave this way because she not obeying her mother.
But clue #2 is more than just hearing those two magic words. It’s about repentance.
What’s the difference?
Do you remember when you were a kid and you’d get into a fight with another student at school and the principal would take you both into the office, make you shake hands, say you’re sorry, and makeup?
Yeah, that’s not repentance.
Words of apology alone hold no more power than someone claiming they believe in God but don’t live a life that follows Him.
Repentance is a deep regret over the pain you’ve caused and the extreme effort to turn in the other direction.
It’s not, “sorry,” “I’m sorry,” “I’m sorry, if only you…,” or “I’m sorry YOU,” or any other deflecting, devaluing statement that’s meant to sound like and apology.
It begins with I’m sorry “I” and continues to move forward to the next phase. In other words, repentance is required for restoration.
1 John 1:9 says it best: “IF we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Until you receive that type of repentance, the only thing they’re sorry for is how your boundaries are affecting them.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t forgive them, but it does mean that without the confession of wrongdoing, you’d be foolish to trust.
Clue # 3: A Willingness to Repair
This third clue is the one we jump to for immediate relief. In fact many people are willing to do the work of #3 for the wrong doer in an effort to get things back to ‘normal.’ But moving to clue #3 too quickly is like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in it.
And yet, when you see clue #3 in conjunction with recognition and repentance, it’s like watching that withered garden come to life again.
Just as a neglected garden, left unattended, it grows over with weeds and all the good stuff dies, so too can a relationship suffer under the weight of unresolved issues and hurtful actions.
Repairing the damage is akin to the patient, nurturing process of reviving a garden.
It involves pulling out the weeds of misunderstanding, watering the parched soil of trust, and replanting seeds of compassion and empathy. This process not only brings the garden back to life but also strengthens it against future storms.
In a similar way, taking the time and effort to repair the relationship helps in building a stronger, more resilient bond. Just as a well-tended garden blossoms and thrives, a relationship that operates out of recognition of wrong doing, true repentance, and a willingness to repair is certainly worth another chance.
The Sign That You Shouldn’t Trust This Person Again
The one key sign that this person is not to be trusted to rebuild the garden is blame.
If they are blaming you and taking no responsibility for the deterioration of your garden, my friend, it’s likely no matter what you do, this garden will never be what you’d hoped.
If you are met with the blame of any kind, you’d better believe this person hasn’t changed and strong boundaries are in order. To learn how to set biblical boundaries, check out this episode here.
If you’re ready to learn how to identify and deal with all the difficult people in your life, grab a copy of your FREE Toxic People Survival Guide.