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Toxic People: 12 Things They Do and How to Deal with Them

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The 12 Things Toxic People Do and How to Deal With Them

We have all had toxic people dust us with their poison. Sometimes it’s more like a drenching. Difficult people are drawn to the reasonable ones and all of us have likely had (or have) at least one person in our lives who have us bending around ourselves like barbed wire in endless attempts to please them – only to never really get there.

Their damage lies in their subtlety and the way they can engender that classic response, ‘It’s not them, it’s me.’ They can have you questioning your ‘over-reactiveness’, your ‘oversensitivity’, your ‘tendency to misinterpret’. If you’re the one who’s continually hurt, or the one who is constantly adjusting your own behaviour to avoid being hurt, then chances are that it’s not you and it’s very much them.

Being able to spot their harmful behaviour is the first step to minimising their impact. You might not be able to change what they do, but you can change what you do with it, and any idea that toxic somebody in your life might have that they can get away with it.

There are plenty of things toxic people do to manipulate people and situations to their advantage. Here are 12 of them. Knowing them will help you to avoid falling under the influence:

  1. They’ll keep you guessing about which version of them you’re getting.

    They’ll be completely lovely one day and the next you’ll be wondering what you’ve done to upset them. There often isn’t anything obvious that will explain the change of attitude – you just know something isn’t right. They might be prickly, sad, cold or cranky and when you ask if there’s something wrong, the answer will likely be ‘nothing’ – but they’ll give you just enough  to let you know that there’s something. The ‘just enough’ might be a heaving sigh, a raised eyebrow, a cold shoulder. When this happens, you might find yourself making excuses for them or doing everything you can to make them happy. See why it works for them?

    Stop trying to please them. Toxic people figured out a long time ago that decent people will go to extraordinary lengths to keep the people they care about happy. If your attempts to please aren’t working or aren’t lasting for very long, maybe it’s time to stop. Walk away and come back when the mood has shifted. You are not responsible for anybody else’s feelings. If you have done something unknowingly to hurt somebody, ask, talk about it and if need be, apologise. At any rate, you shouldn’t have to guess.

  1. They’ll manipulate.

    If you feel as though you’re the only one contributing to the relationship, you’re probably right. Toxic people have a way of sending out the vibe that you owe them something. They also have a way of taking from you or doing something that hurts you, then maintaining they were doing it all for you. This is particularly common in workplaces or relationships where the balance of power is out. ‘I’ve left that six months’ worth of filing for you. I thought you’d appreciate the experience and the opportunity to learn your way around the filing cabinets.’ Or, ‘I’m having a dinner party. Why don’t you bring dinner. For 10. It’ll give you a chance to show off those kitchen skills. K?’

    You don’t owe anybody anything. If it doesn’t feel like a favour, it’s not. 

  1. They won’t own their feelings.

    Rather than owning their own feelings, they’ll act as though the feelings are yours. It’s called projection, as in projecting their feelings and thoughts onto you. For example, someone who is angry but won’t take responsibility for it might accuse you of being angry with them. It might be as subtle as, ‘Are you okay with me?’ or a bit more pointed, ‘Why are you angry at me,’ or, ‘You’ve been in a bad mood all day.’

    You’ll find yourself justifying and defending and often this will go around in circles – because it’s not about you. Be really clear on what’s yours and what’s theirs. If you feel as though you’re defending yourself too many times against accusations or questions that don’t fit, you might be being projected on to. You don’t have to explain, justify or defend yourself or deal with a misfired accusation. Remember that.

  1. They’ll make you prove yourself to them.

    They’ll regularly put you in a position where you have to choose between them and something else – and you’ll always feel obliged to choose them. Toxic people will wait until you have a commitment, then they’ll unfold the drama.  ‘If you really cared about me you’d skip your exercise class and spend time with me.’  The problem with this is that enough will never be enough. Few things are fatal – unless it’s life or death, chances are it can wait.

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  2. They never apologise. 

    They’ll lie before they ever apologise, so there’s no point arguing. They’ll twist the story, change the way it happened and retell it so convincingly that they’ll believe their own nonsense.

    People don’t have to apologise to be wrong. And you don’t need an apology to move forward. Just move forward – without them. Don’t surrender your truth but don’t keep the argument going. There’s just no point. Some people want to be right more than they want to be happy and you have better things to do than to provide fodder for the right-fighters.

  1. They’ll be there in a crisis but they’ll never ever share your joy.

    They’ll find reasons your good news isn’t great news. The classics: About a promotion – ‘The money isn’t that great for the amount of work you’ll be doing.’ About a holiday at the beach – ‘Well it’s going to be very hot. Are you sure you want to go?’ About being made Queen of the Universe – ‘Well the Universe isn’t that big you know and I’m pretty sure you won’t get tea breaks.’ Get the idea? Don’t let them dampen you or shrink you down to their size. You don’t need their approval anyway – or anyone else’s for that matter.

  2. They’ll leave a conversation unfinished – and then they’ll go offline.

    They won’t pick up their phone. They won’t answer texts or emails. And in between rounds of their voicemail message, you might find yourself playing the conversation or argument over and over in your head, guessing about the status of the relationship, wondering what you’ve done to upset them, or whether they’re dead, alive or just ignoring you – which can sometimes all feel the same. People who care about you won’t let you go on feeling rubbish without attempting to sort it out. That doesn’t mean you’ll sort it out of course, but at least they’ll try. Take it as a sign of their investment in the relationship if they leave you ‘out there’ for lengthy sessions.

  3. They’ll use non-toxic words with a toxic tone.

    The message might be innocent enough but the tone conveys so much more. Something like, ‘What did you do today?’ can mean different things depending on the way it’s said. It could mean anything from ‘So I bet you did nothing – as usual,’ to ‘I’m sure your day was better than mine. Mine was awful. Just awful. And you didn’t even notice enough to ask.’ When you question the tone, they’ll come back with, ‘All I said was what did you do today,’ which is true, kind of, not really.

  4. They’ll bring irrelevant detail into a conversation.

    When you’re trying to resolve something important to you, toxic people will bring in irrelevant detail from five arguments ago. The problem with this is that before you know it, you’re arguing about something you did six months ago, still defending yourself, rather than dealing with the issue at hand. Somehow, it just always seems to end up about what you’ve done to them. 

  5. They’ll make it about the way you’re talking, rather than what you’re talking about.

    You might be trying to resolve an issue or get clarification and before you know it, the conversation/ argument has moved away from the issue that was important to you and on to the manner in which you talked about it – whether there is any issue with your manner or not. You’ll find yourself defending your tone, your gestures, your choice of words or the way you belly moves when you breathe – it doesn’t even need to make sense. Meanwhile, your initial need is well gone on the pile of unfinished conversations that seems to grow bigger by the day.

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  6. They exaggerate.

    ‘You always …’ ‘You never …’ It’s hard to defend yourself against this form of manipulation. Toxic people have a way of drawing on the one time you didn’t or the one time you did as evidence of your shortcomings. Don’t buy into the argument. You won’t win. And you don’t need to.

  7. They are judgemental.

    We all get it wrong sometimes but toxic people will make sure you know it. They’ll judge you and take a swipe at your self-esteem suggesting that you’re less than because you made a mistake. We’re all allowed to get it wrong now and then, but unless we’ve done something that affects them nobody has the right to stand in judgement.

Knowing the favourite go-to’s for toxic people will sharpen your radar, making the manipulations easier to spot and easier to name. More importantly, if you know the characteristic signs of a toxic person, you’ll have a better chance of catching yourself before you tie yourself in double knots trying to please them.

Some people can’t be pleased and some people won’t be good for you – and many times that will have nothing to do with you. You can always say no to unnecessary crazy. Be confident and own your own faults, your quirks and the things that make you shine. You don’t need anyone’s approval but remember if someone is working hard to manipulate, it’s because probably because they need yours. You don’t always have to give it but if you do, don’t let the cost be too high. 

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1,007 Comments

mary c charest

This article is painfully true. I had two toxic friends who tried to convince me that I was the toxic one — after reading this article I know I was not toxic — they were. It was all about them. Geeze.

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heysigmund

Yes! Toxic people are experts when it comes to convincing reasonable people that they’re being unreasonable. When you know the signs, they’re easier to spot and it makes it harder for them to pull you under their spell. It’s great that you now have the insight. Thanks so much for making contact!

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Maureen Gotimer

Some good points, but sometimes, ignoring tone of a conversation misses the point. Also, most of the most painful arguments in a relationship do come from past experiences and dealing only with the current situation makes you seem petty. The point of the difficulty is many times in the history or pattern rather than a single slight. Finally, what may seem irrelevant to one person may be a keynote to another.

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Sara

You just completely described the narcissists in my life. Sadly one is currently destroying a friendship group moving from person to person befriending them on a high scale and dropping them when it suits.I’m wise to the behaviour but others aren’t and sadly you can’t explain to them what is happening as you become the poisonous one. Thanks for a good read.

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heysigmund

You’re very welcome. I’m sorry to hear that this is happening to you. It’s so good that you have the insight though and you’re right, people have to figure it out when they’re ready – which sooner or later they do. Toxic people are well-practiced at what they do and that’s what makes them so hard to wise up to. I hope things get better soon. Thanks so much for making contact.

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Satalynn

I agree with Sara, this article completely describes the nurse assist in my life! The narcissist is my sister-in-law,my husband’s sister! For years she is been doing this to me and other sister-in-law’s of hers and including her sister. For the past two years I have tried to work things out. But it seems like when things aren’t going good in her life like her getting a divorce for the 100th it’s my time for her to lash out at me. She starts with picking at me, trying to start fights with me and this time she went as low as making up a fake profile and blaming me for things that another sister In law was writing. I have text showing that I told her I didn’t want to fight. And now her excuse for not talking to me is because I supposedly told my other sister In law about her fake profile! She has gone as low as posting horrible tho ha about myself and my other sister in law and when confronted she plays victim and says its us. I hate to say it but I am so glad that she is no longer in my life because the ones in my life are absolutely amazing. Blood is def not thicker then water sometimes. And I’m glad that I have my husband. Who sees her lies and everything g she’s been doing and backs me up a 110%

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heysigmund

Toxic family members are harder to walk away from but well done to you for your insight and being able to see it for what it is. And it’s great that you’re married to a man who has your back! Thank you for taking the time to comment – I hope things settle down for you soon.

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Saufiyah

Please tell me what do I do to get them out of my life and putting them in their place! I need advice asap on this friendship

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heysigmund

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer for this. All you can do is recognise the behaviours and protect yourself from them as you can’t change people who don’t want to be changed. I wish I could be more helpful.

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Sue F

I don’t think you can ever “put them in their place”…it’s just too exhausting! Strong boundaries, low contact and just walking away have worked for me. I bowl with a woman who is like this. I am polite and only talk about things like the weather and bowls…never anything personal. They seem to target the caring, sympathetic types but I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t do much with these people. Good luck!

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Sarah

Low contact is one of the most manipulatively malicious narcissistic sociopathic psychopaths there is.

The ‘no contact” rule is a silent treatment abuse disguised as ending abusive control when its really the victim getting abused more, for example.

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Terry

No…Firstly she didn’t say “no contact,” she said “low contact”; and the goal is not to be manipulative or dish out the silent treatment, it’s self-protection. I learned the hard way not to wear my heart on my sleeve around people like this, else they win my trust only to use my confidences against me.

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Youngest

Low – or no contact – is essential when you are dealing with someone who thinks that the problem is everyone else except themselves. When they will not accept boundaries and blame you for everything, then you have the right to protect yourself.

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KH

I was raised by a psychotic malignant narcissist for 18 yrs. I have also just put the pieces together that my sister in law is also a psychotic malignant narcissist with histrionic tendencies. (neither have been diagnosed because *they* don’t have a problem. i do… *ahem* … ) My stepfather is out of my life, but after 15 more years with my sister in law and her latest round of shenanigans, I was triggered really badly and I am now seeing a therapist. She has diagnosed me with Complex PTSD due to the years of abuse as a child, and now this person as a constant trigger. She honestly “gets off” on causing pain and chaos, endangering people’s lives and stirring the pot. She throws emotional grenades into the mix of the family and then stands back and says “wasn’t me…” She has, once again, caused major upheaval in the family, getting all of the adult siblings involved and even her teenage daughter to help her with her pity party. The saddest part about all of it is the way she uses her children as pawns within the family (and with her ex husband) and then tells us that we are cruel to her kids. She has convinced the entire family to hate me because I am “stealing” her brother from them. Um. He just doesn’t think that EVERY. SINGLE. GATHERING. needs to be drunk-fest 2015, and he certainly doesn’t want to act like that in front of all of the teenage kids in our family. We have 2 teenagers and a pre-teen. And we choose NOT to drink with our kids. I’m just heart broken that someone could hate me so viciously (after going thru 18 yrs of that kind of hatred from my step-dad). I am a born again Christian, which of course is their primary way of attacking me. Apparently I am supposed to perfect because of my faith, and I apparently want everyone to believe that I am perfect.. *ahem*. Actually- what I really want is HONESTY, TRANSPARENCY, KINDNESS, Actual LOVE- ya know- the kind where you’re nice to your family? I’m asking for all of us to come together and discuss the TRUTH. No more lies. No more projecting. You can’t spend 15 yrs talking bad about someone behind their back and then simultaneously claim to be all about family. And all of the other family members just stand there and let her talk that way. And they defend her and say all she wants is for all of us to just get along. If she really doesn’t like me, THEN JUST SAY SO! I can handle it! But she gets more pleasure from attacking me, slandering me, dividing the family and then pointing at me and saying I’m the one dividing the family. I’m sorry for the venting but I’ve spent a lot of years in the dark and confused, and now its all pouring out. I do want to share a few titles of books that I have read lately that I have found tremendously helpful :

The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron PhD

Emotional Blackmail by Susan Forward PhD

The Emotionally Destructive Relationship by Leslie Vernick

Setting Boundaries with Difficult People by Allison Bottke

Toxic In-Laws by Susan Forward PhD

I hope these titles help someone else like they did me. Thank you for your blog, its very helpful and a great resource.

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heysigmund

You have so much insight. What you’ve been through has clearly made you tougher, braver, clearer and more insightful. I honestly believe that people are more beautiful for the breaks. We all have them. Your ‘wants’ are completely reasonable and you deserve to have people in your life who can be honest, loving, transparent and kind. I’m so grateful to you for sharing your story and the books that have helped you. There are some great titles here. The response to this post has been enormous – there are so many people struggling with toxic people in their lives. Toxic people will only ever go for kind, reasonable, generous ones. I LOVE hearing when people have broken away. You’re amazing. Thank you so much for making contact with me.

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Nikki

It’s to bad that I have to watch a good friend of mine for the last 30 years get mixed up with someone like that! She’s got him believe that’s love!!
I’ve tried to make him see it’s not! He won’t listen and comes to her defense. It’s almost like a domestic violence thing with out the beatings and he’s the victim.
How do I get him out of this mess? It’s been 5 years now. It only gets worse for him every year! He had lots of friends & a job he loved and now he’s lost everyone but me! I am no match for her toxic manipulating personality, I’m barely hanging in there. He does screw me over to make her happy. I’m the last thing she hasn’t been able to cut him off from. But, I’m almost giving up hope. We are like brother & sister.
But his girlfriend has thrown a lot of wedges between us over time.
Time is running out. He use to be a wonderful man who loved life, people and family and friends, now he’s just angry and judge mental and hates everything. But I believe there’s still a little piece left of him to work with. A very small window of hope. By the way, she’s turned him into a liar and he’ll tell you he’ll do something and then a fight will break out between them and then he won’t keep his word. He always kept his word before she came a long.
There’s got to be someone in this world smarter than her!! Can anyone help me? To help him, get out of that hell hole life he’s in?
He’s 10 years older than she is, but she has literally turned him gray and into an old man and he’s only 53! I worry what she will do to him next. It’s like he’s brain washed, like a cult would do, I don’t know how to deprogram him. I just don’t have the capabilities and no money to try.
If someone has step by step instructions, what to do, I’d be greatful to you, I just want my good friend back. He was a true loving soul, good to everyone. He’s a victim and can’t see it!!!
Thank you for reading this!
Sincerely, Nikki

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heysigmund

Hi Nikki, First – you’re friend is so lucky to have you. You sound like an incredible friend. It’s awful watching people you love fall apart. One of the mistakes people make when someone they care about is in a bad relationship is that try to talk those people out of the bad relationships. It seems like the obvious thing to do, but what it can often do is inadvertently drive those people (your friend) to prove you wrong and push them further into the bad relationship. Nobody wants to feel like a fool, and if people think that’s what their friends are thinking, they will often work very hard to disprove that – which is pretty understandable. The best thing to do in this situation is to keep loving your friend hard. Pushing against his relationship might drive him to push back harder. I know it’s counter-intuitive but when you judge his partner, your friendship will likely feel it as judgement against him. It’s absolutely not your fault – I’ve done it myself and like I said, it’s the obvious thing to do. But it doesn’t always work. If your friend asks for your honesty then of course, give it. Otherwise, be as supportive and as non-judgemental of the relationship as you can. I know how hard this is but if what you’re doing isn’t working, it’s time to try something different. The issue you’ve raised is an important one and I can see a bit of a theme in the comments. I’m going to do a post on it so stay tuned. Thank you so much for making contact with me and for sharing your story. You would be surprised how many people are in the same situation!

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jessica

I am currently on a bus to get away from a toxic relationship. It started as emotional manipulation and started getting physical, so I left him. Thank the Lord I was strong enough to do it.

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heysigmund

I’ve got goosebumps reading this. It’s not easy leaving a relationship but you’ve done it. Keep moving forward. You’re amazing! Thank you so much for sharing your story with me. You never know who will read this and also be inspired by your strength and courage. Thank you!

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Larry

thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us , you have just made me realize that it’s happening to me, now with your help I’m going to sort this out , thanks again .

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heysigmund

You’re so welcome. I’m so pleased this has been able to help you. I love it when people find their strength and it sounds like you’ve certainly found yours. Thank you for making contact with me.

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Jim

Do the toxic ones know who they are, and is there any way to address them for change. You have described my spouse to a T and I am at the end of my wits to make her happy. Thank you for the article and insight. Very helpful.

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heysigmund

The difference between toxic people and the rest of us is that when the rest of us realise we’re hurting someone unnecessarily, we tweak our behaviour. Toxic people don’t. I believe that anyone can change, but they have to realise the need for change and be willing to change. You can’t change someone who doesn’t think there’s a problem. It’s so impossibly hard when you’re in a relationship with a toxic person because until they’re ready to listen, the relationship is stuck. I’ve been really surprised at the response to this article. There are so many people struggling with toxic relationships. Will do more posts on this in the future. It’s great that you have the insight. Thank you so much for making contact.

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Ginny

Thank you. I needed to see this today. My narcissistic and very toxic husband left 5 months ago for a much younger woman. He also left behind 3 teenagers, a house in disrepair, incredible debts and much emotional debris. I spent many years walking on eggshells trying to make him happy and keep everything ok. He abused my good nature and took advantage of me at every turn. He is a master manipulator… After our separation 3 years ago when I first was confronted with his affair, he lied and tried to keep conning me. I let him come home after he was evicted from his apartment, got his car repossessed and drank so much that he was writing bad checks and pawning silver and his wedding ring! But he promised to change and made me believe that everything but him was to blame for his downfall . I believed in my vows and tried to help him overcome his issues. For better or worse, he was my husband and father of our kids. He paid me back with lies, cheating, fraudulently opening a credit card in my name and then kissing me good bye on a Wednesday talking about what we should have for supper and never came home again. I have to pay for the divorce and am selling the house so we don’t get foreclosed on. He has made some minimal support payments and sees his kids maybe for a meal a couple times a month. That’s it. Never helps in any way with what he left behind or any parental duties. Never asks how I’m doing. Just all about him and his feelings he can’t change now, he says. The crazy thing is that we have been friends since we were in high school and I still love him or at least love who he was once. That guy is dead and gone and now the pirate has taken him over it is so sad and I am distraught by the loss of our family. A lot was caused by alcohol and by his selfishness. Like the wolf story. There are two wolves, the good one and bad one and whichever one you feed is the one that stays. I see a lot of what I felt around him in your article. He was good at keeping me off balance and convincing me that I was crazy or over sensitive or incapable of handling adversity. He tormented me and I am fighting to put it all behind me. I lost a lot of my self worth and self confidence. He has caused so much damage to me, to my kids and to my family who tried to help him. it is scary. Thanks for letting me vent!

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heysigmund

You’re so right – it’s frightening how quickly toxic people can work their way into the hearts and lives of good people. They are so good at what they do and they pick their targets well – reasonable, honest, kind, generous people. You’ve been through an awful time and now thankfully you’re free. Your comment about the person you love being the man he used to be is so insightful. You loved him once – of course there are going to be things about him that are harder to let go of, but when you feel bad more often than you feel good – well there’s your answer. You’ve done the right thing and you’re putting in a heroic effort to get you and your girls through this. I have enormous respect for you and any woman who can do that. AND if you can’t vent here on Hey Sigmund – well where can you do it. Come back and vent any time! Thank you so much for sharing your story. There will be so many women with stories like this who will relate and it will mean a lot to them to know that they aren’t alone.

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Pam

Hi Ginny, I so much hear what you are saying and want to let you know you aren’t alone. I wonder why they can actually get away with being so mean, and why the heck do we still think we love them and can help them? And why do we try so hard for such a thankless situation. And I still find myself crying and missing him so much, when I know he has never ever been there for me emotionally at all. And when I talk to him, try to get him to open up, his face just looks at me with big stupid puppy dog eyes, and when you are done, they just get up and walk out. Or mostly, they don’t even wait for you to finish, you’ll still be talking as the door shuts. I’ve caught myself many times waiting til he comes back in, but he doesn’t. When my Mom died, I was naturally just destroyed, and one time I started crying, and he go up and came over to me, put his arm on my shoulder for maybe two seconds, and that was it forever. He lost his Mom and I never saw him shed a tear, then he lost his brother, and I went to the hospital and sat with his brothers wife until she finally gave in and shut off life support. And they were so close, my husband and him. Not a tear tht time either. And he left on a job the day of his funeral. Didn’t even consider going. Why is it so hard to let go of these guys? I think a lot of it is because nothing seems to make sense, one day they say they love you, the next, they say they never did and they want out. And they don’t even understand why we are sitting there just destroyed, there is no emotion, no remorse, nothing, just like turning off a lightbulb, it means nothing..we mean nothing when they are done with us, and it’s the most difficult thing in the world to feel like you mean nothing to the most important person in your world. The one person you never thought could hurt you so badly, and they don’t even feel sorrow, nor sorry. i don’t know if i will ever be able to trust anyone very much anymore, i’m terrified of trying, my judgement is so bad. Anyway, you are not alone in your hurt and suffering…Pam

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lynn dillon

love the article. Seen some people I have known in the past and also seen some of myself. Soul searching is a never ending process.

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heysigmund

Oh you are so right! I know what you mean about soul searching being never ending. Everybody does all of the toxic behaviours some of the time. Nobody’s perfect and we’re all allowed to make m Being toxic is a question of degree and regularity. The fact that you have insight and a readiness to soul-search, means that you will never be toxic. You might have ‘toxic days’ – we all have them – but you won’t be a ‘toxic person’. Thank you for taking the time to make contact.

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Claire

Thank you for this article, it very clearly sets forth the actions of personality disordered people and I’ll be forwarding it to family with the hopes of waking them up to the behaviour of the narcissists in the family.
I do have just one question, I was wondering why you’ve labeled these people as merely “toxic” when those who have the unfortunate pleasure of having personality disordered family and friends have been keen to note in the comments that they have narcissistic or histrionic family members. For those who don’t know about these cluster B disorders, they will only search the internet for “toxic people” and net some very vague results whereas by calling a spade a spade (calling a narcissist a person with narcissist personality disorder) you will arm your readers with the key words to search the internet and book stores for the wealth of information that is out there on personality disorders. They will learn that the reason these people don’t change by leaning from their mistakes is because a “personality” cannot be changed.
My experience in marrying a narcissist led me to therapy where I learned my parents are narcissists, my sister is histrionic and I’m recovering from depression. It took plenty of research for me to learn what was what, and knowing the key words to search for this topic that was so new to me was extremely helpful.
Thank you for your clarity on the subject, I hope my family will be receptive to reading it. And I do hope you’ll write a follow up on cluster B disorders, particularly narcissistic personality disorder, as the comments are flooded with people who have suffered the fate of having one in their lives.

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heysigmund

You’re welcome! In relation to your question, personality disorders are a serious diagnosis and I would be reluctant to encourage anyone to make that sort of diagnosis for themselves or of anyone else through a Google search. If people already know what they’re dealing with – and I can see the people who have used the terms clearly do, as you do – then those people (and you) don’t need to hear it from me. What’s important is being able to respond to the symptoms and toxic covers all of them. I’ve also seen people with personality disorders use the label to excuse their destructive behaviour. ‘It’s not my fault because I’m a narcissist.’ That sort of thing. I don’t buy it. It’s toxic, it poisons and it destroys and they can call it want they want, there is no excuse. I’d prefer not to give them one. I can see what you mean when you say it helps to have a label to research to know what you’re dealing with, and I’m all for anything that can help the people who have been damaged by others. I suppose I’ve just seen too many times where people have wrongly labelled people and that has it’s own consequences. I’ve also seen too any times where people with PDs use their label to excuse their behaviour. You make a really valid point though and I’m grateful you took the time to state it. You have a lot of insight and I’m sure your comment will help a lot of people. Thank you!

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Shelly

My husband is a narcissist who needs constant praise, all the time. He owns his own business, doesn’t work too much, but is never home, ha needs to be out talking at people, look at me! all day long. It’s sickening. He’s mean, loud, aggressive, everything’s my fault, if I have a different opinion than him he gets hostile. I’m left alone most days and nights while he’s “busy” running a business. He is literally insane. Cannot have a conversation with him that makes any sense at all, unless I just listen to his incessant rambling

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heysigmund

This sounds like an awful situation to be in. You’re so unhappy and I imagine it feels very lonely too. I expect you have good reasons for staying. It’s not always easy to leave. Hopefully you’ve read through the comments and are able to realise you’re not alone. So many people going through the same thing. I’m so sorry you’re in this situation.

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Maghan

Avoid these people at all cost… If you can spot them before the damage is done…that’s the tricky part! I WAS desensitized to these people, but after having a narcissist mother and husband, I’m finally starting to get it… It’s a battle I’ll be fighting for a long time I know, but I AM NOW FIGHTING!

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Claire

Thanks for your reply, I hadn’t thought of it from that angle, but it really makes a lot of sense…I could just see my narcissistic ex husband and my father using NPD diagnosis as an excuse if either were willing to admit it to themselves.

I was led to your site by a friend who linked to your blog on speaking to children about anxiety and that was the best post I’ve seen on anxiety to date. I don’t have kids but I read it anyway and I’ve been enjoying your other posts too. Thank you for putting so much thought into your writing and for taking the time to reply to every single comment you get!

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Dh

I am going through this after a friendship at home. I did everything for him. I was used. He wasn’t nice. Disappeared. Caught in lies no communication for two months. Left me the day after mini stroke. “Everyone has ministrokes” I paid everything. He didn’t work. I paid his medical. I paid for his DUI treatment through medical, supported him for almost three years.

Now its been three months and he just up and left and moved in with I suspect with another younger girl. I can’t believe I didn’t see all the signs. My friends and family saw. He would get upset, turn questions around. I was so in love and took so much from him. He was mean, rude and I took it so desperate. I know I am better off but somehow I miss him.

Why I don’t know. I see a pattern. He is a player. Never wanted a relationship. ” do you ever think I would change my mind” that hurt! Never said he loved me! Ran him everywhere! Did so much so he could go to school. Most of facebook is all women. Flirts. I guess I did think he would change his mind. I went to talk about my first ministroke to him he asked whats wrong with you instead of calling 911. The next hit day after Christmas and he left. Never are you ok. He only used to say get healthy because I had diabetic ulcer on foot, diabetes and fibromyalgia which he didn’t believe. He was selfish it was all about him and his needs.

Totally spoiled. I am totally better without him.

Now at work if thats not enough I went back to work after being off on medical and work environment is toxic and I am singled out. By boss and toxic coworkers praying to get out. Job interview next week.
Trying remain positive.
Thank you for this article!!!!
It was perfect timing. I am working on healing and building my self esteem!

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heysigmund

I’m so pleased this article found its way to you. You’ve have been with someone you were way too good for. You are so much better without him! There’s a pattern and it won’t change. Take the time you need to learn from this relationship so no-one like him comes near you again. Think about what drew you to him? What stopped you leaving sooner? What was it that kept you there, even though that voice inside you was telling to run? Did you hear that voice inside you? Or was it too quiet? Try and understand as much about your relationship as you can so the same things don’t repeat in the next relate . If any there are lessons that remain are unresolved the risk is that you will be drawn. Leave him so far behind you. Then thank him. It’s because of his cruelty that you are about learn more about yourself than ever and grow into someone phenomenal.

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Cathleen Richins

Thank you for this article. It is very helpful… it breaks my heart to say I have a toxic daughter-in-law and I am at a loss on how to deal with her. As I learn from articles such as this one I think I will be better equipped to weather the storm… and to be there for my son and two granddaughters… if they should need me.

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heysigmund

Some toxic people you can’t walk away from but hopefully understanding what they do helps to, as you say, ‘weather the storm’ (such a great description!). The most important thing is not to say anything bad about your daughter in law in front of them (even if what you are saying is true!). One of the way toxic people do so much damage is by dividing people by pitting one against the other. You don’t want to give her any reason to say to your son ‘look what your mother is doing to me. She’s always hated me …’ You can imagine how it would look. Also, if you say negative things to them about her it runs the risk of them feeling like they can’t talk to you about her because of the ‘I told you so,’ factor. She will always be the mum to your granddaughter and unfortunately, you can’t do anything about that but you can be their greatest protector. It sounds like you already are. They are very lucky to have you.

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Jo Ann Clark

Thank you so much for this article. I have had several toxic relationships, people who mistake kindness for weakness. The most current toxic relationship is a friend who I was close to, but he wanted to become more than friends and I am married. So when I turned him down, his ego got stepped on and he started becoming manipulative, making me feel guilty over my decisions, etc. I started to question my own better judgement. I decided today (actually before I even read the article) that there really is no room for this person in my life. He is toxic, plays the games, one day he’s talkative and seems fine, the next time he makes “digs” that he knows will hurt my feelings. I’ve had enough. Why keep going back and trying to make this friendship work. Friendships should be natural and easy ( for the most part) and when they become more trouble than they are worth, then it’s time to cut ties. I will continue to pray for him, because God requires us to love all people, enemies included. I wish him well. Bless you for the article, it was extremely helpful!

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heysigmund

I’m so pleased the information found its way to you. You’re right. Too often people mistake kindness for weakness, but the kindest people I know have been some of the strongest. You’ve shown real strength in your relationship with your friend. It’s not easy though is it. You have wonderful insight, so let that continue to strengthen you. You’ve done the right thing. Thank you for sharing this. You never know else who will get strength from your story.

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Pete

This is me, not all of it but most of it. I have made my Wife’s life difficult and I don’t want to be this person.

To answer some of the comments above, Toxic people don’t know they are doing it and may well be devastated that they are making other people feel that way. If it’s your boss the. I can’t advise you, I’ve been let go from jobs the last 2 Christmas’. If it’s your spouse, then all I can say is that it’s about communications people. I don’t believe anyone wants to make anyone else feel like poop.

I want to change, I will change and I will not be a Toxic person!

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heysigmund

It takes strength to be able to own your part in contributing to the pain in someone else’s life. It’s so encouraging to hear that you have gained this level of self-insight. One of the things that makes toxic people so toxic is they just don’t get to this point. Communication becomes manipulative or non-existent, and they are masterful forming relationships with people who will always want the best for the people they love, so will bend and twist for the sake of the relationship. Meanwhile, the toxic person contributes nothing. The fact that can see what you’ve done that has hurt your wife and that you want to change it is enormous and I can hear how open you are to trying to make things right. I know it sounds cliche, but that’s the hardest step. The second hardest step is staying changed – there might be the occasional two steps forward one step back. Sometimes there might be three steps back. The main this is you keep moving forward and not be discouraged by the times you fall a little. I know you can change. I know you can do this.

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tara

I am trying to post a comment on this thread, not leave a reply.

so here goes.

I have a very toxic relationship with my ex-husband.
I REALLY NEED TO GET OVER IT, or at the very least learn an effective way to control it, instead of it controlling me.
We have two children together, and have been divorced for over 10 years.

his nickname is DQ for Drama Queen. He is a full fledged narcissist, contradicts himself, bullies, manipulates. Undermines my authority, involves the kids in adult situations, and then when they ask questions he says its none of their business.

I could give many more details if you want to write a book LOL or an article.

kind regards
t

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heysigmund

I have a better idea. No pressure, totally up to you, but why don’t you write the article. I’m starting a new section, ‘And Talking About It’ – the blurb is under the talk and it’s for people to write about their experiences so people can come along and not feel so alone if they’re going through the same thing. Just an idea!

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singsing

Argh! I’m not so sure about all of this.

I think labelling people is never a good approach (i.e. this person is “toxic”). By labelling the other person as the “problem” you become a poor, helpless victim. This position robs you of an opportunity to explore your own role in the relationship, however small it might be. Your role might be that you didn’t maintain healthy boundaries because you seek validation from others. Or your role might be that you didn’t have the courage to say “no” when they asked you to bring the dinner to their dinner party. Exploring your own role gives you some clues about what personal growth you can work on.

A close friend recently told me I was “cold” and “selfish”. I’m resisting the urge to label her as mean or toxic. It’s tempting (and probably easier) to do that but I know that doesn’t help me or our relationship. Instead I’m trying to see my role in the situation. If I cast my mind back, I felt pressured to do something she was excited about so I avoided phone calls and delayed making a decision. So, I can see I have some work to do around speaking up for myself and reducing my fear of upsetting people. Also, I’m trying to understand, from her perspective, how she came to these conclusions. Perhaps by doing this, I exposed some sort of need or vulnerability in her and she was trying to protect herself? Or is it the projection thing you mention in the article? I’m not sure. But I’m thinking about it. I’m trying not to label her and victimise myself. I may decide to end the friendship, but it won’t be because she’s a “toxic person”, it will be because she’s a person…whose definition of friendship is different to mine.

Also I couldn’t see anything about having compassion for “toxic” people. If people are behaving in the ways described above, perhaps it gives some clues about the pain within them (we all have pain and wounds that sometimes control how we behave in the world). Boundaries in relationships are essential. Boundaries with compassion are ideal. I think the world needs more compassion less labelling.

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heysigmund

First of all, it’s important to point out that everybody gets it wrong sometimes. We are all guilty of doing any or all of these 12 things some of the time. Doing them now and then doesn’t make us toxic – it makes us human. What makes people toxic is the degree and the regularity of what they do, coupled with an absence of insight, remorse or concern for their impact on people. If you are looking at your behaviour and engaging in some self-reflection, high chances are that you’re not toxic, but that perhaps you just got something wrong. That’s okay. We’re all allowed to do that sometimes. In fact, it’s essential – it’s how we learn.

Secondly, sometimes the other person is the problem – and that doesn’t make you a victim. Toxic people generally land in relationships with people who are constantly assessing and adjusting their own behaviour to make the relationship better – constantly. If there was a time you didn’t return phone calls because you weren’t ready to share your friend’s excitement – that doesn’t make you toxic – not at all! Even if you were to do it regularly that doesn’t make you toxic. BUT – if you do most things on the list most of the time, as well as other behaviours that serve to constantly undermine the friendship, then that may be headed to the toxic end of the spectrum. I would challenge anyone to claim they haven’t done at least a few things on the least at least a few times before. We’re human and we’re allowed to get it wrong sometimes!

Being in a relationship – be it family, friends or the people we fall in love with – always involves letting our guard come down little by little. It involves being open and vulnerable to the other person. We are open to their love, their trust, their respect, their appreciation, their wisdom. We are also vulnerable to their potential to hurt us. We all have our scars and our bruises and we have to hope that the people we have chosen to be close to will treat our scars and bruises with love, dignity and respect. We have to hope we’ve chosen well and that the person we are with will not exploit our opening up to them but of course, we can’t always tell straight away. Toxic people take that opening up and vulnerability and they do damage. They make the scars deeper and the bruises darker and they just don’t care. We are all fighting our own battles. Nobody’s battle gives them the right to damage, humiliate, shame or hurt another person over and over.

Having said all of this, I deeply respect your opinions. The are wise, insightful and compassionate. Thank you for taking the time to share them.

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psyche74

I strongly agree with you, sing sing. Reading many of the comments here, there seems to be an overwhelming tendency for people to see themselves as the victim in their relationships with others. I don’t believe that’s an accurate or healthy perspective in general.

We are all flawed and have a natural bias that allows us to see more clearly where others have wronged us but not necessarily where we have been wrong. It’s far too easy to label the other person as The Problem, and I suspect ‘toxic’ people are highly prone to labeling others so.

I do believe it’s critically important to walk away from people who clearly do not have your best interests at heart–after you’ve done your best to be sure that *you* have not been the one creating the tensions in the relationship. There are certainly plenty of people out there who will lie, manipulate, and take advantage of others to the extent possible. Healthy boundaries are necessary for every relationship.

However, if you find yourself repeatedly in relationships with so-called toxic people, you might want to remember that the one common factor in all those relationships is you.

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Hey Sigmund

True for toxic friendships or relationships where the cost of leaving is less than the cost of staying, but sometimes the toxic person is a parent, a sibling, a family member, a step-child, or an ex-spouse with whom the relationship has to be maintained on some level because of shared parenting). In these cases, it’s not always easy or possible to walk away from a toxic relationship because the cost may be too high, but I agree with you completely that if there is a continuing pattern with intimate relationships or friendships, it’s time to look at your own expectations, and the reason you’re drawn to these type of people. It really depends on the nature of the relationship and the cost involved in leaving. I understand the point you’re making – thank you for sharing it and for keeping the conversation going.

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Laurie

Wow, this was written about my daughter, as a matter of fact she is keeping my 3yr old granddaughter from me 3rd time in 3 yrs. All I did was ask about Easter this year. That was it she dis owned me, now keeping my little one from me who for the past 3 yrs has stayed w/papa & I for 4-5 days she loves it here, when she was a baby she use to cry well scream & cry when it was time to go home!!
If she does not let me see her this easter I’m going for grandparents rights in CA I have 14,000 pics & Pics of her own room @ Grammy & papas house.
I am done putting up w/her lies, manipulations. She will not us my little one as a pawn!!

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heysigmund

Oh no I’m sorry you’re going through this. I hope you are able to find a way through and that there comes to be some sort of resolution for everyone.

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Summer

After reading this and thinking for a while, I’ve come to the conclusion that this article could actually go the other way as well. For those who can’t grasp the fact that they might actually belong on the other side.
I think that everyone has a little of each in them, and when they deny it they are only lying to themselves.

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heysigmund

I absolutely agree – we can all do a little bit of all of them. It’s a question of degree, intent, and what you do when you realise you’ve overstepped the mark with someone. I think we all exist on a spectrum – it comes with being human!

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Becca

My toxic ex uses everything I say against me and says and does very cruel things. He never apologizes or takes responsibility for his abuse. He says if I don’t like it don’t talk to him? Now, he is doing nice things for my daughter and contacting her behind my back which is putting a wedge between my daughter and me. She doesn’t think there is anything wrong with it but I know what he’s doing. My toxic ex won’t respond to any of my messages regarding my daughter. I have told him whatever correspondence he has it can go through me and have blocked his number from her cell phone. They text each other 8 times yesterday? All because he got her concert tickets.

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heysigmund

Oh I really feel for you – this is such a difficult situation. The most important thing above everything is to keep your relationship with your daughter intact. Whatever you think of your ex, he’s your daughter’s dad and the only one she has. Kids will always want to see the best in their parents because they are a part of them. It’s very easy for kids to think that if their parent is bad, perhaps a part of them is bad too. Of course, as adults we know it doesn’t work like that understandably, kids just want to see their parents in the best light they can. The more difficult you make it for her to make contact with him, the more you might be encouraging her to contact him behind your back – and you don’t want that. It seems to be that way with people generally – the more we push against someone, the harder they push back against us. If he’s not doing any harm to her – if he’s being a loving, responsible dad, perhaps the best thing you can do for your relationship with your daughter might be to let her know that it’s okay and that she can talk to you about it. Of course, this depends on what he’s like with her and whether or not the relationship is a loving, healthy one. I know this won’t be easy but it’s the capacity to do the hard stuff for the sake of their kids that makes parents to amazing. Again, this all depends on whether or not his relationship with her is a positive one. In the meantime, I know it’s so difficult to watch but it’s important that you’re the steady, reliable, available, loving parent. You also don’t want to do anything that will shut down the communication between you and her – she needs you. Try and see her relationship with him as separate to his relationship with you. I expect he is a very different man with her to the one he is with you. I know this isn’t an easy situation. Hold tight though, kids see things for what they are eventually. Your daughter is very lucky to have you.

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