Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

When It’s Not You, It’s Them: The Toxic People That Ruin Friendships, Families, Relationships

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When It's Not You, It's Them: The Toxic People That Ruin Friendships, Families, Relationships

One of the joys of being human is that we don’t have to be perfect to be one of the good ones. At some point we’ll all make stupid decisions, hurt the people we love, say things that are hard to take back, and push too hard to get our way. None of that makes us toxic. It makes us human. We mess things up, we grow and we learn. Toxic people are different. They never learn. They never self-reflect and they don’t care who they hurt along the way. 

Toxic behaviour is a habitual way of responding to the world and the people in it. Toxic people are smart but they have the emotional intelligence of a pen lid. It’s no accident that they choose those who are open-hearted, generous and willing to work hard for a relationship. With two non-toxic people this is the foundation for something wonderful, but when toxic behaviour is involved it’s only a matter of time before that open heart becomes a broken one.

If you’re in any sort of relationship with someone who is toxic, chances are you’ve been bending and flexing for a while to try to make it work. Stop. Just stop. You can only change the things that are open to your influence and toxic people will never be one of them. Here are some of the ones to watch out for.

13 Versions of Toxic People

  1. The Controller.

    Nobody should have to ask for permission or be heavily directed on what to wear, how to look, who to spend time with or how to spend their money. There’s nothing wrong with being open to the influence of the people around you, but ‘the way you do you’ is for you to decide. Your mind is strong and beautiful and shouldn’t be caged. Healthy relationships support independent thought. They don’t crush it.

  2. The Taker.

    All relationships are about give and take but if you’re with a taker, you’ll be doing all the giving and they’ll be doing all the taking. Think about what you get from the relationship. If it’s nothing, it might be time to question why you’re there. We all have a limited amount of resources (emotional energy, time) to share between our relationships. Every time you say ‘yes’ to someone who doesn’t deserve you, you’re saying ‘no’ to someone who does. Give your energy to the people who deserve it and when you’re drawing up the list of deserving ones, make sure your own name is at the top.

  3. The Absent.

    These versions of toxic people won’t return texts or phone calls and will only be available when it suits them, usually when they want something. You might find yourself wondering whether they got your message, whether they’re okay, or whether you’ve done something to upset them. No relationship should involve this much guess-work.

  4. The Manipulator.

    Manipulators will steal your joy as though you made it especially for them. They’ll tell half-truths or straight out lies and when they have enough people squabbling, they’ll be the saviour. ‘Don’t worry. I’m here for you.’ Ugh. They’ll listen, they’ll comfort, and they’ll tell you want you need to hear. And then they’ll ruin you. They’ll change the facts of a situation, take things out of context and use your words against you. They’ll calmly poke you until you crack, then they’ll poke you for cracking. They’ll ‘accidentally’ spill secrets or they’ll hint that there are secrets there to spill, whether there are or not. There’s just no reasoning with a manipulator, so forget trying to explain yourself. The argument will run in circles and there will be no resolution. It’s a black hole. Don’t get sucked in.

    You:   I feel like you’re not listening to me.
    Them:
      Are you calling me a bad listener
    You:
      No, I’m just saying that you’ve taken what I said the wrong way.
    Them:
      Oh. So now you’re saying I’m stupid. I can’t believe you’re doing this to me. Everyone told me to be careful of you.

    They’ll only hear things through their negative filter, so the more you talk, the more they’ll twist what you’re saying. They want power, not a relationship. They’ll use your weaknesses against you and they’ll use your strengths – your kindness, your openness, your need for stability in the relationship. If they’re showing tenderness, be careful – there’s something you have that they want. Show them the door, and lock it when they leave.

  5. The Bullshitter.

    They talk themselves up, they talk others down and they always have a reason for not doing what they say. They’ll lie outright or they’ll give you versions of the truth – not a lie, not the truth, just that feeling in your gut that something is off. You can’t believe a word they say. There’s no honesty, which means there’s no intimacy. At worst bullshitters are heartbreakers. At best they’re raving bores.

  6. The Attention Seeker.

    It’s nice to be needed. It’s also nice to eat peanut butter, but it doesn’t mean you want it all the time. The attention seeker always has a crisis going on and they always need your support. Be ready for the aggression, passive aggression, angst or a guilt trip if you don’t respond. ‘Oh. You’re going to dinner with  friends? It’s just that I’ve had the worst day and I really needed you tonight. Oh well, I suppose I can’t always expect you to be there for me. If it’s that important to you then you should go. I just want you to be happy. I’ll just stay in by myself and watch tv or something (sigh). You go and have fun with your friends. I suppose I’ll be okay.’ See how that works? When there’s always a crisis, it’s only a matter of time before you’re at the centre of one. 

  7. The One Who Wants to Change You.

    It’s one thing to let you know that the adorable snort thing you do when you laugh isn’t so adorable, but when you’re constantly reminded that you aren’t smart enough, good-looking enough, skinny enough, strong enough, you have to start thinking that the only thing that isn’t good enough about you is this loser who keeps pointing these things out. You’ll never be good enough for these people because it’s not about you, it’s about control and insecurity – theirs, not yours. As long as they’re working on changing you, they don’t have to worry about themselves, and as long as they can keep you small, they’ll have a shot at shining brighter.

    These people will make you doubt yourself by slowly convincing you that they know best, and that they’re doing it all for you. ‘You’d just be so much prettier if you lost a few pounds, you know? I’m just being honest.’ Ugh. Unless you’re having to be craned through your window, or you’re seriously unhealthy, it’s nobody else’s business how luscious your curves are. If you feel heavy, start by losing the 160 pounds of idiot beside you and you won’t believe how much lighter you’ll feel. These ones aren’t looking out for you, they’re trying to manage you. The people who deserve you will love you because of who you are, not despite it.

  8. The One You Want to Change.

    People aren’t channels, hairstyles or undies. You can’t change them. Someone who snarls at the waiter will always be the kind of person who snarls at the waiter – whether they’re snarling or not. People can change, but only when they’re ready and usually only when they’ve felt enough pain.  It’s normal to fight for the things that are important, but it’s important to know when to stop. When a relationship hurts to be in, the only thing that will change will be you – a sadder, more unhappier version of the person you started out as. Before it gets to this, set a time limit in which you want to see change. Take photos of yourself every day – you’ll see it in your eyes if something isn’t right, or check in at the end of each week and write down how you feel. Have something concrete to look back on. It’s easier to let go if it’s clear over time that nothing has changed. It’s even easier if you can see that the only thing different is that the lights have gone out in you.

  9. The Abuser.

    The signs might be subtle at first but they’ll be there. Soon, there will be a clear cycle of abuse, but you may or may not recognise it for what it is but this is how it will look:

    >>  There will be rising tension. You’ll feel it. You’ll tread carefully and you’ll be scared of saying or doing the wrong thing.

    >>   Eventually, there will be an explosion. A fight. There will be physical or emotional abuse and it will be terrifying. At first you’ll make excuses – ‘I shouldn’t have said that/ did that/ gone out/ had an opinion/ said no.

    >>  Then, the honeymoon. The abuser can be wonderfully kind and loving when they need to be, but only when they need to be. You’ll be so desperate for things to get better that you’ll believe the apologies, the tenderness, the declarations of love, the promises.

    >> The tension will start to rise again. Over time, the cycle will get shorter and it will happen more often. The tension will rise quicker, the explosions will be bigger, the honeymoons will be shorter. 

    If this is familiar, you’re in a cycle of abuse. It’s not love. It’s not stress. It’s not your fault. It’s abuse. The honeymoon will be one of the things that keeps you there. The love will feel real and you’ll crave it, of course you will – that’s completely understandable – but listen to this: Love after abuse isn’t love, it’s manipulation. If the love was real, there would be mountains moved to make sure you were never hurt or scared again.

  10. The Jealous One.

    Your partner is important and so are other people in your life. If you act in a trustworthy way, you deserve to be trusted. We all get insecure now and then and sometimes we could all do with a little more loving and reassurance, but when the questions, accusations and demands are consistent and without reason, it will only be a matter of time before your phone is checked, your movements are questioned, and your friends are closed out. Misplaced jealousy isn’t love, it’s a lack of trust in you.

  11. The Worse-Off One.

    These people will always have problems that are bigger than yours. You’re sick, they’re sicker; you’re exhausted from working late every night this week, they’re shattered – from the gym; you’ve just lost your job, they’re ‘devastated because it’s really hard when you know someone who’s lost their job’. You’ll always be the supporter, never the supported. There’s only so long that you can keep drawing on your emotional well if there’s nothing coming back.

  1. The Sideways Glancer.

    Ok. So the human form is beautiful and there’s nothing wrong with admiring it, but when it’s done constantly in your company – in your face – it’s tiring, and it feels bad. You deserve to be first and you deserve to feel noticed. That doesn’t mean you have to be first all the time, but certainly you shouldn’t have to fight strangers for your share of attention. Some things will never be adorable.

  2. The Cheater.

    Infidelity doesn’t have to mean the end of a relationship – that depends on the circumstances and the people involved and it’s not for anyone else to judge whether or not you should stay. It’s a deeply personal decision and one you can make in strength either way, but when infidelity happens more than once, or when it happens without remorse or commitment to the future of the relationship, it will cause breakage. When people show you over and over that they aren’t capable of loving you the way you want to be loved, believe them. Move them out of the damn way so that better things can find you. 

  1. The Liar.

    Let’s be realistic – little white lies happen. In fact, research has found that when lying is done for the right reasons (such as to protect someone’s feelings) it can actually strengthen a relationship. ‘So that’s the orange cocktail dress you’ve spent a month’s pay on? Wow – you weren’t kidding when you said it was bright. Oh, it has pandas on it. And they’re smiling. And the shop doesn’t take returns. And you love it. Well keep smiling gorgeous. You look amazing!’. However, when lies are told with malicious intent and for personal gain, it will always weaken relationships. Relationships are meant to be fun, but none of us are meant to be played.

  1. The One Who Laughs at Your Dreams.

    Whether it’s being a merchant banker, a belly dancer, or the inventor of tiny slippers for cats, the people who deserve you are those who support your dreams, not those who laugh at them. The people who tell you that you won’t succeed are usually the ones who are scared that you will. If they’re not cheering you on, they’re holding you back. If they’re not directly impacted by your dreams, (which, for example, your partner might be if your dream is to sell everything you both own, move to Rome, and sell fake sunglasses to the tourists) then you would have to question what they’re getting out of dampening you.

Being human is complicated. Being open to the world is a great thing to be – it’s wonderful – but when you’re open to the world you’re also open to the poison that spills from it.  One of the things that makes a difference is the people you hold close. Whether it’s one, two or squadron-sized bunch, let the people around you be ones who are worthy of you. It’s one of the greatest acts of self-love. Good people are what great lives are made of. 

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199 Comments

Amanda

I’ve just come out of a 3 year on off relationship with a man who had 12 out of the 13 toxic behaviours to look out for! The last resort of us splitting up was he kicked me and my 5 year old son out of his flat, my son had no shoes on he wouldn’t give me my car keys and my son saw him drag me out by my ankles!! My sons dad got wind if all this and contacted social services which I do not blame him for at all as I would have done the same. Me and my ex have now been split for 4 months and everyday I get some sort of abbusive text saying I’m sleeping with whoever I’m messaging whoever the lust is endless then he goes back to saying how I was his life he has nobody and that he loves me then when he doesn’t get a reaction from that he says he going to commit suicide and it goes on and on!! I am trying to get on with my life I’ve been away and been out for my 40th birthday but feel guilty for doing that cause he says I’m just flirting with other guys getting there numbers and everything else!! I cannot be with this guy as I will loose my son and I keep telling him this but he just continues the same every day I’ve never known anything like it in my life as if it was the other way round I would walk away I wouldn’t want him to loose his kids no matter how painful it was for me! There is so much more to this but they are the basic things!

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McAllestar

So block his number, and call it a day.

If you don’t want to talk to the guy, block his number. If you don’t want his text messages, block his number. If you don’t want e-mails from him, block his e-mail address.

If you’re not going to do any of those above, then you get what you get.

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Pam

The way I feel right now, if my hopefully soon to be ex-husband said that he would kill himself I would hand him everything he needed to do it with and ask him what’s taking so long.

Amanda, I’m saying this to you now, take that precious little boy and get as far away from that man as you can get. Save your child, he is the most precious thing in this world and no amount of promises or hopes of love are worth his innocent little life. Think about how badly you are being hurt by that jerk, every single minute of your life is probably lived with thoughts of the jerk who is destroying your life, and i know how you feel because I am there and I live it everyday. You have a choice though, you can choose your life and what you will put up with, but your little boy, he has to go along with you and he doesn’t have a choice at this point. This is probably the most important thing you will ever do in your life and maybe the toughest, but get you and that baby out of there. Do whatever it takes to do it, but go and do it now. Later on when you know your little boy is safe, then you can stop and think and wonder and go through all the mental bullshit you are sure to be dealing with. Get some distance and don’t even let him talk to you because the are good good good at what they do.
You may be feeling sorry or thinking that maybe you can help him, teach him or somehow turn him back to the way he was at first, but I promise you, the man you first me and fell in love with isn’t real, he played a fantasy role for a while to suck you in, but you will NEVER see that person again because it was an act, that’s all it was. He will use you up and spit you out and never look back, but not until he has totally left you feeling like the rubbish in the trash can. And the only future you have with him is what you have now and worse, it won’t ever get better, just worse. I promise you that. And you will be sacrificing your son and yourself if you try to stick it out. And this so called person who is making all these promises and telling you all these lies, he will throw you away and be laughing the whole time, this is what they live for.
I know I must sound like a raving lunatic right now and maybe I am being tough on you, but believe me, this is gentle compared to what you would be going back into. Save your Son if you can’t save yourself, save your SON! Go now!

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Sam

Im 48 and my philapino fiance 23 is always teasing me never serious says she is but never opens up always silent .she calls me stupid american dumb .i just came back from the philapine 21 days there .and our long distant relation has gotten worse .if i dont do what she says she will hang up on me .or tell me over and over 10 times on her texts or verbally telling me .i need to stop trying so hard to win her heart she is the boss she has the control but i feel im too needy .i dont know what to do now .she uninstalled all her apps that she has with me .after 1 year of knowing eachother she acts like she doesnt need me anymore .

Reply
McAllestar

She doesn’t need you, and you don’t need her. You’re 48 years old, so grow up. Why are you trying to marry 23 year old children? Find someone your own age who you have something in common with.

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Michael

My situation is a bit different. The person who shows many of the signs mentioned here is my mother. She is a result of a broken home and her father abandoned the family when she was 4. She also shows signs of a person with abandonment issues and It is difficult to know where each behaviour comes from as they overlap. She has shown a pattern her whole life of cutting off contact with people. She always blames them and it is always about them and not about her in her discription of events. She has broke contact with all of her family and at least 3 female friends that she did have a close relationship with, but then she became angry and dismissed them. I was ill one Christmas and dared to suggest a change to Christmas plans. her response was to scream at me on the phone and hang up. She refused to consider my perspective or my suggestion to connect differently that Christmas. it is important to note that I am in my 50’s and she is in her 70’s. Since that conflict she has had no contact and refused any attempts by me to have a discussion. I do think that her childhood has a huge impact on who she is. Friends who are psycologists have told me that her behaviours are typical of a person with Abandonment Issues. When in relationships with others she also shows many elements of the Toxic person. It was impossible to ever discuss anythink without her switching the conversation to herself. It went something like, I am really tired, and her response would be “tell me about it, I have been so busy this week with such and such”. This has always been how she communicated and still does with everyone she connects with. I often wondered if she thought she was “finding common ground” by aligning her expereince with the other person, but now it seems clear that was not the case, but I don’t feel she decides to switch the conversation focus in this way, I think she does not know how else to respond. I also think that she is a very unhappy person. I have accepted that a relationship with her is not possible and have stopped hoping for change. I have good and meaningful relationships in my life but I do feel a loss, somewhat like a death because of the loss of this relationship. I guess, my post is not really to seek advice, unless something seems apparent to you. It is more to express the situation and explore the idea of the coexisting dynamics of a person who is Toxic and a person who has Abandonment issues. I think we often place blame on a person who is Toxic, but in my situation I feel very much as if the hurt of the past generation has been passed on to the next. I think it was not my mothers fault that adandonment happened to her. The actions of my grandfather hurt my grandmother and hurt my mother and the truth is that my mother has, maybe not purposefully, also hurt me. I can actually have compassion toward her for what she went through and I also feel that she is unable to reflect and see her role in her relationships. It is not accessible to her. Maybe the pain and fear is so deeply rooted she does not know how to be any other way.

Thank you for providing a forum.

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Emily

It’s comforting Michael to know that I am not the only one that feels this way towards their mother for similar reasons. I am wondering if you have ever had an open conversation with her about your concerns and the impact her behavior has on you– and how that was received.

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Reddy4luv

This article made it clear I made the right decision to end a 8 year relationship that was very toxic. He had half of these traits and I tried so hard to help him change but you can’t change someone who never thinks they are wrong or blames others for their actions 😑. I know if I stayed I would lose myself and I deserve better.

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Ze Ro

I am in my first ever “real” relationship with someone. I have never loved someone like this before. I have been almost going out for 2years, but it feels like more. His toxic family ismaking us break up. I dont understand why he is taking the side of racist horrible people over me, the one who will always be there for him. I just feel so low, and I still want to be with him. I dont want me or him to be with anyone else. And I know he loves me…I dont know. I just feel horrible and want to forget everything and be with him.

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Anonymous

I do not have a relationship with my husband and the only way we can spend an evening together is by inviting friends. I also create nuisance among friends circles and as a result have been thrown out of many friend circles. I keep begging them to take me back but they won’t.

I have recently been trying to enter another group and have started creating a nuisance there too. I am sure I will be thrown out again. I need help from a psychiatrist but don’t know what to do and cannot help myself.

Many times I feel I should move to another city and start fresh but don’t know how to do that.

I need help.

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Judith

my boyfriend of 2 years and 3 months is the last son of 11 kids Greek family. 9 sisters 2 son. He is 43 not kid! He never been happy in his life whit any woman his family member tall me. The Mum is berry controling and his sister don’t one to look after his dad that is in bed whit care of two of his sister and get pay by NHS for it. From 11 to 2 pm!! They change Dad nappy only ones and they life all to him when is back from work. If he don’t stay whit then one sister police office control all. He scare of her. Lot negative round. If I Pay flower for mum. She say to him: she is traying to hart 😷 If he take me out sat or Sundays have to be for 3 hours only. He need to be all the time whit then. Dad in bed smoke not stop!! I don’t understand why NHS pay for a 84 year old man like this and for a kid whit cancer only 4%!! Mother is 84 and walk shopping the lot. Why they don’t left him be happy?? Why control his life?? Why she thinkgs he is a baby he is 43? They all big gamble and live a lie!! I don’t one a man who is a kid and don’t one to open his eyes. Beford he was unhappy and slepping lot. Don’t go to work Saturdays I change him and they don’t like!! He also gamble beford a lot. I make him to stop!! I was proud I say all the time. He go back to gamble 😷 Is
Sad but I change my phone number and I craying so much today. But I can’t do this any more. My son used to have cancer for 3 years. I when for so much pain. He is getting better day by day. I work and I don’t understand why?? Is so simple they have a life 11 kids!! Why they don’t one him to be happy? I know they are whit the problem. 😷

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Simon

Just reading throught the toxic list as i finished with a friendship/relationship of 7years .she always had a crisis and needed my help also helped raise her kids as a stepdad she s then met a new man and wanted me to carry on helping .i hav nt seen her for 3 months as i decided to walk away .could nt carry on helping in a one way street ,she then texts me last week to see if i can look after her son on a sleep over i texted her that I was nt happy as we were a couple for a long time but in her mind we were friends .she did nt like my honesty and now will never talk to me again or see her kids that saw me as a dad and i m the one to blame .feel like shit such a shame she can t see what i did for her but your list made me.realise that she will never change need to move on sorry her children are caught in the middle

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Saphire

I’m in a 20 year toxic relationship. I was extremely young when we started. Only in recent years have I started to really see through him. Problem is now he refuses to leave out of my life. I have supported him financially and emotionally for a large portion of our time together. I am his bread and butter yet he emotionally abused me. In recent years he has begun to abuse me verbally in public to family and friends and exploit our intamacy and degrades me as a women and mother to my children. I was thinking of therapy for the damage he continues to inflict. I want out but don’t want to involve police. I don’t know what is holding me back from calling the police and having him escorted out of my home that I purchased without him. I don’t know what to do but I do know I want out!

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