Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

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


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.


  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.


  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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Hi I have been following the comments on here. I have a sibling who has always bullied me and in the past few years did some really bad things, like smear campaign. When I told him that I did not trust him, he accused me of being mean and carrying a grudge. Also no apology for anything – it’s ‘well sorry you are so sensitive ( or sorry you didn’t like that) It’s like I’m being shamed into putting up with the behavior. If I try to tell him what a counselor said, he will hum loudly so as not to hear what I say, or say, yeah yeah, big deal….
When I was growing up, my dad said that you have to turn the other cheek, so very little family support for me.


That family member is exactly the person this article is talking about. I know. I lived it for 49 yrs. I finally had enough and cut them all out of my life six years ago. It was hard but today I wish I had done it much sooner.
Society gives us the impression that just because you’re related to someone that gives that person the right to use and abuse you and you just have to accept it. Wrong! Family should be held at a higher level than others. They are supposed to be there when other people hurt you.
Let this sibling go. The first time I refused to accept my sister’s horrible treatment of me she went ballistic!! She no longer has control over me and that made her crazy!! It was then that I saw her true colors. I stood my grown and when she started attacking me with all the horrible things she said I was I simply said ” well..that’s to bad for you” and hung up. She expected me to immediately call back groveling for her forgiveness like I always had but I just walked away and never looked back. A year later she tried it again. This time I went balistic letting her know under no circumstances that I NEVER wanted to see or hear from her again!! I told her having get in my life made me miserable all the time and that getting her out of my life was the best thing that I had ever done. I also let her know I didn’t give a damn what she thought of me or did. Then I changed my phone number so she really couldn’t call me anymore.
You don’t owe your brother a damn thing. His opinion or approval are not necessary for you to be the best person you can. Chances are your probably already such a better person than he that your mere presence brings up all his insecurities which is why he has to make you feel less than for him to feel good.
You do not have to have any contact with him that you don’t want and if anyone makes you feel bad about that then that person doesn’t have your best interests at heart either.
Be your own best friend. Stop working so hard to make someone like you When they are doing nothing to deserve it.


I forgot to tell you to go to Luke 17:3 ministries web site. It saved my life!! You’ll be astonished and enlightened about things you never knew you needed to hear and know.


After reading this, it’s hard for me to say it but that’s my sister to a T.

She always manipulates the situation to get her way. Every argument that happens is never her fault, but it’s the other person. She will never apologize for snapping at someone with an attitude, but she expects apologies from others. The way she belittles me kills my self esteem, and triggers my anxiety and depression. I just… If I ever try to defend myself, I suddenly have the attitude and I’m the one starting everything.

And what’s worse, her 13 year old spoiled entitles child is the same. Manipulates situations so she can skip school and be on YouTube at home all day. She acts all upset and ‘needing to stay home today’, but as soon as my sister leaves she changes personalities altogether, dancing and laughing and jumping around the house while I get ready for work. She has never been grounded. Threatened to be grounded, sure, but as soon as the crocodile tears start, the grounding is forgotten.


STOP defending yourself!! That is exactly what she wants!! As long as your defending your actions then her behavior is not even questioned. Every time she does or says anything that makes you immediately feel like you need to defend your self. STOP IT!! Turn it around!! Point out all the ways she falls short of even being a decent human being! Better yet, just tell her she’s entitled to her fantasy world and walk away!!
I have found that the louder a person is screaming about somebody else’s faults the more they are trying to hide what they have done. So long as your looking at your mistakes the more her really disgusting behavior is never seen. That’s all they are really trying to do, make everyone look at you so they don’t even think about what horrible things she’s getting away with.
Do not feed the animals! They’ll just keep coming back for more. The less you engage, the more times you don’t the the bait, the more boring you become to them. Toxic people really don’t care what the subject is all they really want is the chaos they create. They love it. They feed on it. They have nothing inside so they have to suck the life out of everyone else in order to feel alive. The more you engage the more they can take. Stop handing her your soul on a silver platter. Just because you share some dna with a person does not mean you have to have to have anything to do with them. Ask yourself this…if I wasn’t related to this person would I want them for a friend. Of the answer is HELL NO! Then get them out of your life.
Go to Luke 17:3 ministries web site. It saved my life. It’s all about the most accepted abuse in the world…abuse of adult daughters (or sons). It will help you see things you never even knew you weren’t seeing.


All I have is problems and it’s like nothing is ever going to get better. I try to be happy positive and outgoing. It doesn’t matter what kind of mood I’m in it’s my boyfriends job to make me upset. I stay silent I stay in my place i don’t speak anymore because it feels like I’m constantly walking on eggshells and I’m scared too. If I speak he don’t respond if I have a conversation with him And if he does he yells and says I’m annoying he complains about everything I do for him such as cook dinner wash his cloths and complains I don’t give him enough sex when I have sex with him at least once a day if not more. Everything I do isn’t good enough. I don’t even feel like a person anymore. I sit alone all the time and then when he comes home he don’t even want anything to do with me. I never talk to anyone besides my mom and it gets lonely. I ignore 90 percent of the rude shit he says but every once in awhile I get mad from letting all the shit build up and I snap but I’m wrong for that too. As years go on with no change I realize I’m always gonna be miserable. I just want what everyone else has love affection to be comfortable. I’m in such a low spot I feel no self worth toward myself. Why do I keep giving my love when all I get is hate in return

Breaking Point

So I have a girlfriend who has had surgery, and I been losing sleep with no problem to help, but every time she asks me to do something and I do it and it’s not specifically up to par, I’d get treated like shit, whether it be from a certain tone, to callin her mom saying I’m gettin upset cause I don’t want to help, Meanwhile it’s nothin of that. As an example, she asks me to get a scoop of ice cream , so I put two scoops in a cup, then she goes “what the hell is this” then I obviously say that’s what you wanted then she will ramble on telling me that’s not what she asked for and tells me to shut up (Basically trying to shut me up) And if I don’t Shut up I’d have to go travel back home because I’m staying at her home…And every time I state facts and want to get down to the bottom of it I’d have to shut up because if I don’t I’d have to leave..
It’s like damn me if I do and damn me if I don’t…
like I love this girl and don’t want anyone else cause I know she is loyal and doesn’t cheat but all the extra stuff really drags this relationship down… can anyone tell me what type of toxicity this is… There’s soo much more but it’s too much to type….
Thank you for reading, have a great one everyone!

RS Lewis

Not long ago my mother who is ill (but not elderly) moved in with me after her 4th divorce and it has been a nightmare for me & my teenage daughter. She is very demanding on the both of us despite me offering to hire help, which she refused. We feel trapped because I can’t afford to move or sell my house right now and I feel bad just putting her on the street. I pay all of the bills and when I asked her to either cut back on usage or help pay towards something, she quit her job. My daughter and I make ways of coping and getting out recreationally but even then we come home to toxic, even jealous behavior from her to the point my kid is afraid to post mommy/daughter time on her own social media. I feel that she is jealous of our relationship because my mother and I have never had a relationship as my grandparents raised me. I tried to set money aside to move but then one of her “emergencies” came up. For the most part I try not to feed into her but some days, she catches me off guard. How do I rid myself of this nightmare?


Sit down and have a very honest direct chat: “shape up or ship out”

What you can’t see is she will ruin the relationship with your daughter. She’s jealous of the relationship you have with her.

A. Betterfuture

Hello RS, I’m sorry to hear you and your daughter are suffering the toxic effects of your Mother’s disordered behavior. To deal with this you will need to use logic over feelings. Toxic people manipulate emotions for their benefit. Dial back your empathy temporarily and look at the situation as if it were a problem you are solving for another. Make a plan and stick to it without exception. It sounds like your mother refuses to observe or respect boundaries. This means you will need to take extra care not to share personal information with your mother and to remain firm in your decisions. Your mother is not required to approve or be happy about them. As you pointed out, your mother is not elderly, so she needs to take her own personal responsibility to take care of her own needs. Make your plan to get away or get her out. Stick to it. Remember, “No.” is a complete sentence. RS, you and your daughter deserve better. I hope you take the reins and stop this abuse from persisting. Once you do not live together, be sure to maintain a healthy distance so you do not fall prey to her manipulations ever again. I know this will be hard, but you can do this. Wishing you the best

S. Nark

we have a very bad supervisor who allows a toxic couple who volunteer at our non profit to stomp on everyone . He enables them by playing Dr. Phil due to his own issues and in the process is destroying morale with the group. The person who tries to enable toxic people’s behavior is worse than having to deal with the toxic person. Please wirte an article aobut how an insecurely attached supervisor can create hell for staff when toxic people are manipulating the conversation.

Diamond J

I have a toxic mother and toxic family everything say or do is so fake too me like even when say like who ate my chips I’m getting these mfs in this house like her voice is so dramatic everything she says everything I does she don’t appreciate my love 😍 she don’t or her kids doesn’t like I wish for a better place for my kids to be in it’s driving me nuts being here with all the toxic now the younger siblings are so toxic like omg unn everybody in this house is so toxic one min I’m cool with everybody next min they have attitudes when they woke up they didn’t wash they face or brush they teeth in the morning but have the nerves to have a attitude .

Linda b

My family is the same I tell my own mother thing personal stuff and she rans and tells my hole family then when push come to shove she sits there looking all inasant as if to say iv never said that to them or she would try telling me about them and I would say I don’t want to no about them


I’m dealing with someone who is blind to their own crazyness and never apologies or sees fault on anything, I’ve gon thru extreme measures to change for myself and her, even legal issues, guess it’s time to hang it up, she won’t change on her own, I deserve better.


I’ve just ended a relationship with a person that fits 99% of this list. I loved her with all of my heart n soul, and I put up with all the abuse for too long.

I thought that if I just changed my attitude, if I made myself different, into the man she wanted me to be, things would be alright. It was never enough. It never will be with these people. They trick you into not caring about yourself and to only cater to their needs.

Get away from and find someone who loves you for being you, and be happy.


I know I have someone in my life that calls him self my friend. And I don’t know how to tell him I want him to exit my life, because I can’t handle him. But reading this makes me feel that at times I myself could be toxic to others around me. So how do I work on myself from being that person?


I think many of us have touches of toxicity at certain times and in certain situations (myself included). The difference is that you recognize your potential to be toxic and want to take steps to avoid it, whereas the truly toxic people described here don’t. Another consideration is that to an extent we become the people we hang out with. If you want to avoid picking up your friend’s bad habits, you should find ways to distance yourself from him. Friendship is a two-way street, and if he’s the only one benefiting (in his mind at least) then it’s time to move on.


Robyn, do not ever tell that person that you want them “to exit” your life. I second Terry that you should find ways to distance yourself and how they choose to respond is up to them. You have no obligation to invest any form of energy or time into that person and you should always defend yourself, but telling someone those words will be incredibly hurtful, especially for an unstable person, and even possibly instigative. Just be nice and if they begin trouble, again make sure to defend yourself.


in country where i live theres hardly safe place where single women can live independently. for me this hell that i live is so dark that whatever i try gets backfired and i end up losing my sanity . there is no help .my prayers are unheard
dont know whom to approach
the impact of toxic family members are so strong that i have literally no friends …..no one


This comment is for shs…..all you have in this world you can count on is you. I’ve been alone my entire life, in a relationship right now and never been so absolutely alone before. I finally have a cat to talk to. This bs will make you lose your sanity that you can bet.


It’s always worse with family members who are toxic. You grow up being taught that your family loves you and that they know what’s best. They give you a false sense of security, love and acceptance. On the bad days though that’s when you realize that it’s all false and your left wondering what you did wrong. You wonder why they don’t love you and you realize the security is non-existence. It is a fear that you can’t explain & you can’t go an where. You are trapped in your safe space that is not safe anymore. You spend your whole life trying to make those people love you, you yearn for their love like a heroin addict yearns for a fix to get them well. You wake up one day and you’re 50 years old and have wasted so much time of a precious life that you cannot get back. I urge you to realize how precious and important that you are. Longing your whole life, for another person’s love, will trap you in a life that is merciless and so damaging to your well being. Fight for the life you deserve and distance yourself from the people who hurt you. Being a family member does not automatically guarantee that they will love, respect and protect you. Just like a friend who is toxic, you have to get away from them, family is no different! Your life is absolutely important and you deserve to be happy and feel safe! Don’t ever give up on yourself, it is the key to a happy life. Good luck precious soul. If you haven’t been told that you’re important or loved in a while, know that I instantly felt a love for you, your words touched my soul!!


This is really beautifully said, and it speaks to what I believe a lot of people suffer. Thank you.

robert s

Dear Shs,
I cannot help to think that your situation may be a bit more serious than many others’s. The story that proceeds your letter was extremely well written, and very informative. but it may sound to me like you are lonely and depressed. The combination can be concerning, so even though I don’t know you, I am going to ask you to seek out someone you trust, a teacher, maybe your doctor, a respected neighbour or a drop-in centre in town. I have found that phone-in centers are good also. The best thing is just to talk…. about the issue… or sometimes not.
I am a clinically depressed person. I am now 57, but in 2005, I was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s disease. Until 2 years ago, I thought that the physical symptoms were glim, but now its all about the depression. Not only does the disease cause anxiety and depression, so does the medication. I have a partner of 30 years, but nether she or my 2 adult kids will talk to me about anything. So… I know how depresstion fee. I am running out of energy here, but perhaps the keeper of this sight could pass along my contact info maybe we can just write back and forth. I know this may seem creepy, but I am sure you can find a way to protect your identity and safety. I just need to know you are ok. Rob


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