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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Jack D

I start my day taking care of latterly everyone, everything around me from people I love and there needs. This seems to be ok until that need ends and all I want is some human contact and attention for myself. Then I’m to pushy, say nothing right, no intrest in what I say or need, rough in everything I say or do. Until its do something for the entire house full of who I in short am nothing but a caregiver to a 38 yr marriage and the family to boot. After litterly being alone throughout the day, but evening after 2,or 12 beers regardless which; then my musics to loud, I’m to needy, and not good in anyway, everything I feel just isn’t so. 40 yes. of this and the last several years I’ve actually paid attention to what is happening. I’m not a drunk, drug attic, and it really seems to get the better of me when it’s shoved down my throat it’s all me. I guess it’s time to move on since I’m no good unless I’m doing for wife., kids, and wives I’ll sister expecting nothing but love and respect in return. Not allowed to have anything that I enjoy without it being a problem, if I want them envovled. Mentally, physically spent and don’t know how to fix it, because I truly love my wife that is the leader in these problems I supposily am.


I really felt the shares your pain but is “never there for your joy” part. I have a “friend” who constantly brings down my accomplishments with either his own or saying mine wasn’t good. My favorite example is when I told him my cousin was getting married and he snapped back with “oh, well half of my siblings are engaged right now.” The one that made me the angriest was when we got our ACT test scores back, and mine was a 33. It’s a good score, but he just shrugged it off with a “well, you’re just good at test taking.” No congratulations. Nothing. I really want to end my friendship with him, but my current situation makes it really hard. Any suggestions?


One funny thing is that; toxic people can look so nice and friendly… Snake in the grass. It takes smart guys to weed them out.

Ann onomous

I have a question

When you’ve been in a toxic relationship with someone for over a decade… how do you run ? Lol
They find things that hurt your example… if you leave I’ll find you and burn u out…
They threaten to embarrass you with intimate but embarrassing photos ,(girl/guy in shower)

Claim they love you but who would do this if they love you?

They’re persona changes around their family but not yours.

They claim things will chance and a week from fighting is a long time to them

Both have cheated on each other

Her reason was physical abuse, she wanted to test the waters and felt guilty.

His reason… he had feelings for another woman, spent time hanging out with her, claimed she was nothing more but ended up feeling each other up
And sending each other intimate photos yet he claims they didnt sleep together.
The girl was her neighbor friend. But obviously to become his friend. .. hum

He calls his gf down all the time, insulting her insulting her as a mother. While he goes off smokes his weed, chin up, treating her like a maid because he works and shes home taking care of kids which he claims isn’t a job.

He Constantly harasses her about her past MISTAKE. Making her cry on a regular basis. and making her feel like her life is worthless and he shows no.appreciation towards her. Hates her having time with friends. Every time she gets close to someone he rants about something… putting shit in her head, like.. maybe she has a crush on him or her… its fucking ridiculous. She has kids with this dick and he should be showing them boys how to respect a woman or she leaves… but when you’re threatened and hurt so much that it becomes a normal thing, how do I convince her its gotta stop. Hes gotta go. And that shes worth more than an insulting piece of shit with control issues?

She has mentioned she feels theres no way out except suicide. Shes too good for that.

What should I do?


Some people are just meant to be toxic, nothing you can do – how about a spouse who walks outside for the phone calls, won’t say a word to you, then expects you to know everything and wants to know why you don’t participate and help, but when you do, you’re stupid, can’t do anything right, and they are always sniping and saying something negative…bad people never think they are the bad ones – and if one is toxically narcisisstic, they dont believe in you having an opinion and don’t care. Give up, its easier – if one is always wrong, why bother?


I have a question. There is a toxic girl in a friend group who I was once friends with and got rid of her. She somehow weaseled her way into more friend groups with people she didn’t even like before talking behind their back to sabotage my relationship with them. I recently went to a party where she was there and she was saying stuff about me to others behind my back while I was at that very party. Should I just leave those groups of friends all together or just not show up to events when I know she will be there?


I have just come out of a toxic friendship. However this person has and still poisoning my name in my small hometown. She cant move on that I called her out on her behaviour so shes making up lies as to why I ended the friendship ……she still posts things on Facebook as certain people tell me she does this….including my own mother in law.

I’m on anti depressants mainly because of people like her.


Such a wonderful insight to a Toxic person , as we can relate to it.
I have recognised a toxic member of our family , ever since she married into the family.
Her made up Lies
Wants to always be one-up on you in all areas
Never apologies
Makes you feel like you are in the wrong
Makes you feel inadequate
Using people when they need something.
Taking away your glory at every opportunity.
Wants to be-friend your friends.
Manipulates your good nature
Copies what I wear
Says one thing but does something else
Wants to be centre of attention
Wants to interrupt your decent conversation with other people. Changing the subject and talking about themselves.
Repetition of hurtful words /feelings of the same thing several times before you finally react.
And the list goes on………!!!!!!
As I am a strong , spiritual person I have learnt the art of smiling and walking away most of the times, at the same time stepping up my game.
The way I have dealt with it is over the years is to always be one-step ahead of them. Give dates and evidence about their lies , confront them in a nice way then behave as normal, to keep the family in tact.
Recently she said something to me about the 10th time Repetition (previously I have been able to walk away) to cause a reaction and unfortunately I lost it Temper wise….. but saved it later by turning it around to her the same way, repeated things she did not want to discuss, until she fell quite.
Give them the taste of their own medicine… Always works but be mindful they will go off on a huff & puff 🙂


Toxic person has similarities to a ”Know it all Narcissist”
This person is eager to give their opinion even when unsolicited and believes she knows more than anyone else, no matter the topic under conversation. She likes to Lecture and has a hard time listening, because she’s too busy thinking about what to say next.

However I have to admit the ”know it all” one , does have some advantages as they have varied contacts , they can get you jobs through their contacts. They are also condescending at complaining so give them those tasks to do.



You’ve just perfectly described my crazy ex in which she discarded me after accusing me with lies for the 3rd time. In which I reacted by defending myself thus she got really offended for it.

It’s never easier when you are in a direct relationship with one of them and the art of dealing with difficult people become more complex than you can imagined.

As I’m reading and learning the 48 Laws of Power from Robert Greene, I can start to see a pattern that she was treating me like an enemy instead of a friend because of her manipulation and lies. Insecure and Toxic people have similar behaviours like the devil himself.


I think that I’m a toxic person because of other toxic people, if this make sense, but I don’t want to be a toxic person and I don’t know if it’s right but I prefer to isolate myself completely from everyone, family, friends etc and let them to think whatever they want, like I don’t care anymore. I make mistakes once and they tell me that everything it’s gonna be fine but I know that it’s not gonna be fine because them always find a way to bring that mistakes to me from all the little things, whatever. So I prefer to let them think whatever they want and I don’t do anything about this because I fell somehow guilty and I think that I deserve, and even if I try to explain myself it doesn’t matter what I have to say, because everyone thinks that I just try to make excuses. And I’m back at this “I prefer to isolate myself” because it’s much easier for them to think that I’m a mess because if I try to make everything good I know that I messed up somehow and them bring me back the past and the damages it’s gonna more harder for them if I can say it like that. I don’t know if this makes me a toxic person. I don’t like to complain and I cover all with “it’s all fine” and somehow with this I mess everything because I pretend that I’m fine and be there for others problems not mine and what it’s happening to me it’s not so important and when I finally I want to say something no one gets me seriously. I don’t know if some one it’s gonna understand this or reply to me but I just wanted to say something. And sorry if I don’t was to specific or coherent but English it’s not my birth language.


I believe we are all ” toxic” to some people and they may be ” toxic” to us as well. Some personalities just clash- it’s a normal part of living and it is why, as my dear mom always said,” birds of a feather will flock together”. What is toxic to me might not be to another person or people. To me, a toxic person is one who talks incessantly, especially about her opinion of other people – that she just spoke to on the phone or in person. She mimics their voices and mannerisms in a judgmental or “comical”
‘ (to her) way. To me THIS is a “toxic ” person. If she is “making fun ” of others behind their backs, one has to wonder what she is saying or doing behind YOUR back.


I am in an on and off relationship of 3 years… i real real love this guy! it real hurts me cause times he just decide to go and come back whenever he wants to. always thought that the behaviour its induced by his proffession as a soldier cause he spend most of his away especial in the jungle where there is no network. Tried being patient with him but i am now drowning. It real feels good when we are together, plan the future together like we are planning to have a baby next year. i just feel like even when he is not deployed he is not giving me much of his time rather he ll go clubbing, get drunk, smoke with his friends. trying talking to him about this issue, he doesnt wanna talk! he will just tell me that he has stress and they are things he wanna talk to me about. he has done that so many times and never talked to me about whats eating him up. it real hurts me cause its more like he doesn’t talk, gives me silent treatment, spend most of his time fast asleep and spends his time in ta dark room. I real tried talking to him and give him permission to dump me and he doesnt act up and he told me that i giving myself too much stress… i dont know if i am putting too much pressure on him, may be i am toxic to him


Good read.

I have a similar relationship with my STBX wife. I can’t avoid all contact with her completely due to kids.

I was hoping for a few more practible solutions for dealing with these situations. After the separation, I’ve become more aware of NPD and the narc traits (although saying she has NPD would be an exaggeration). She definitely does the things you mentioned in your article.

I try to set boundaries, but can someone give me examples of setting them in a healthy way? Most of the time when she is angry, the things I say get twisted out of control, and I try to avoid using blaming phrases with her. I generally use humor, but I don’t always have the patience for it when shes in her moods.

Are there better ways to diffuse these situations? I had a period where she was hurling insults and being aggressive with me, and I stopped answering most of her texts. She obviously got upset that I was ignoring her, but it was becoming too much for me and I shut down. Even after she apologized and sent me funny pics, I couldn’t bring myself to write her. I want to help her and still care for her, but I don’t want to come across as needy or weak.


Long story short . My first husband passed away while my children were still very young. I dated and thought I finally found the one . He was amazing at first. Very attentive, affectionate, and romantic. Now; 5 years in he is distant, not affectionate and pretty much does what ever he wants . I’m always wrong . He never feels sorry for anything . We just recently found out he has chronic ptsd, chronic anxiety, hypertension and bipolar. I’m always put down. Then the next min he loves me more than the world . I don’t want to abandon him because he had no one else but I can’t hurt like this everyday. If mentioned counseling and he has too but nothing is ever followed through. He makes more money than I do and it’s always thrown in my face . But he will spend 1000 on things he wants . Yet the whole time knowing he took money from me without me knowing. In all he owes me 2700. I feel stupid for trying to make things work when I just get called names and put down everyday. How do I get out of this

Catherine F

i had a horrible childhood , never knew my parents, and i grew up without the knowledge of who they were and were they are and what happened to them, so it was not easy. I grew up as an orphan. I was adopted by a childless couple when i was 7 years old. I graduated from North Carolina High School ( a public school ) and received my commission, I later joined the United States Army Academy because I could not go afford the University at that time so the US Government took care of my tuition. After my Graduation, I joined the US Army and have been doing great until this position. I also hold a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Maryland USA.I was raised by my adopted parents, though they were rich, i suffered a lot but i’m always grateful to them because they gave me life, may be without them i will be dead by now


I’m dealing with a very toxic controlling person right now that’s been telling lies and doing evil shit to me and my family…This toxic person thinks they own my life,they’ll judge , manipulate,use, control,bully and disrespecting my privacy outside my home and even in my home and my stuff..They mock me,copy me humiliating me theyve been making my life hell cause they can’t get what they want from me…I told the police about it they went to the high school and they teased and taunted me for years and yrs and even threatened my life…The problem is the police won’t do shit about it,so now I decided to do something about it…

Patricia Narita

My narcissistic sister was an actress, now too old for any glamorous parts which are the only ones she wants, was never famous but she thinks she is. At every family gathering, she has to be the center of attention and has to say something even if no one is talking to her, even makes derogatory comments at others, thinking she is entertaining everyone. Is she toxic or just mentally ill?


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