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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Another common behaviour of a toxic person is that he/she always feels the need to develop separate and close relationships with the other people they think are close to you or people who they know you will go to for advice.

Before you know it you have no other close friend who is not also their friend.

This is a strategy to ensure that they have an important role and a presence in every aspect and every relationship in your life.

This behaviour is supposed to create an intricate web for you that makes it more difficult to break free from the toxic person.

A toxic person will often question why you go to, say, Sam or Daisy when you have a problem rather than running to them. They have made it their duty to know Sam and Daisy personally and want you to think that there is nothing others can do for you that they are not capable of.

Lowflyin Lolana

You’re right, and they can ruin your life, if you consider the people you care about to be the meaning of your life. They can, to take it a step further, make those people believe things about you that are not true. Some of your friends will stick with you, but if the manipulator is also a liar, and a good one, this is a bad path.

If you have a tendency to believe you are at fault (because of whatever past messages/tapes that may be in your head) then you will be super susceptible to these folks.

Not everything is someone else’s fault, but it’s absolutely true that some people get manipulated. I was one of those people. I was always willing to assume I was in the wrong, and give another chance to the offender, even if there was no recognition of hurt.

Meanwhile, as these friendships progressed (more than one over a period of years) my internal compass would start to falter, and life fails would multiply when someone like this would get close to me.

These people can shake your confidence so deeply. Your mis-steps, under this influence, will work to the advantage of those who want to see you go down–because the less confident you become, the more you will make those mis-steps. Then that person can point to those missteps as proof that you need their help (and they are Concerned, and Love you). They will use it as evidence that you aren’t good enough on your own. This is what can really break a person down.

I still wonder about some of these past experiences. It really does seem there are people who just don’t care if they hurt other people. My experience is that they blame the people they hurt. Another experience is that they will lie about the friendship, and things that occurred, to other people, and to themselves, and to the person who’s been hurt. (Example: you’re too insecure, I didn’t mean it that way, It was just a joke, You need to get some Therapy if you’re offended because that’s about you not me, etc etc.)
It’s a terrible cycle when they involve other people—-really bad. If there’s no one in your circle out of reach of that person’s influence—you will start to believe them. And they win.
Don’t let them win!


Blind me, you have hit the nail on the head there….al of the above but more so your comments was/is very much y ex. She got to meet my ex, exchange phone numbers etc but later didn’t like me confiding in my ex as a friend!! I thought it was just me but having read your comments I couldn’t have put it better.


I don’t let toxic people bother me. It’s too much energy giving them my emotions. I just live my life right in front of them. I don’t need to blocked them out or cut them off in my life. God says he will prepare a table for my enemies right in front of them. I leave all doors of communication open so that they can watch me feast at my table of blessings. I believe, reacting to their actions shows that I’ve been effected by their behavior. I have other things to focus my energy on.


Whitney sounds like you have such a strong force of family and friends that are all living an authentic loving Godly life. It’s so hard to believe you could ever have any toxic enemies who deserve being ignored and left to watch what a fulfilling life you lead.


Could be in her workplace it does not have to be in a personal relationship..some people are just so toxic that they cannot stand the thought of anyone around them being happy.

C. R

I really appreciate what you said. You are so right. I am working on myself to get to that point.


Thank you for saying this. It conveys the best message to everyone who is willing to really understand what you are saying. You go girl live your beautiful life as I will live mine this way too from hence forth.


My daughter 17, lives with her toxic mom. Daughter has extreme anxiety and AMPS perhaps caused by mom. Daughter now understanding the toxicity and now contacting me more, she is in a bit of crisis as mom is not taking daughter for psych help or meds and daughter wants the help. Mom is turning up toxic behaviors now that daughter is talking to me. Please help.

Need guidance…it’s really bad…daughter is always in fear of making mom mad…mom makes kids feel like dirt if they talk to dad…mom has such a grip on daughter, daughter does not have strength to leave. What options do I have

Denise B

What do you think of a “friend” that CONSTANTLY make plans with you, call all day , then cancel at the last minute. This person wants to be close to your family and friends but not theirs. For some reason claims they hate to go out with a group, just you and them. They talk about people behind their back to you but go really ballistic if they think someone is talking about them. Call and talk to you for hours about a problem they’re having with another person but for decades never introduce you to this person. Constantly asking for favors, complaining about something that has aready been addressed, has that whoa is me mentally, looking for you to do tasks that they would never do for you. This is a 25 years “friendship.” What’s going on? Is this one to let go?


I have been quite unlucky to have three of this sort of persons in my life,1 being my oldest son who has married a girl worse than him and my husband is the same as them they are such bitter hateful twisted people and the next day they go reasonabley nice and so on like a roller coaster but let me tell you it does not get better but worse day by day till you ask yourself is it you there that good a lot harder to get out of than people realise.


Toxic mom and toxic daughter? For some reason when one of these two people (who are supposed to be two of the most important people in my life) ask or want me to do something, they inflict GUILT when I don’t do what they want. Both of them are needy, constantly want favors from me, and call me about every other day depressed and crying about something that isn’t making them “happy” in life.

It’s sad to say that I’m sick of them both. Mom is 92 and daughter is 33. I’m cutting off about all communication with them and it hurts but I just can’t take it. “I love you I love you, do a favor for me…. feel sorry for me…. I’m so depressed…” I seriously can NOT take it anymore after years on end. I keep thinking maybe I need help but it’s not me. I’ve never had a problem with happiness until I became entangled with these black holes of need. THEY need to find something to make themselves happy and it isn’t called ME!


Sometimes, I can get really triggered frustrated & I say things I don not mean. Not all the times, I mean we are only human. Lots of people in my life would be shocked to even know there was an angry side to me. I will almost always apologize for my wrongful actions. However, sometimes there are people who want to push us to our breaking point.

I am currently having troubles with my sister. I love her very much, but sometimes she only wants to hear what she wants to hear. She’ll get defensive and act like I am being rude. I’ll try and keep my cool, but she keeps giving me attitude. She knows what buttons to push in me to get me mad. Then next thing u know, a calm conversation turns into an argument. I’ll say something I regret, than all her attitude she gave me seems to be forgotten. Now I am the one who ends up apologizing.

I get it, I should keep my cool. But, sometimes I question if she wants me to react to prove her point in the long run. Then she’ll send me a long text saying “I love u and Im here for u if ur having a bad day, because something must be going on for u to lash out.” In reality, I had a great day. She just gave me attitude for me giving her advice. I know there is always a right place and right time for advice, but she NEVER wants to hear it. I know never is a strong word, but I just cant do it anymore. I do not seem to have this problem with anyone else in my life right now, but her.


How to deal with this when the toxic person is your daughter? In spite of my careful planning of everything I say and do she twists my actions so they appear to be a direct attack on her..then blames me for making her angry and hateful towards me. This has been going on for years….I have pulled away with an open door but she makes no effort to reconcile let alone take resp for her actions. I have a family reunion in 5 weeks…im so heartbroken to think I may have to cancel it or deal with her attitude which will ruin it for me no matter how hard I try to put this in perspective. I will turn 70 this year. Any advice most appreciated.


Dear Victoria, I am not qualified to help but your message really touched me (I have a similar situation with my son). I have learnt that when he asks for my opinion – and that if it differs from his he becomes very patronising and angry. I have come to dread his calls (we live in different cities in Australia) and avoid them; which only makes it worse!

That’s some background for you, but I really didn’t want to make this ‘about me’, sorry.

I am writing late July 2018 so I guess your family reunion went ahead… or not. If it did go ahead, I’m wondering how it went for you and wishing you the best.


I have a daughter like that and I have tried everything possible for us to have a good relationship but she has her own ideas, it is very disrespectful to be treated in such a manner by our own children.

As long as you know that you are a good mother and tried your best, just let go and in time you will get used to not having her around despite you will still be hurting inside.

It is difficult for some people including our children to know what a good mother feels. Although we hurt so bad, we must let go.

If we don’t let go, we are telling them it is ok to treat us the way they do.

Good luck and I wish everything work out someday for you. Be strong for yourself, only you can do that. We made them but we didn’t make their minds. Don’t ever feel bad as you tried your best and God knows that.

May God Bless you and give you strength to deal with each day.


My cousin has accused me of being the toxic person in our relationship, when obviously it’s been her the whole time. This has helped me so much with her bullying. Granted it takes two to tango, but I’ve always been the one to apologize, whether it was my doing or hers. I’ve yet yo have that reciprocated.

Will D

Interesting read. I like it.
Actually, everything you’re describing, is “The Narcissist”

Narcissists are impossible to negotiate a healthy relationship with because the are the most toxic of all personalities. I was raised by a parent who was a horrendous narcissist and it destroyed my personal life. Literally.


This is a very good article.

And extremely valuable.

Thank you.

Over time, chronic anxiety in someone I was deeply in love with led to me experiencing some of these behaviours.

He is incredible. But I was so in love that I played into the madness and inconsistencies subconsciously.

The problem then.

I lost myself.

That’s when I knew something was very wrong.

I lost my mind.

I questioned everything about me.

His anxious mind sabotaged everything.

So nothing we did or enjoyed was safe.

We were in quicksand.

I had to let go of the most extraordinary poetic love of my life.

But I realised that to save myself.

I had to finally love myself more than him.

So I left.

Heartbroken but grateful for the life lessons + some of the exquisite memories of the truest love of my life.

I realised that chronic anxiety meant that he couldn’t help so many of his behaviours.

I’ve found peace.


She’s my sister an she’s younger an my parents are more prone to takeing her side.
She’s has this way of making people feel bad for her, an only solving a problem if the person gets angry enough which is usually me she’s very critical an will argue in public I’ve indulge in this once or twice an ended feeling really bad afterwards . If she doesn’t want to do something she’ll make a problem just to deflect it until it goes her way. She’s good at being apoplectic I call it emotional maplulation she’ll say sorry to point where I wasn’t to tell her to STOP. She’s told me more than once that she doesn’t trust me An will again try to guilt me into feeling bad for her when she says stuff like that or just try to create an argument an then pretend like notting happened I’ve talked to her so many times about she’s says sorry am continues . I’ve tried other advice site on understanding “toxicity in people” . I’m at the point where I want to just ignore her till she leaves for university but I don’t know how effective that would be. Being around her makes me feel disfunctional

Shayla Patterson

You can also do other things so she wont have to do them things out by taking up by god. Letting god show you the way you can also take her to the side and ask her is she okay. Spend more time with her make her feel likes she’s not alone.


My situation for financial reason I have to live with my parents and brother after my separation from my wife. But i have my daughter and they think they all have a say in parenting her. They think their voice outweighs mine because I’m the youngest. But they can’t control me so they nitpick at everything my child does and call me a bad parent in front of her . She is only 8 years old. And calls me at work to say how she is being treated .


I don’t know who I am or what to do anymore. My husband is an abusive sick man raised my an even worse sick and twisted mother. I have been in an emotionally abusive relationship with a toxic person for 20 and did not even realize it until recently. I consider myself a fairly intelligent person. How does that happen? I have believed their lies about me for 20 years. And even felt grateful to them for putting up with me. I thought I was crazy. Defective. And they made me feel as though they were doing me a favor. And I believed them. How in the world does this happen? I see now that they are defective. Not me. I try to talk through things with him, like the fact that he stayed gone the other night for 6 hours with no explanation or apologies, and he gets mad at me saying I love drama and I’m trying to start stuff. We have a fairly decent size home and I have one corner in the dining room that all my stuff has to fit in. The rest of the house is cramped wuth his junk. If I want to buy a desk for instance I’m told there is no room for it. If I buy little things for the house they get moved, lost, or broken. I don’t understand how this has happened to me.


I believe that I might be toxic…I’m just not sure how to fix myself. Most of the time, I feel incredibly hurt and can’t muster the ability to reply. I do my best to Express how I’m hurt but if who I’m talking to has trouble understanding I just feel like more of a annoyance rather than someone who needs help…and I don’t want to trouble them. I don’t think this list fully fits me but a good amount does and some are close enough…is there any advice I can have that would help me become a better person?

Sammi B

If you feel hurt and do not like to trouble others, you shouldn’t be a narcissist, because they are heartless. They can only feel insecure and become anxious out of jealousy. Toxic people love to trouble others because that gives them a sense of achievement when someone takes trouble for them. They think they deserve all the honey. Don’t misinterpret yourself, maybe you are just being anxious sometimes. Just focus on your strengths and the good qualities that make others love you. Focus on your role as a human.


My boyfriend’s sister-in-law is a complete disaster of a person. She always complains about anything we decide to do, she takes advantage of him to the max. Having to do their dishes, picking his nieces up everyday so that she and her husband can work late. She has no sense of responsibility yet loves telling others what to do all the time. I am not sure what to do because my boyfriend does not stand up for himself and I feel like we always have to work round her schedule! (which should not be ours). I have been working on trying to move out with him so that he isn’t there anymore to be manipulated. In the meantime however, what do I do to make him understand he cannot just do everything she says and think I am okay with it, especially when he says no to me much more often than he does to her. We do communicate about this a lot but he always says it’s to keep things civil because there is n point with her. please help!

Learning daily

I should stand my ground way sooner then I do.

It’s not easy for me to confront

Mostly because it never end well for me

I end up geeking the real pent of anger of these individuals focused to mess with me more.

But it’s worth it,
Also I’m into helping the targets in my life. And always see both sides. But I rarely look away from defending and pep talking the temporary workers the unpopular etc.

Stick up for yourselves if you can risk it. It’s what makes us us


I have a girlfriend of 2 1/2 years. When I share my day with her she often turns it into something I have done against her. If I help a friend move its because I am closer to them or having some kind of sexual relationship with them. I work on her car now she accuses me of removing interior panels selling them and replacing them with older parts. She says I ruined her central ac in her house. That I have gone in her attic to purposely do these things. I feel like I am walking on egg shells. I want to share everything with her but don’t know how to communicate to her in a way she doesn’t make it about something I am doing to wrong her. I love her dearly and I am willing to make this work. Perhaps someone can offer me some good tools to help me.


I found this article really insightful and wished I’d read it years ago. I have an elder sister who is toxic and has been for many years. She tries to control me and my other siblings and is rude to me and selfish and only cares for herself and her own family. I realise that I’ve always felt uncomfortable being around her and now I know. How I longed to have a sister to love and get on with!! The sad thing is that I’m only beginning to understand how to handle this situation. I find it incredible that these toxic people behave in the way they do! I read on here that toxic people mistake kindness for weakness…… how true. Thank you for this.

Dr. Carlo-Casellas

Great notes describing the problems with toxic persons, but not one single suggestion on how to let them know they are toxic and that you do not want them in your life. I have a toxic person in one of my yoga classes, and I managed to get rid of her by deleting her from my emailing lists, Facebook account and not informing her of when the yoga classes were being held. But I need a good solid suggestion.

Karen Young

If they are truly toxic, it is very likely that they won’t care whether or not you want them in your life. It is for you to take the lead and to claim your power by walking away from the relationship, as you have. Relying on the other person to walk away hands the power for the relationship over to them.

Beaten down

My wife does all these things. Luv her, but when it gets like this, i quietly ignore her now. Unfortunately, my loves gets chipped at and it feels hard to want to be with her because of all this. She’ll even bring up stuff abut her kids and be mad about something that we never even talked about. It starts in her head, and she believes it to be true, though never a word of it was talked about before.
Really frustrating. The good times are far and few between, and she seems to be fighting/angry against the world, then focusess on to me to get the brunt of it all.
I look for happiness in little things, and know that she will never be happy truly, ever. She live in the hypothetical and the future.
I accept what it is for now, but have given myself a deadline.
Still trying.


What do you do when your husband turn into exactly what this article is talking about? He does everything in the list. It’s impossible to have a productive conversation with him. We not willing to leave him but he is not the same man I married. Do I just have to deal with it?


Doing my best to raise a son with a toxic Narc co-parent, his father, who keeps us constantly in court with petty complaints that mountain into serious issues. We’ve been in court ongoing for six years, shared custody with no end in site. This man has turned everyone in town against me, speaks poorly of me constantly to my child’s school, his teachers, his coaches, friends, and ofcourse to him. His most recent motion filed was to have me psychologically evaluated, and asked for temporary custody of our son, due to my erratic behavior. Meanwhile, while I’m not perfect… I donot drink, smoke, take drugs, and I do hold a job, show up to all activities, keep communication open as possible, arrive helpful to events, and make sure our kid is clean, fed, clothed, and as happy as I can make him under these pressures. He’s five. Suggestions? Besides complete positivity and prayer?


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