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, I certainly can understand. This is my father as well. And I have no relationship with him due to the fact it would ruin my life. Hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with.
Good luck!!!


Me too. I cut off my parents because if I didn’t it would ruin me. Hardest and best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

No way out of this mess until I leave

I’ve been going through the same thing my whole life and I made the mistake of moving across street from my parents . Never once have they acknowledge me or my children and all they do is put me down . I’m stuck even tried committing suicide . No way out of this mess until I leave

Stupid guy

This website is on the money.
I’m dealing with this problem of a toxic person and that person is my girlfriend of 10 years.
I noticed a few of these signs over the years and was not aware of that she might be toxic.

I just noticed she was very judgemental and would never apologize for anything and she would find reason for me to stay and hang with her rather then going out with my friends.
Oh and she would find stuff to accuse me of that wasn’t true or just out of this world and make me like talk her down and explain all kinds of nonsense that shouldn’t even matter.

Like here is an example that still happens I live in a apartment and there are air b&b rentals everywhere setting the picture for you.

So I’ll be home or at work and and when I come home form work or she does she will be like.
Did you see that say green Subaru parked across the way.

I’ll answer no

She replay with huh well this girl at my work owns the same kinda of car.

I’m replay lots of people like Subaru’s there a good car for the money but I don’t pay attention to them I’m a Toyota person

Anyway the point being she will actually fish me into a fight being that this now is her friends car not some randoms and then it gets deeper and I’m not going there

But I’m all I never seen the stupid car and didn’t care if I didn’t and really don’t believe that her friend started parking over here I don’t know we’re she lives but it’s not around here and it snows here the have removal for cars not reg to the spots so I don’t understand why she wouldn’t see the amount of stupid this is for a car that probably won’t come back after the weekend lol but she will ruin are lives because of her idea of what that car could mean ?

I don’t know if you have a gf and had been together for 10 years and all 12 of these signs showed up slapped you so many times you need a time clock to keep track of what would you do because I’m feeling comfused I don’t
Like being called names and accused of things I don’t know about and was not a part of not getting apologies for anything and being called a loser because I work less and make more money


I love this article because ive been in a relationship for 7 years. And i continuously try to make this person happy. And no matter what its always my fault. Til this day i cant have a reasonable discussion with this person about difficult situations weve been through. And the result of it is us not being together.and its all “my fault”.


It wasn’t your fault, you tried to make them happy and they just ended up leaving you and blaming you. That person doesn’t deserve you. You did your part and tried to be a good partner and they fucked up not you. I’m sorry you had to go through that and I hope you’re okay and find someone who deserves you!


All good except for the comment on judgement. EVERYONE has the right to stand in judgement. And you absolutely must.

Don’t judge me. Why on earth would someone feel the need to say that?

I’ll tell you why, because they are planning to do something breathtakingly awful and want to force you into a non judgemental cage before they do so.

If you hear those words judge with all your might and may I suggest you consider fleeing.

What does judge mean though? It doesn’t mean gossiping. It doesn’t mean trying to harm someone. It doesn’t even mean trying to stop them. It just means exercising your right to use your judgement and if you find their behaviour wanting, leave.

Feel free to judge me. You definitely already have been doing so It’s what we do, we use our judgement to gauge how dangerous or otherwise a situation or person is. Feel free to judge. It’s your right to do so and it’s how you protect yourself.

And be very careful of anyone who tells you otherwise.


AMD … HALLELUJAH. You are a light in the darkness – I didn’t think there were any of us left who understand this. Thought they’d all been engulfed by the nothingness. Live long & prosper.


My girlfriend is exactly this. She really loves me and I love her. But she’s just like this..she has her moments of being amazing. But then she has her days of being toxic exactly like this. Super accurate. All I want to know is what do I do when she’s so toxic. How do I not let it hurt me or let it get to me ? Help me please…


What do you do…simply walk away..Go for a walk..call a ‘sane friend… She will want to be right..shr will want to control you ..if sje nerfs to she will use manipulation ..loopholes..or lies…..This will eventually test your self esteem …Do not give her that power!!!! Record your conversations and listen to them later…this is what opened my eyes to the heartbreaking truth..Most of all.
Remember ..the truth will set you free.


I love this article because its not about being right or better then the other it’s about self improvement, finding happiness in ourselves and how to be better with each other. It’s not about “me” or “I” but it is about “us”.


This is why we keep moving far away and keep our visits with the inlaws short. The mask only lasts a few days, and then the behaviors start…


Wow! Sometimes I think I’m the only one that has troubles with Inlaws. TJ I’m hearing you buddy. I in fact have trouble with all of them though. SIL and BIL too🤯. Comes down to a very controlling, manipulative and toxic mother inlaw and a SIL that has family issues that competes to be top dog to the MIL. I’ve put up with it for 20 years and have finally snapped. Now they’re all are against me. Makes it hard on my kids and husband. You’re lucky…..I wish I could move. Would love to know how you have delt with things. Cheers 🙂


I’m leaving a longtime acquaintance behind because I’ve recently realized she’s toxic. She uses our time together to talk about her health concerns that are anxiety-fueled, how unfair her work demands are and to concentrate on whatever I say to the nth degree when I’m only stating how I feel and what I’m doing about it. I really like the post about judgment…hell yes we all judge and we should to keep ourselves safe and on track not to classify our fellow humans as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ but to discover what’s in our best interests.

Bear P

Mixed feelings about this article. Some examples:
#1. So they have emotions? Grumpy, angry, happy, you never know what you’re going to get! Sounds like most people I know. – I will say the “what’s wrong?, “Nothing” (with body language saying something is DEFINITELY wrong) is frustrating, but what can you do?
#5. My personal philosophy is apologies are meaningless, both given and received. Ok, so it means I/you feel bad, but does it solve anything or change what happened? I got this philosophy after my step dad beat my mom then apologized, then repeated over and over. Apologies are dumb. I don’t like apologizing, I’d rather just change my behavior.
#s 8 and 10: one(8) criticizes THEIR tone, then the other (10) warns that they will criticise YOUR tone. Seems hypocritical. What is being said AND the way it is said are both important.

All in all, some good points as well. I would love to see a tie-in or a related article that illustrates the ways to be non-toxic/healthy and avoid doing these things yourself.

I’m having a hard time w/ a family member. I don’t honestly know if I’m toxic or they are, but we seem to fight a lot even though we love each other. I don’t want to hurt or be hurt.

Linsdley D

I’m experiencing this now after dating this person for just 4 years. These past years have been questioning and its getting no better. Reading this has helped Me confirm I am not the problem in this relationship. Thanks and MILLION!!!!


This describes my mom and some of her family very well. It has been so difficult with her over the years and finally she has mellowed out in some ways as she got older. It has left deep scares that will never heal. I still have problems with toxic people that I work with who show the above traits. I suffer in silence often and somehow I attract them to me.


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