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.

    [irp posts=”1195″ name=”Toxic People: 16 Practical, Powerful Ways to Deal With Them”]

  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 your 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.

    [irp posts=”1762″ name=”When Someone You Love is Toxic: How to Let Go of Toxic People, Without Guilt”]

  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 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.



I have a neighbor who friended me and it became overwhelming. I am someone who is helping by nature and I think she thought she hit the jackpot. Using my pool anytime she wanted, calling me multiple times a day, getting me to drive her and her family everywhere, help with stuff around her house, helping her kids with projects and basically calling me for anything she didn’t want to do. Then came the day I asked to have a few tree branches trimmed and all hell broke loose. Phoning me and calling me names, when I hung up she posted stuff on FB about me, contacting people on my friends list, standing outside hollering and trashing me to other neighbors, slowing down when driving by my house. Selfish people lose their minds when you turn off the giving tap and stop being manipulated.

Krisenda A

I am currently trying to break away from a 10yr toxic relationship. It has been off and on 2yrs now. I love him to death but he literally does everything you listed. I catch it but he still finds a way to get under my skin. He can fake it for about 2 weeks tops.

One day I will have the strength to never contact him again.


Hi everyone,

Its been three years I have been in a relationship. My boy friend was so loving and texted me and dated with me for one year. Since last one year, he has been so busy as he is a marketing guy. He hardly send one word msg and does no meaningful conversation. No phone calls. When i told him, he says i am needy. And becuase of that he is stone walling me. He is always online on his official whatsapp. He says he has to make so many calls to his clients and has no time. But even after his office hours he do not call me nor make time for me. He is always busy

Nancy S

I’ve been for 28 years with my husband, he put me down all the time, he says that a piece of shit is worth more than me, I don’t remember the last time we had sex


My name is Sandra and I have read all this I’m going through it now ..but after reading this I feel better..its time for me to move on

Rebecca C

Im so confused any advice would be gratefully recieved.
I come from an abusive home, at 16 years old went into an abusive 16 year relationship which I ended. I have a new partner who has been with me for 3 years, at first he was charming, charismatic etc. Now not so much, when I try to tell him things he is doing he brings up my past saying that I like playing the victim as there’s a repeating pattern, first my parents then my ex and now its him? That leaves me totally confused and really hurt. He told me that if I lost 2/3 of my weight he would fall in love with me, after 3 years I think thats an awful thing to say, then he put it down to me understanding it wrongly and not being motivated enough. When I said to him imagine if I said that to you, he told me he isnt coming onto my level, I should be going onto his. Whenever I tell him things thats happening whether it be my disability or past events he comments how im not the only one and that he went through the Balkans war and he lost his parents at 9 years old. But on the other hand he tells me about his mother when he was at university so im left even more confused!

I mean I did tell him things about my past because I thought it was the right thing to do, I dont sit and whine about it as I just like to get on with my life, but he uses it against me. I find it hard to tell him exactly my issues so I sent him information links on Google, when we speak he down plays it says my googled illnesses like i just googled them and decided to choose them. He has brought me everything I could dream of but then he says im an ungrateful person. I feel like its a catch 22 situation. Is it me, am I what he says and I cant see it, am I projecting my past events onto him to fit the mould or is he just messing with my mind?


I have been with my boyfriend 9 yrs and we both a daughter who is8 year old. From the time I met him always cheating. Specifically at work. Nightshift and work at nursing home. Each place he goes not one woman at 3 women he will be sleeping with them.


Its hard to leave but you should leave him. Once a cheater, always a cheater. Men like him think they are entitled to cheat and you will forgive it time after time. Just leave him. I know it hurts but 1) you will teach him a lesson he won’t forget 2) you will regain your self respect.

Many people think they need to stay for the kids but the kids don’t like seeing their parents miserable. Kids notice EVERYTHING everyday – they really do. If you teach your kids that husbands cheat and wives forgive, you’re setting them up for a lifetime of misery and failure because they don’t have good ethics. Kids learn by example. Stand up for yourself and be strong. That teaches your daughters that women can be strong and independent and teaches your sons to respect women because we don’t need men to be happy and raise our kids. Its hard to raise kids alone but it can be done and its better than being miserable living with a liar and cheat. He won’t change unless he wants to and he won’t want to unless you hurt him. There are better men out there who don’t cheat and you can find one. Believe me, I’ve been there.


Why are u with him. What’s the purpose. He does what he wants and has you for a door mat (convenient). Diseases out here but yet you say it so non meaningless. So what are you asking ? How to make him stop ? Only u can by walking out !!


Help me. How do I find the strength to leave a toxic person who I LOVE but keeps making mistakes and disrespecting our trust and relationship by drinking. He’s bringing me down with him but he’s manipulative, he makes me think I owe him for the past… there’s so much more. I obviously know what to do but I’m scared. It will be a huge fight when he leaves, he says some nasty things when he’s in defensive mode. Desperate for some advise…


I’ve been in a toxic friendship for close to two years now. I’ve been trying to understand how it all started and from this article, I’ve discovered it’s jealousy. It all started when she started comparing her life to mine. And it all went downhill from there. I’ve been through so much hurt and emotional stress. I am putting an end to it real soon, by hook or crook. And funny thing is, she has been on her best behavior ever since she discovered I’m trying to separate. This just shows her attitude has been intentional all along. I hope I’m able to be finally free of her. I wish there was a therapist I could talk to.


I had a similar friend – narcissistic personality disorder (undiagnosed). I knew there was something wrong with her but it took me a long time to put it all together. We had been friends for over 20 years, many of them very bad and the others were bad off and on. She lost all her friends one by one as they realized she was toxic. You will be so much happier when you end your friendship and put distance between you and your friend. People like that are not normal and won’t change for the better. If anything, they just get worse. Save yourself while you can. Move on – there are other people out there looking for good friends who are not toxic. You’ll find some of them – have faith that things will work out.

Targeted and Confused

how do I get through my best friend leaving me because of some toxic fake plastic girl and her best friend who just hates me and tells lies about me? I can’t do this anymore. I’m thinkung about ending it. My life. I never get anything I want (or need) and I know it sounds like i’m being dramatic. I just can’t do this anymore. I never did anything to deserve this. PLEASE HELP

K. L

Please Please DON’T consider ending your life. Life changes constantly and theres a very good possibility you can change things if you hang in there and change your thinking. Our minds and attitude are very powerful. Please do this:
1) Pray for good things to come your way. 2). Envision the good things you want and have faith that they will come. I’m not talking about religion or spirituality. Our minds and imaginations are powerful. What we believe will happen will actually happen. Fill yourself with positive and happy ideas. I also highly recommend you learn some form of meditation. Eastern forms of meditation have been helping people for eons. Please don’t give up. There are people in your life who love you.

Hope A

I’m praying for you. No one is worth ending your life. I was the break up queen in my twenties. Yes it was sad & depressing but now I’m married 27 years. Just keep going. That’s what life is. Good things, bad things & we keep going getting stronger & better along the way. I’m so grateful for all my breakups because it made me stronger to handle all the good & bad in the last 27 years. Remember you are not alone. You are strong!


Hi, if your in trouble, go back to your parents or a close relative. Never never take your life. The fallout to others is extreme.

Daniel G

Seeing how many posts on this shows we’re not alone- I’ve been in the most toxic relationship with a well-versed narcissist.I’m 32, shes abouts the same age, literally can never believe a word she’s saying regarding her wherabouts! it’s like always some weird misleading story- always answers the phone and has to walk away from ppl, would take a while to respond, said she lives in a different place now, comes back to visit on weekends, the thing is, her WORDS, love bombs, tell’s me how much she wants me in her life, wants to make it work, fix herself, all of that, but as we all know- actions always speak louder! I’m finally coming to grips with the fact I was another source of supply for her- I’ve been discarded, I was used. It was only about sex with her- getting her needs met. I think she’s been living a double life, running around with who knows how many other men.. she has a lot of addictive traits, well, I think she’s an addict- I know she does things like smokes, does DMT, prescribed to adderal for years, and I have no clue what kind of other substances she uses. But her personality is so hot and cold- I feel immense abondment now, cause she always is making it out to be my fault. Like I’m untrusting, don’t beleive her, controlling- when meanwhile, soo many of her stories just dont add up.. if she cared for me the way she said she did- she would be spending her time with me, not some wild random story and runaround of when she’s availablle.. It hurts to be treated like this. I guess I’m stepping back and really seeing how co-dependent I was to let it get to this point. Shouldve cut it off months ago, but always take her back. It’s wild how some ppl can bold face LIE to you to your face, tell you YOUR the crazy one, and let you suffer in pain while they ride off some emotional high they’re getting from whoever else their hanging with. No more will I play the game.


I’m old. Been through many relationships. There are abusers. Lots of them.

But most people are just unaware, and many problems in a relationship can be solved by acknowledging that the person in the mirror is making drama because they feel afraid, lost, inauthentic, angry, whatever.

If you afraid, call for help to leave. If you are not afraid, look for the toxic in the mirror first before pointing it out, or ghosting it, in someone else.

You’ll be a lot happier when you’re old if you clean up your energy before blaming others.


I am in a relationship with a man who just seems to want to keep me outside the door of his life. He will tell me things like, having a bad day, had a bad dream, well this sucks, this guys gonna piss me off, etc, but when I ask for more details, he says things like, oh it’s nothing, Or I will tell you later, (and never does) or it’s was just stupid, I feel baited sometimes. He won’t show his true feelings, and keeps his life very private, But says he loves me wholeheartedly. If this is true, then why does he not let me into his life 100%? But I love this man, but don’t know how much more I can take


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‘Brave’ doesn’t always feel like certain, or strong, or ready. In fact, it rarely does. That what makes it brave.♥️
#parenting #mindfulparenting #parentingtips
We teach our kids to respect adults and other children, and they should – respect is an important part of growing up to be a pretty great human. There’s something else though that’s even more important – teaching them to respect themselves first. 

We can’t stop difficult people coming into their lives. They might be teachers, coaches, peers, and eventually, colleagues, or perhaps people connected to the people who love them. What we can do though is give our kids independence of mind and permission to recognise that person and their behaviour as unacceptable to them. We can teach our kids that being kind and respectful doesn’t necessarily mean accepting someone’s behaviour, beliefs or influence. 

The kindness and respect we teach our children to show to others should never be used against them by those broken others who might do harm. We have to recognise as adults that the words and attitudes directed to our children can be just as damaging as anything physical. 

If the behaviour is from an adult, it’s up to us to guard our child’s safe space in the world even harder. That might be by withdrawing support for the adult, using our own voice with the adult to elevate our child’s, asking our child what they need and how we can help, helping them find their voice, withdrawing them from the environment. 

Of course there will be times our children do or say things that aren’t okay, but this never makes it okay for any adult in your child’s life to treat them in a way that leads them to feeling ‘less than’.

Sometimes the difficult person will be a peer. There is no ‘one certain way’ to deal with this. Sometimes it will involve mediation, role playing responses, clarifying the other child’s behaviour, asking for support from other adults in the environment, or letting go of the friendship.

Learning that it’s okay to let go of relationships is such an important part of full living. Too often we hold on to people who don’t deserve us. Not everyone who comes into our lives is meant to stay and if we can help our children start to think about this when they’re young, they’ll be so much more empowered and deliberate in their relationships when they’re older.♥️
When we are angry, there will always be another emotion underneath it. It is this way for all of us. 

Anger itself is a valid emotion so it’s important not to dismiss it. Emotion is e-motion - energy in motion. It has to find a way out, which is why telling an angry child to calm down or to keep their bodies still will only make things worse for them. They might comply, but their bodies will still be in a state of distress. 

Often, beneath an angry child is an anxious one needing our help. It’s the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. As with all emotions, anger has a job to do - to help us to safety through movement, or to recruit support, or to give us the physical resources to meet a need or to change something that needs changing. It doesn’t mean it does the job well, because an angry brain means the feeling brain has the baton, while the thinking brain sits out for a while. What it means is that there is a valid need there and this young person is doing their very best to meet it, given their available resources in the moment or their developmental stage. 

Children need the same thing we all need when we’re feeling fierce - to be seen,  heard, and supported; to find a way to get the energy out, either with words or movement. Not to be shut down or ‘fixed’. 

Our job isn’t to stop their anger, but to help them find ways to feel it and express it in ways that don’t do damage. This will take lots of experience, and lots of time - and that’s okay.♥️
The SCCR Online Conference 2021 is a wonderful initiative by @sccrcentre (Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution) which will explore ’The Power of Reconnection’. I’ve been working with SCCR for many years. They do incredible work to build relationships between young people and the important adults around them, and I’m excited to be working with them again as part of this conference.

More than ever, relationships matter. They heal, provide a buffer against stress, and make the world feel a little softer and safer for our young people. Building meaningful connections can take time, and even the strongest relationships can feel the effects of disconnection from time to time. As part of this free webinar, I’ll be talking about the power of attachment relationships, and ways to build relationships with the children and teens in your life that protect, strengthen, and heal. 

The workshop will be on Monday 11 October at 7pm Brisbane, Australia time (10am Scotland time). The link to register is in my story.
There are many things that can send a nervous system into distress. These can include physiological (tired, hungry, unwell), sensory overload/ underload, real or perceived threat (anxiety), stressed resources (having to share, pay attention, learn new things, putting a lid on what they really think or want - the things that can send any of us to the end of ourselves).

Most of the time it’s developmental - the grown up brain is being built and still has a way to go. Like all beautiful, strong, important things, brains take time to build. The part of the brain that has a heavy hand in regulation launches into its big developmental window when kids are about 6 years old. It won’t be fully done developing until mid-late 20s. This is a great thing - it means we have a wide window of influence, and there is no hurry.

Like any building work, on the way to completion things will get messy sometimes - and that’s okay. It’s not a reflection of your young one and it’s not a reflection of your parenting. It’s a reflection of a brain in the midst of a build. It’s wondrous and fascinating and frustrating and maddening - it’s all the things.

The messy times are part of their development, not glitches in it. They are how it’s meant to be. They are important opportunities for us to influence their growth. It’s just how it happens. We have to be careful not to judge our children or ourselves because of these messy times, or let the judgement of others fill the space where love, curiosity, and gentle guidance should be. For sure, some days this will be easy, and some days it will feel harder - like splitting an atom with an axe kind of hard.

Their growth will always be best nurtured in the calm, loving space beside us. It won’t happen through punishment, ever. Consequences have a place if they make sense and are delivered in a way that doesn’t shame or separate them from us, either physically or emotionally. The best ‘consequence’ is the conversation with you in a space that is held by your warm loving strong presence, in a way that makes it safe for both of you to be curious, explore options, and understand what happened.♥️
#mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #parenting

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