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 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.

    [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 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. 

1,617 Comments

net

Thanks for the great tips and advice. It really clears up a lot of unanswered questions.

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jeffrey

Hello its Jeffrey I just wanted to ask you something like how do you tell someone that you have had enough of them and these people follow you around,they come around to the next door neighbours and pretend they are there for a reason .
These people actually stalk me where ever I go including overseas,i have tried to tell them on many occasions that I want nothing to do with them and one of them come around to try and listen to my conversations no matter where I go and then try to use this for there pleasure and to try and use this information for gossip and then try to use it against you.
it has got to the stage that I am thinking of calling the police because they break the law and don’t care what you say but still continue to do what they like.
do you have any information that will help out here please

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Joe

I’m 58 yrs old and am having a similar problem. I think most people would say I’m an ok guy. Not going to win an election but not going to hurt someone. I thought the internet was a place we could all express our views being respectful of all. I have found it to be potentially more hazardous

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Bemused by Toxics

Hi. I get the same from the 4 toxics in my life, one of whom is my older sister. They clearly don’t like me becuase i don’t jump to their beat and let them win, but for people who don’t like me they can’t leave me alone and go their own way. It almost becomes about retribution. You didn’t submit to us so we’re going to ruin your life. How dare you stand up to us, or ignore us and not cower before us.

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Amy

To numb……I too had a narrasistic family member. My mother. I was an only child and got all the hurt directed to me alone. It sucked. Still hurts at 38 years old. But let that make you loving to others and strong against the aggressors. DO NOT take that out on your sister like u are done too and hurt. Band together in strength and loving behavior. Do not hurt her and become the traits that your brother has hurt u with or you are re creating the monster as yourself to her. She might not be so strong one day and carry out the actions that you held back with the suicidle thoughts . Sending love and healing your way .. I know the pain and hurt first hand. I will never get the love I craved and still do. Even Acceptence for being born But I will not let that make me nasty soul sucker like my narcissistic parent. Peace and love. Rose up and together with love and sister

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MG

Wow, sounds very similar. It takes alot of love and understanding to pardon the parent that has spend too much time being selfish.

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Donna

Thank you. Same situation here. I am 57 yrs old and it still hurts. I am letting go if my toxic family. There is nothing I can do to change them. Very sad but working on myself and to find meaningful relationships eleswhere.

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Steven

I agree with you, particularly about being manipulative. Toxic people are master manipulators and very good at purposefully confusing others. A good way to tell you are dealing with a toxic person is that anytime you hang out with them, you’re likely to feel exhausted, negative, anxious, angry, and emotionally drained. Detached contact or occasional interactions is a great way of dealing with a manipulative person. Great article.

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MrsT

How do you deal with it when it’s your husband who is toxic? And is rubbing his toxicity onto me?

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Delila

Thank you this article has helped me with my situation with a family member. I have been keeping my distance and have tried to move on with my life. That too has caused strain and tension for everyone else in the family and at family get togethers. I recently told the person I wanted peace with them at one of the family events and am hopeful to put an end to their toxic energy directed at me.

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MyName

I love number 10. I always get accused of YELLING at my spouse. My spouse hears any comment that is not agreeing with her opinion as YELLING at her.

No conflict is ever resolved. If I dont agree with her, there is hell to pay. And I disagree with her it means I am not a ‘normal’ man.

I have to choose between being a ‘doormat, yielding, normal husband’ -or- a ‘in the dog house, no sex, no conversation combatant’.

I hate marriage.

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seebo

hello ive been in a relationship for two years now.. my partner and i are currently going through a rough patch and i came across this article because im looking for ways to fix our relationship i really love him and i dont want to lose him but after reading this article i feel like i am the toxic person in his life so what i want to know is how can i fix that and should i still stay with him.

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Comfort

This helped me alot I have a friend who always gives out negative energy all the time, its annoying but am worried for her at the same time

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Harmony

My husband always has to be right. He twists every word I say turning it on me. He’s exhausting. He forgot my birthday two times in a row. He always has to have an apology after he turns it on me. “you didn’t even apologized”, or “what you should do is apologize” then my F-you comes out!
Am I going crazy, I don’t know, but I am beginning to feel a little hatred towards him. Then, when I shut him down, he try’s to apologize but at that point I have nothing to say and then of course I’m being a B, or a C!!
I’m at a loss!

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Dean-na

Very good article! I read it to my daughter because it validates how her friend treated her in high school that had such an effect on her that she went into a quiet like shy-shell to perfect herself .She now gets that it’s not her that’s the problem! See motherly advice is good but naturally kids think parental complements or advise is biased because well they are our child. We’ve always been open & honest with our children but when dealing with subjects like in this article kids need to hear it from peers that” they’re not the crazy one’s”! Thank you for this article it has been helpful for my daughter..& many more people in this position..

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Colleen

I like this article. I am currently the subject of my brother’s considerable enmity. In a fit of impatience at his overbearing and ranting behaviour, I made the mistake of calling him a narcissist. Since then, I have called him to apologize. He seemed to accept this apology, but not really. I have have far more negative interactions from him since then than positive ones. I no longer call him and when he calls me he goes on long rants about his work, etc. and is not interested in anything about me or my children despite the fact that we live far away from each other. Suddenly, he has taken an interest in me again and has been threatening me, implying that I am not a fit parent and that social services might becoming involved. He has contacted my in-law’s family to smear me and my husband to them, all in the guise of wanting to help, of course. So I lost my temper on the phone and told him not to contact me again.

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Kong

I chuckle while I read this, it’s funny how I’ved been played around with so much that I actually never noticed any of these things. Thank you,

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Scout

Those relatives are attempting to keep you away for financial inheritance property estate distribution. If your mother needed you and you had a great relationship and never called or came to visit her….yeah…pretty lousy…if you had a SHITTY relationship where you were the scapegoat and everything got blamed on you while the other siblings were spoiled rotten…yeah…no visiting required…I understand completely..however, if you were the favorite who was spoiled rotten and your siblings were not, you stopped visiting and calling when mom ran out of resources and had no property to leave you or estate jewelry cars cash etc…then yep crappy on you…either way TOXIC people learn this self serving behavior somewhere…I find it especially hurtful when at a funeral people with agendas take the opportunistic timing when guards are down, to attack other family members…insideous…

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Janet A

You can not reason at all with selfish people! It is all about them they will try and make you think they care. Actions speaks louder than words! Always keep your guard up with these people!

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Vinod

Wow! To be honest I see the trend in me that puts people into difficult situations. Never knew the impact but yes lots to learn and do to make people around me feel better. Brilliant article .. an a eye opener!

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San

Are you saying that he needs my approval so that I can take all the blame on the relationship. So he can feel better about himself. that he’s not the problem I am.

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Paul

Most women nowadays are toxic altogether since they’re so very stuck up with a very bad attitude problem as well. Very risky now for many of us single men just to say good morning or hello to a woman that we would very much like to meet unfortunately.

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Jacquie

All women? people living in glass houses should not throw stones total negative post we are on this page for some positive advice ,not to read this negative shit directed to female sex !!!

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Terry

That is unfortunate as there are many nice men out there (I married one of them), but I would not put this in the same category as being toxic. Some women really are nasty and stuck up (this I also know), but many just have a natural defense built up from past relationships or the negative reputation of men in general. So sometimes all you can do is continue to be nice…a gentleman…and demonstrate your intentions with patience and courtesy.

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Paul

And there are many of us good single men out there that really wanted to get married and have a family instead of being single and alone all the time which isn’t fun at all. If women today had been just like the old days which it never would’ve been a problem at all meeting a good one since most of the women back then were Real Ladies at that time, and the very complete opposite of today altogether along with very good manners and personality too. Feminists men hating lesbian women are everywhere nowadays unfortunately adding to the problem why many of us men really can’t find a good woman at all nowadays which certainly has a lot to do with it as well. Since there are many of us men out there that never expected this to happen to us at all which it makes it a real shame for us since looking for love has certainly become so very impossible now. And for the women that have their careers today which makes it even much worse for us too since the great majority of these very pathetic women today are so very high maintenance, independent, since they don’t really need us men anymore, very selfish, spoiled, greedy, picky, narcissists, think they’re all that, and very money hungry as well. It is these kind of women that will only want the very best of all, and will never ever settle for less either. So i would really have to say that these women are very toxic, especially the ones that will Curse at us for no reason at all when we will try to start a conversation with the one that we would really like to meet. Very obvious why our family members were very blessed and lucky when they found love with one another back in the old days since it definitely was a very good time back then for them when they met. Quite a change today in the women unfortunately today which even God has no control at all over them now. Many of us men were just never meant to find love no matter how hard we try, and many of us have a very excellent reason to hate the holidays when they come around as you can see.

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Cindy

I feel the same way and I am a woman and it is a shame . My feelings to you are mutual. I hope hope you do find a real lady that has morals and ethics. That is definitely descent. The kind of woman you would be proud to bring home to your parents. Good luck sincerely Cindy

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Emma

Aww Paul I’m sure you will find someone there is always someone out the doe everyone and tbh I am in a toxic relationship at the moment I’m on the verge on walking away but he makes me feel bad like I always have to apologise for things that I haven’t done and also threatening behaviour towards me well no more all I want is someone to love me not mu h to ask is it hope you fins your one true love x

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Arthur

Paul, instead of blaming everyone else for you not finding a girlfriend cut that judgemental attitude and start acting like a gentleman instead.
Being respectful to women is the key, trust me I know.

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Paul

It is very hard to have respect for women when many of us men get Cursed at by them. Don’t you think?

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Jan L

Thank You; these 12 points are right on. I am 67 living in a community of 55 and older. You reach out to brighten their day; such as planting some plants that you asked them if it was ok and they are happy and the next day you get torn apart for being a kind neighbor. I am 67 and have never experienced anger from people who I tried to be kind to. From reading your article it’s not me it is a very unhappy woman using me for her anger

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Alex

You should really look into a few books. One of which is called no more mr nice guy and the second is, the rational male. I completely understand what you’re saying and your words hit home. However, consider for a moment where you’ve made your life’s mission to find love with a woman. You HAVE to start focusing on chasing excellence for yourself. Having yourself as your own mental point of origin is the key. Doing anything in life for the opposite sex is a lose lose situation. It starts with your own self esteem and these women that are treating you without regard at an opening situation are really just testing your abilities and testing you to see what you’re worth and if you have no self worth out of the gate, you’ve already lost. Focus on yourself and start lifting, eating healthy, going on more excursions alone and hanging out with others without the intention of getting something in return. It starts with you, you need to chase excellence not women. Good luck. Read those books. And look for a YouTube channel called the red man group. It will open your eyes to the reality of what’s really going on here. The matrix is real. Women aren’t all bad but you need to understand their nature and understand your role as a man as well.

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Thorny T

Arthur is right, Paul. You sound judgemental and also seem to feel having a woman is your right. Women can sense this, maybe that’s why none are thrilled by your particular brand of charm.

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lp

you really have a bad attitude. Thank god women are working now so we don’t have to put up with men that want to be superior and control us.

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Donna

Not all women are like that. I am not like that. It us wrong to assume all women are all as you described. I have met men and women who do not have the same values and beliefs as mine. I just move on and try to join a group I am interested in and look for like minded people. No one will ever have exacttly the same standards as anyone eles. I learn from different people but keep my own individuality. That is what helps me.

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Mike

Unfortunately, Paul speaks the truth. I myself have been in three toxic relationships and was manipulated until I was digging a deep hole to find my self-esteem again and again. I am sure what he said it’s not all women out there are like that, but disfunctional and insecure women are everywhere, no matter how succesful they are because they are an emotional being, instead of a logical one. S
o men who wants to control these women must be master at manipulation themselves. The narcissistic women will just take and take, and once you give in to their demand once, it starts an endless cycle of self-deprivation and validation seeking behaviour. We lose sight of who we were in the beginning and fall into the trap of a relationship and all its secure and loving feelings.

Men have it harder these days if they were not taught by their father well, and women also have it hard when they didn’t have a father to set their mind straight also. Everyone has unresolved Parents/Daddy Issues somewhere and must rise above it if they ever wanted to pursue a healthy and meaningful relationship.

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Teja

I have a wife, who has all typical characteristic behaviour listed above. All these days I was confused whether what mistake I was doing all the time. Now, I have some clarity and understanding that she used to make me feel like that. I wanted peace and joy in our relationship, however, she has spoilt since our marriage. I am fed up. Can’t leave her and at the same to bear her emotional torture.

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KRoSno

Seriously, you’re going to lump all women together like that? I think you’re projecting a bit; that is most unfair as well as untrue.

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Irritated

I feel your pain in not finding someone, but you may be luckier than you think. I married a woman with 2 entitled children that rule the house with no boundaries. As I’m not allowed to say anything as mama bear explodes, I have to keep taking it. I’m close to my last straw, as I was asked to leave my bedroom where I was about to relax after a long day, because my step daughter was exercising in the hall out side of the door and she felt awkward. As my stepson was laying on the couch downstairs and the basement is entirely his bedroom, there was nowhere for me to go. I left, will go for a drink and simmer in disbelief to the bs I’m enduring. I pay the mortgage, and am not allowed to even be comfortable in my own house. The way they are, ive never been comfortable there and this has just added to it.

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Dexy

Leave them. Dont accept their bs anymore. I ended toxic “friendship”. You can too.

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Tiffany

You speak so much sense! Thank you. I’ve been treated for depression recently just starting to get better loved reading everything xx

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Annie

This has been going on for a long time, since I was 14, but it recently escalated into something incredibly unreasonable.

I have two people in my family who are incredibly toxic. One is my dad who likes to get really salty about the divorce he went through with my mom. Everyone he complained about is painted as a villain and he is the unassuming victim. I caught on to this early because he tried to slander my mom, forgetting the fact that we kids were there and saw everything that actually happened. So when I didn’t say anything to make him feel better/justified, he got salty about it. Every time I disagree with something he says/likes, or refuse to do something he asks for, he’ll complain about me behind my back to toxic person #2, my sister.

My sister takes his slander of me as gospel and often goes on a huge rampage against me for days. Every time she starts to rage, I find out that she never bothered to consider my side of things, and questions me about things that never happened before (hence my specific use of the word “slander”) I tried to explain what really happened and make her see things from my perspective, but all my attempts were shot down with screaming and accusations, so I gave up. At 14 years old, I gave up and took all the verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse lying down. I guess she took that to mean everything dad said is true.

She’s now married and has the most adorable little boy, and we keep hoping that she’ll come back to our hometown and let us dote on him, but she suddenly said she’ll only let mom and dad visit her and play with the baby, but not me. All those years of mom telling me to let dad say whatever he likes, and quietly bearing with my sister’s bias and abuse has led me nowhere, in fact, I’m worse off.

I’m 27 now, I don’t care what my dad does, but it has affected my relationship with sibling in such a way, I’m hurt and lost, and not even my mom knows what to do because never gave it that much thought and thinks this is a new development and that I’m just exaggerating. Meanwhile, she gets to see her only grandchild every day.

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Paul

Im wondering if some of the affected people here have heard of “attachment theory”. The behaviour above seems to fit with an attachment style known as Fearful Avoidant….or another one called dismissive avoidant attachment. If you’re interested have a read on the internet about these personality types. Knowing about attachment theory helped everything fall into place as far as understanding my then partner was concerned. Peace love and good vibes to everyone reading this.

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Rosemarie H

Sadly, we all know this hurts and when it is time to let go. Thank you for the clarification. Life is short, get rid of toxic people and live your best life without them.

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Anxiety has a way of demanding ALL of the attention. It shifts the focus to what feels scary, or too big, or impossible, or what needs to be avoided, or what feels bad, or what our kiddos can’t do. As the grown ups who love them, we know they are capable of greatness, even if that greatness is made up of lots of tiny steps, (as great things tend to be).
Physical activity is the natural end to the fight or flight response (which is where the physical feelings of an anxiety attack come from). Walking will help to burn the adrenalin and neurochemicals that have surged the body to prepare it for flight or fight, and which are causing the physical symptoms (racy heart, feeling sick, sweaty, short breaths, dry mouth, trembly or tense in the limbs etc). As well as this, the rhythm of walking will help to calm their anxious amygdala. Brains love rhythm, and walking is a way to give them this. 
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Try to help your young one access their steady breaths while walking, but it is very likely that they will only be able to do this if they’ve practised outside of an anxiety attack. During anxiety, the brain is too busy to try anything unfamiliar. Practising will help to create neural pathways that will make breathing an easier, more accessible response during anxiety. If they aren't able to access strong steady breaths, you might need to do it for them. This will be just as powerful - in the same way they can catch your anxiety, they will also be able to catch your calm. When you are able to assume a strong, calm, steady presence, this will clear the way for your brave ones to do the same.
The more your young one is able to verbalise what their anxiety feels like, the more capacity they will have to identify it, acknowledge it and act more deliberately in response to it. With this level of self-awareness comes an increased ability to manage the feeling when it happens, and less likelihood that the anxiety will hijack their behaviour. 

Now - let’s give their awareness some muscle. If they are experts at what their anxiety feels like, they are also experts at what it takes to be brave. They’ve felt anxiety and they’ve moved through it, maybe not every time - none of us do it every time - maybe not even most times, but enough times to know what it takes and how it feels when they do. Maybe it was that time they walked into school when everything in them was wanting to walk away. Maybe that time they went in for goal, or down the water slide, or did the presentation in front of the class. Maybe that time they spoke their own order at the restaurant, or did the driving test, or told you there would be alcohol at the party. Those times matter, because they show them they can move through anxiety towards brave. They might also taken for granted by your young one, or written off as not counting as brave - but they do count. They count for everything. They are evidence that they can do hard things, even when those things feel bigger than them. 

So let’s expand those times with them and for them. Let’s expand the wisdom that comes with that, and bring their brave into the light as well. ‘What helped you do that?’ ‘What was it like when you did?’ ‘I know everything in you wanted to walk away, but you didn’t. Being brave isn’t about doing things easily. It’s about doing those hard things even when they feel bigger than us. I see you doing that all the time. It doesn’t matter that you don’t do them every time -none of us are brave every time- but you have so much courage in you my love, even when anxiety is making you feel otherwise.’

Let them also know that you feel like this too sometimes. It will help them see that anxiety happens to all of us, and that even though it tells a deficiency story, it is just a story and one they can change the ending of.
During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.

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