Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

When It’s Not You, It’s Them: The Toxic People That Ruin Friendships, Families, Relationships

399,439 views

When It's Not You, It's Them: The Toxic People That Ruin Friendships, Families, Relationships

One of the joys of being human is that we don’t have to be perfect to be one of the good ones. At some point we’ll all make stupid decisions, hurt the people we love, say things that are hard to take back, and push too hard to get our way. None of that makes us toxic. It makes us human. We mess things up, we grow and we learn. Toxic people are different. They never learn. They never self-reflect and they don’t care who they hurt along the way. 

Toxic behaviour is a habitual way of responding to the world and the people in it. Toxic people are smart but they have the emotional intelligence of a pen lid. It’s no accident that they choose those who are open-hearted, generous and willing to work hard for a relationship. With two non-toxic people this is the foundation for something wonderful, but when toxic behaviour is involved it’s only a matter of time before that open heart becomes a broken one.

If you’re in any sort of relationship with someone who is toxic, chances are you’ve been bending and flexing for a while to try to make it work. Stop. Just stop. You can only change the things that are open to your influence and toxic people will never be one of them. Here are some of the ones to watch out for.

15 Versions of Toxic People

  1. The Controller.

    Nobody should have to ask for permission or be heavily directed on what to wear, how to look, who to spend time with or how to spend their money. There’s nothing wrong with being open to the influence of the people around you, but ‘the way you do you’ is for you to decide. Your mind is strong and beautiful and shouldn’t be caged. Healthy relationships support independent thought. They don’t crush it.

  2. The Taker.

    All relationships are about give and take but if you’re with a taker, you’ll be doing all the giving and they’ll be doing all the taking. Think about what you get from the relationship. If it’s nothing, it might be time to question why you’re there. We all have a limited amount of resources (emotional energy, time) to share between our relationships. Every time you say ‘yes’ to someone who doesn’t deserve you, you’re saying ‘no’ to someone who does. Give your energy to the people who deserve it and when you’re drawing up the list of deserving ones, make sure your own name is at the top.

  3. The Absent.

    These versions of toxic people won’t return texts or phone calls and will only be available when it suits them, usually when they want something. You might find yourself wondering whether they got your message, whether they’re okay, or whether you’ve done something to upset them. No relationship should involve this much guess-work.

  4. The Manipulator.

    Manipulators will steal your joy as though you made it especially for them. They’ll tell half-truths or straight out lies and when they have enough people squabbling, they’ll be the saviour. ‘Don’t worry. I’m here for you.’ Ugh. They’ll listen, they’ll comfort, and they’ll tell you what you want to hear. And then they’ll ruin you. They’ll change the facts of a situation, take things out of context and use your words against you. They’ll calmly poke you until you crack, then they’ll poke you for cracking. They’ll ‘accidentally’ spill secrets or they’ll hint that there are secrets there to spill, whether there are or not. There’s just no reasoning with a manipulator, so forget trying to explain yourself. The argument will run in circles and there will be no resolution. It’s a black hole. Don’t get sucked in.

    You:   I feel like you’re not listening to me.
    Them:
      Are you calling me a bad listener
    You:
      No, I’m just saying that you’ve taken what I said the wrong way.
    Them:
      Oh. So now you’re saying I’m stupid. I can’t believe you’re doing this to me. Everyone told me to be careful of you.

    They’ll only hear things through their negative filter, so the more you talk, the more they’ll twist what you’re saying. They want power, not a relationship. They’ll use your weaknesses against you and they’ll use your strengths – your kindness, your openness, your need for stability in the relationship. If they’re showing tenderness, be careful – there’s something you have that they want. Show them the door, and lock it when they leave.

  5. The Bullshitter.

    They talk themselves up, they talk others down and they always have a reason for not doing what they say. They’ll lie outright or they’ll give you versions of the truth – not a lie, not the truth, just that feeling in your gut that something is off. You can’t believe a word they say. There’s no honesty, which means there’s no intimacy. At worst bullshitters are heartbreakers. At best they’re raving bores.

  6. The Attention Seeker.

    It’s nice to be needed. It’s also nice to eat peanut butter, but it doesn’t mean you want it all the time. The attention seeker always has a crisis going on and they always need your support. Be ready for the aggression, passive aggression, angst or a guilt trip if you don’t respond. ‘Oh. You’re going to dinner with  friends? It’s just that I’ve had the worst day and I really needed you tonight. Oh well, I suppose I can’t always expect you to be there for me. If it’s that important to you then you should go. I just want you to be happy. I’ll just stay in by myself and watch tv or something (sigh). You go and have fun with your friends. I suppose I’ll be okay.’ See how that works? When there’s always a crisis, it’s only a matter of time before you’re at the centre of one. 

  7. The One Who Wants to Change You.

    It’s one thing to let you know that the adorable snort thing you do when you laugh isn’t so adorable, but when you’re constantly reminded that you aren’t smart enough, good-looking enough, skinny enough, strong enough, you have to start thinking that the only thing that isn’t good enough about you is this loser who keeps pointing these things out. You’ll never be good enough for these people because it’s not about you, it’s about control and insecurity – theirs, not yours. As long as they’re working on changing you, they don’t have to worry about themselves, and as long as they can keep you small, they’ll have a shot at shining brighter.

    These people will make you doubt yourself by slowly convincing you that they know best, and that they’re doing it all for you. ‘You’d just be so much prettier if you lost a few pounds, you know? I’m just being honest.’ Ugh. Unless you’re having to be craned through your window, or you’re seriously unhealthy, it’s nobody else’s business how luscious your curves are. If you feel heavy, start by losing the 160 pounds of idiot beside you and you won’t believe how much lighter you’ll feel. These ones aren’t looking out for you, they’re trying to manage you. The people who deserve you will love you because of who you are, not despite it.

  8. The One You Want to Change.

    People aren’t channels, hairstyles or undies. You can’t change them. Someone who snarls at the waiter will always be the kind of person who snarls at the waiter – whether they’re snarling or not. People can change, but only when they’re ready and usually only when they’ve felt enough pain.  It’s normal to fight for the things that are important, but it’s important to know when to stop. When a relationship hurts to be in, the only thing that will change will be you – a sadder, more unhappier version of the person you started out as. Before it gets to this, set a time limit in which you want to see change. Take photos of yourself every day – you’ll see it in your eyes if something isn’t right, or check in at the end of each week and write down how you feel. Have something concrete to look back on. It’s easier to let go if it’s clear over time that nothing has changed. It’s even easier if you can see that the only thing different is that the lights have gone out in you.

  9. The Abuser.

    The signs might be subtle at first but they’ll be there. Soon, there will be a clear cycle of abuse, but you may or may not recognise it for what it is but this is how it will look:

    >>  There will be rising tension. You’ll feel it. You’ll tread carefully and you’ll be scared of saying or doing the wrong thing.

    >>   Eventually, there will be an explosion. A fight. There will be physical or emotional abuse and it will be terrifying. At first you’ll make excuses – ‘I shouldn’t have said that/ did that/ gone out/ had an opinion/ said no.

    >>  Then, the honeymoon. The abuser can be wonderfully kind and loving when they need to be, but only when they need to be. You’ll be so desperate for things to get better that you’ll believe the apologies, the tenderness, the declarations of love, the promises.

    >> The tension will start to rise again. Over time, the cycle will get shorter and it will happen more often. The tension will rise quicker, the explosions will be bigger, the honeymoons will be shorter. 

    If this is familiar, you’re in a cycle of abuse. It’s not love. It’s not stress. It’s not your fault. It’s abuse. The honeymoon will be one of the things that keeps you there. The love will feel real and you’ll crave it, of course you will – that’s completely understandable – but listen to this: Love after abuse isn’t love, it’s manipulation. If the love was real, there would be mountains moved to make sure you were never hurt or scared again.

  10. The Jealous One.

    Your partner is important and so are other people in your life. If you act in a trustworthy way, you deserve to be trusted. We all get insecure now and then and sometimes we could all do with a little more loving and reassurance, but when the questions, accusations and demands are consistent and without reason, it will only be a matter of time before your phone is checked, your movements are questioned, and your friends are closed out. Misplaced jealousy isn’t love, it’s a lack of trust in you.

  11. The Worse-Off One.

    These people will always have problems that are bigger than yours. You’re sick, they’re sicker; you’re exhausted from working late every night this week, they’re shattered – from the gym; you’ve just lost your job, they’re ‘devastated because it’s really hard when you know someone who’s lost their job’. You’ll always be the supporter, never the supported. There’s only so long that you can keep drawing on your emotional well if there’s nothing coming back.

  12. The Sideways Glancer.

    Ok. So the human form is beautiful and there’s nothing wrong with admiring it, but when it’s done constantly in your company – in your face – it’s tiring, and it feels bad. You deserve to be first and you deserve to feel noticed. That doesn’t mean you have to be first all the time, but certainly you shouldn’t have to fight strangers for your share of attention. Some things will never be adorable.

  13. The Cheater.

    Infidelity doesn’t have to mean the end of a relationship – that depends on the circumstances and the people involved and it’s not for anyone else to judge whether or not you should stay. It’s a deeply personal decision and one you can make in strength either way, but when infidelity happens more than once, or when it happens without remorse or commitment to the future of the relationship, it will cause breakage. When people show you over and over that they aren’t capable of loving you the way you want to be loved, believe them. Move them out of the damn way so that better things can find you. 

  14. The Liar.

    Let’s be realistic – little white lies happen. In fact, research has found that when lying is done for the right reasons (such as to protect someone’s feelings) it can actually strengthen a relationship. ‘So that’s the orange cocktail dress you’ve spent a month’s pay on? Wow – you weren’t kidding when you said it was bright. Oh, it has pandas on it. And they’re smiling. And the shop doesn’t take returns. And you love it. Well keep smiling gorgeous. You look amazing!’. However, when lies are told with malicious intent and for personal gain, it will always weaken relationships. Relationships are meant to be fun, but none of us are meant to be played.

  15. The One Who Laughs at Your Dreams.

    Whether it’s being a merchant banker, a belly dancer, or the inventor of tiny slippers for cats, the people who deserve you are those who support your dreams, not those who laugh at them. The people who tell you that you won’t succeed are usually the ones who are scared that you will. If they’re not cheering you on, they’re holding you back. If they’re not directly impacted by your dreams, (which, for example, your partner might be if your dream is to sell everything you both own, move to Rome, and sell fake sunglasses to the tourists) then you would have to question what they’re getting out of dampening you.

Being human is complicated. Being open to the world is a great thing to be – it’s wonderful – but when you’re open to the world you’re also open to the poison that spills from it.  One of the things that makes a difference is the people you hold close. Whether it’s one, two or squadron-sized bunch, let the people around you be ones who are worthy of you. It’s one of the greatest acts of self-love. Good people are what great lives are made of. 

Like this article?

Subscribe to our free newsletter for a weekly round up of our best articles

255 Comments

Liz

I was called toxic today for being petty. Is being petty really a toxic trait? All I did was wait exactly one hour to reply back to them because they had done the same to me while being online. Needless to say he blocked me on every social media and yet called me and said that he’s glad he got revenge on people like me. He asked me if I was crying I said no but he knew it was a lie because my voice was shaky. Idk now I’m so self conscious as to if I really am toxic or not.

Reply
Kathleen

Liz,
WOW..First of all anyone that says they got ‘revenge on people like you’ needs some self help! Please do not give this person anymore of your time.. A significant other should compliment you. They should make you feel good about yourself. He did you a favor by blocking you…and hopefully he doesn’t unblock you to play more h eadgames! YOU are NOT the toxic one Liz.
Kathleen

Reply
Richard Chadwell

Whenever I start to feel the anger, the hurt, the ‘how could you do that’ feeling, I re-read this article and it shows my why people do the things they do. I guess it still bothers me cause the abusers were my mom and my brother. they were a tag team on destroying me. or trying to destroy me. I turned out to be a really nice person in spite of all their efforts. they ended up not having any friends left on the entire planet. people like me for what I am.

Reply
Hailey

It bothers me as well. Me and my dad were very close when I was younger. He has always been toxic and it didnt affect me until I was older. His true colors showed and it got very ugly. But, I did what was right for me and removed myself from them. Its honestly been the best 7 months of my life. It feels like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

Reply
Richard Chadwell

I love the Phrase ‘ Self Entitlement” it describes the arrogance of narcissistic people.

Reply
Hailey

My dad was the toxic parent and many parts of this article described what he did. Im definitely gonna save this and read it again. He doesnt care about anyone but himself and he made that pretty clear to me. So, I removed myself out of the family because his side of the family was very toxic as well. Its been 7 months since I have seen or spoken to any of them. I have had my weak moments here and there but I know Im better off without them. This article helped me.

Reply
JoJo

What if you married someone who has at one point or another done all 15 over 16 years together. The majority of these being consistent. I used to feel like if I just try a little harder or change a little more but am beginning to see unless I want to feel like this for the rest of my life I have got to walk away because if it hasn’t changed much since day 1 it will never. The honeymoon stage I guess is what always made me stay. And the feeling of thinking someone loved me so much and would do anything for me. But when you realize all he’s ever done is hurt you over and over and never really seems remorseful until he thinks “this time might be the time she really leaves” and he’ll be so nice for a week maybe two if you’re lucky. Then he’ll find something you’ve done wrong, not good enough, not perfect like him, expressed AN HONEST opinion or just disagreed with him. Any kind of honesty will make him run so fast and far. If this isn’t enough to leave for your own sake then do it for your kids sake. I’ve finally understood that my kids DESERVE the mom I set out to be. The one I pretended I’d be when I was just a little girl when I dreamed I married my prince and we lived happily ever after. My kids deserve to have a happy mom who does what SHE WANTS WHEN SHE WANTS WHERE SHE WANTS and isn’t afraid of the consequences that are sure to follow if she does. The silent treatment for days not being touched for weeks, months only once a month when you want to FU## And I say it that way because it really never was making love. No matter how I romanticized it it never truly was. Realizing you never loved me hurts so bad because I gave up everything to make sure you ALWAYS felt loved by me, but of course no matter how hard I tried you would never see it because you don’t understand what real LOVE means. You think if you just say it then the other person is supposed to just believe it but when there’s nothing there TO FEEL it’s not real. It can’t be. You never KNEW ME. The things you knew about me you changed once you had the chance once I became so majorly depressed and isolated that I became YOU. I literally forgot who I was and became you, and that’s when you wanted to divorce me every single time we argued. So I stopped arguing. I stopped having an opinion, I stopped living all together. And now I’m paying the price I’m regretting things I did that I never would have done without you pulling the puppet strings you loved it when I was small because it made you look so big you loved being the one that worked and pay the bills while I was depressed lazy one who couldn’t even keep a house clean or take care of her six kids I remember you screaming at me I was 8 months pregnant with #6 asking me “what do you do??!!” and you had so much hate and disgust in your eyes that’s not love and never was and it never will be I’ll always love you for giving me such beautiful children but I have to start giving myself credit where the credit is due; these kids are who they are because of me. hopefully one day something will click in you and you’ll you’ll understand that you’re not perfect that there are so many things about you that you have to change but I cannot continue to put myself on the back burner while you take your time to continue to figure that out because it’s been 16 years not only have we not made progress you’ve caused me in only five years to almost ruin everything I worked so hard by myself to get: my RN my driver’s license my good credit my good criminal record my driving record, everything. And I know I can’t completely blame you for everything because I made my choices I chose to be weak and let you take the wheel and now I realized you tried to change me when I was strong and independent constantly putting me down telling me I couldn’t have done any of it without you so now here I am I don’t even shower regularly because I don’t see a point nobody is close enough to me to care. But now I vow to myself and to my children that I am going to begin to love myself it’s going to be a hard process because it’s been a long time but I am a wonderful beautiful person and I deserve to be loved the way I want to be loved thank you so much for this article there’s so many things that you hit dead on for me and it really helped me see the light the hard part now putting together the plan and keeping that courage up cuz you know once they sense that you’re going to leave that’s when I need the strength the most. God bless you anyone who read all this most likely read it because it’s exactly what they’re going through. I just had to kind of vent I guess and maybe I put it out here where others can see to give me a sort of accountability for how I make this happen and not just words in my journal that take no action. Need as much support as I can get please!! Thanks so much you beautiful people best of luck to anyone fighting this battle

Reply
Joe

The answer is simple, but it might not be what you want to hear. Prepare yourself and your loved ones, get your sh!t together, and get out. Leave him. For good. Forever. He doesn’t love you. He doesn’t respect you. And he never will. Take your time. You’ve already suffered enough at his hand. Endure just enough more in order to plan and set your exit strategy successfully into motion. When the timing is right. Don’t be emotional about it. Be strong. Strong for your yourself and strong for your children.

I am not a person who is giving you this advise for the wrong reasons. I was the only son of a father who appears exactly like the NPD person who you describe as your husband. I am now 50 years old with a wonderful and family of my own. However, my mother and 1 of my sisters still, to this day, at our age, suffer from the toxic exposure that my NPD father’s behavior bestowed upon them. In that type of dysfunctional situation, some people have the ability to recover, some do not. The consequences of not doing so successfully are dreadful. For everyone else involved.

So my advise is to remove your children from that toxic situation as soon as you are able. And don’t ever look back. The health, well being, and prosperity of your loved ones is well worth it more than any other form of sacrifice.

Reply
PepperAnn

Pretty much everything you said. The 15/16 years , the no love, the constant put downs. You do everything to please this person, and they NEVER reciprocate. I also have no one close enough to support me, and I’m devastated, cos I always take him back. And the cycle goes on and on and on. And we separate, and I start to get my shit together, then he comes around again, and again, I take him back. Until he has a mood swing and willfully misinterprets what I say and/or doesn’t listen to anyone else’s opinion about anything, even when presented with logical facts.

To any asshole reading this: If your own child says to you of their own accord, “say sorry to mummy, please and you have to mean it.”, and you can’t even do that. You are a real piece of shit excuse for a human.

Reply
Joe

The family of 5 I was born into has been fractured by dysfunction from the beginning of my first memories. I am the youngest of 3 children and the only son. My father came from a very dysfunctional family and my mother’s mom was an alcoholic/binge drinker. My father was extremely abusive in every way except sexually. Other than sexual abuse, you name it, I was subject to it. Until I became a young man of my own. At 18 I told him I would never allow him to treat me that way again. A few days later, when he tried to, I fought back, beat his a$$, moved out, and never looked back.

Over the years since then I have become very self reliant and successful. At times, one or both of my older sisters would viciously attack me personally. It took me a while to figure it all out because I thought, and they kept telling me, they were smarter/better than me & the family we grew up in and they were past/healed from all of that chaos we grew up being forced to endure. Well that was all obviously BS. I had cut off my father already, but in my mid 20’s I cut off all contact with the other 4 for 5 years. It was the first time in my life where I wasn’t being forced to try to manage any of their needless self serving day to day BS. I was happy, indepentent, dedicated, and the results spoke for themselves. In those 5 years I went from waiting tables to upper management in a Fortune 500 Co. Simply by focusing my efforts & energies on myself as opposed to them and their self manufactured toxic BS.

Over the years since then, my greatest accomplishments have always happened when I was able to seperate myself from all of their pointless drivel. Whether it was only one individual in my birth family, or more, if not all. Whenever I had to and could eliminate their completely useless BS from my life, everything for me soared sky high. I eventually was offered the opportunity to get out on my own. I have now been a successful small business owner for over 10 years.

Now, at 50 years old I feel I am fortunate to be where I am today. However, I won’t paint a fictitiously phony fable of how I got here. It was a ferocious uphill battle fought on a slippery slope full of landmines almost all of the way. Thank God, for myself, and the ones that really do matter, I never ever gave up.

Currently, I am a husband of 10+ years to a beautiful wife who comes from a family without the scorn or scars or cancer of dysfunction. Thank God for that. Smartest decision I ever made. I am grateful she stood by me and waited until I was personally & mentally ready to commit to her. We have 2 precious children who will never ever be exposed to all of that needless pointless self serving NPD dysfunctional BS. I will protect them from ever being vulnerable to any of that. And if doing so means they will never have any relationship with those left in my birth family who are too weak to let go of the demons in their empty self absorbed heads, then so be it. For the health and well being of my beloved family of 4, I truly do not give one rat’s a$$ how it makes any of my birth family feel. That is their problem, not mine. If they refuse to change for the better and improve their lives for themselves and their loved ones, then let them suffer and drown in bottomless miasma of their own self serving BS that they insist on continuously creating in their lives. I don’t want to be any part of that. And I certainly will never allow my healthy family of 4 to be dragged down into it.

If I am successful at breaking the cycle of deliberate behavioral dysfunction which has been bestowed upon me from invading into my family of 4, then by that accomplishment alone I feel my life will have been worth while. My legacy will not allow that cancer to live on in my truly loved ones.

Reply
Louise

So I had this friend that would be really nice and we would hang out. Everything was cool but he started acting really weird. One time I came home for my aunt’s viewing but the same day of the viewing i got a shot at the doctors office that makes me feel sick the rest of the day. Needless to say on a previous day he had left his laundry detergent in my car. Well later on in the day of my aunt’s viewing my mom woke me up and wanted me to check something she was tagged in on Facebook cause she wasn’t able to. Said person text me complaining that I couldn’t bring them their laundry detergent but I could go on Facebook and than called me a bad friend. Most recently that same friend decided they didn’t want to pay for their car anymore or do repairs on it so they returned it to the dealership. I advised them not to do it. Than later on the person talked bad about me and called me a bad friend cause I wouldn’t give them a ride every where they needed to go. Don’t get me wrong this person was a good friend at first. They did nice things for me even when I didn’t ask them to and I returned the favor by being nice to them. It’s like they purposely sabotaged their own life to make people feel sorry for them and than talked bad about me when I didn’t jump to their every demand. Does this make me the bad person? I’m starting to think I should have just gave them my car and just went without myself just so I don’t have to be made out to be the bad person.

Reply
Trish

Jo Jo, you could be me! I too have been married to someone with almost all the traits. He doesn’t care about me and never did. I see this now and he now has copd and some dementia which brings all the bad things out worse and he I sit taking care of him as no one else will. I go to a therapist once a week and she wants me to leave but he will not make it easy, threatens me with the house etc. I am also disabled and have been for 15 yrs so live on a very low income. I have a chroic pain disorder. Ane like you I don’t even care about showering either as often as before. I have been sleeping on the couch for 5 yrs ever since he tried to hav e sex with me two days after a cancer surgery I had, when I told him I did not feel like it e said as long as I was in this bed he could do what he wanted so I left that bed and never went back. I am just surviving, no love here.

Reply

Leave a Reply

We’d love to hear what you’re thinking ...

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.














Hey Warrior - A book about anxiety in children.














This website uses cookies to give you the best experience. If you agree please click the 'Accept' button.