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

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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. 

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313 Comments

Lou

Hi Sigmund,
Speaking of toxic people. My 11 year old daughter and her best friend are having a hard time from another girl in the class. My daughter however is quite upset, as we had an issue before regarding bullying involving the same girl.It improved for a while. She seems to be very jealous child and extremely manipulative. She constantly whispers and call to either my daughter or her friend “come here I want to tell you something”, in order to make the other jealous. It is a constant battle, and it gets my daughter down. If she is mean to one of them one day, she will be nice the next, just to keep them sweet.Very sneaky behaviour. My daughter would like to go to the teacher with her friend to tell but her friend does not want to- I am unsure why, but possibly not to offend the bully. The other girls in the class just seem to put up with her toxic behaviour. I would really appreciate some advice. Thank you.

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Hey Sigmund

Lou this sort of divisiveness and manipulation is so damaging isn’t it. It is likely that your daughter’s friend doesn’t want to go to the teacher for fear of repercussion from the child who is causing trouble, which is understandable. Speak to your daughter about the behaviour to help her put it in context. Be honest with her – ‘this is what some people do to control other people and relationships. It’s sad that people have to do this – imagine how unhappy she must feel inside if this is what she thinks she has to do to feel okay?’ – or something like that. I would have no hesitation going to the teacher – sometimes kids need an adult to be their voice. Let the teacher know that you aren’t looking to get the other girl into trouble, but that the dynamic is causing trouble and something needs to happen to turn things around. The teacher might then have a talk to the entire class about specific behaviour (like publicly excluding people from secrets) to get the message across to the class. Exclusion is a form of bullying, and the teacher would likely appreciate being made aware of it. You can ask that the teacher doesn’t involve your daughter in any way and that the conversation be kept confidential. For something like this though, it is important to do what you can to make the teacher aware of it, so they can do what they need to do to respond. It will also be important for the other girl moving forward, as it will be an opportunity for her to learn a healthier way to treat her friends and classmates. Here are two articles that might help:

>> Teaching Kids how to Set Boundaries and Keep Toxic People Out: https://www.heysigmund.com/teaching-kids-how-to-set-boundaries-and-keep-toxic-people-out/

>> Toxic People Affect Kids Too – How to Know The Signs and Explore a Little Deeper: https://www.heysigmund.com/toxic-people-affect-kids-too-know-the-signs-then-explore-a-little-deeper/

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Jeannette

Do you have any advice or an article you can refer me to regarding dealing with people your husband considers friends but who are toxic to you?

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jacqueline

Hello Sigmund, I have written before on this article about my toxic husband and my daughter who ha s shown signs of toxic behaviour. Firstly the good news is my spine has almost healed, I have overcome all my health difficulties and rejoice every day that I am healthy again. But as you suggested my daughter has developed some toxic tendencies as a result of her environment, and also some resentment she holds onto for her grandparents who took care of her for a year, (the length of their care was against mine and her wishes). She tried some self harm techniques to transfer her pain and stop dark thoughts that seem to take over and are hard to dispel, they also make her lethargic. I had her visit with the school psych who suggested I take her to the hospital for a risk assessment, they concluded that she was in real need of my attention, not that I wasn’t giving enough attention but that I was not giving it in the way she needed. She has stopped the ‘cutting’ and has moved away from the idea of ending it all after the dr’s and I told her and showed her the result of teen suicide, however she is distant and seems so quick to anger at me, Im finding it a little hard to draw a line between being sensitive to her complaints and listening closely, versus disciplining her for being insolent and rude to me. Its almost as if shes trying to get a rise out of me, perhaps she has some things to say and is trying to provoke a situation where she can say them? My husband is worse than ever, he has bouts of paranoid schizofrenia (I think) where he hears voices telling him hes useless and stupid and a junkie. Hes admitted that hes afraid hes losing his mind and now when the voices start we go through a process of reality checks and positive affirmations until they stop. I do believe after doing much research that he has borderline personality disorder and dissociation on many levels, he gets angry when I suggest we go get help from a professional and tells me im a narcissist. I’ve been protecting myself by the same method as before,shutting down and being cold towards him, he has noticed, it makes him feel fear of being abandoned, which I cannot bear to do, I feel he desperately needs help that I cannot give him and that I also desperately need to be away from him to heal myself and allow myself some happiness so that my daughter can see a better way to live by my example. I feel so torn about what to do and so alone. Please is there anyone that can help me? I need some solid good advice please sigmund.

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Hey Sigmund

It sounds as though your family is really going through a tough time at the moment. I can only imagine how stressful this must feel for you. The way your daughter is quick to anger and distant is very normal for an adolescent. This article explains why she is quick to anger https://www.heysigmund.com/understanding-and-avoiding-teenage-flare-ups/. Here is another articles that will explain the changes your daughter is going through as part of her adolescence. As a parent, the explanations can really help because it is so easy otherwise to take their behaviour personally https://www.heysigmund.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-adolescent-brai/. The most important thing with teens is to keep the connection. Talk to her about the things she does that upset you, and have limits around her behaviour, but be mindful of what is normal at this age so that you don’t take it personally.

What is more worrying is your daughter’s tendency towards self-harming. It must be such a relief for you that she has stopped doing this. It might really help your relationship if you can both see a counsellor who specialises with adolescents. It can be such a confusing time for parents and adolescents, so know that you aren’t alone.

In relation to your husband, loving someone with schizophrenia can be hard to deal with on your own. There are support organisations out there who would be able to help you with information as well as support. Here is a link to one http://www.schizophrenia.com/coping.html. I wish you and your family love and strength.

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jacqueline ward

Hello Sigmund, Thankyou for your response and words of encouragement. You are right in all advice given regarding my daughter, she and I have already begun meetings weekly with a counsellor from mental health which have been a massive help in establishing an open line of communication between us. There have been many tears and some things were really hard to hear, especially on the subject of self harm, however we now have done a trade, the razor blade in return for a weekend away at her chosen event just me and her, and we went to the comic con expo in Perth, it was wonderful. Since then much has been resolved between us although she is still quick to anger she no longer believes I am unwilling and open to her needs and she is assured that I am there for her heart and soul. She no longer talks of ending it all which is much relief to me. We are changing her to a different high school as it has become apparent through the meetings with the counsellor that some problems particularly pertaining to her school and some students there are prominent in her reasons for self harm and her sexuality and gender confusion/distress. However the issues with my husband have worsened, he has become even more demanding of my time and attention, the more attention I give my daughter the more he acts out. He has his court date looming and its added to his stress but there is no excuse for the toxic behaviour he has been doing. The mental health psyche’s are concerned that he will do something drastic if he feels there is no hope for our relationship, his fear of abandonment is irrational and unfounded and when I suggested I believe he may have Borderline Personality Disorder they tentatively agreed although they have not seen him in person. Tonight I managed to get him to do a diagnostic assessment online and the results (despite him underexagerrating and being less than honest on a number of questions) came up with Emotionally Unstable (Borderline) Personality Disorder 301.83. I dont think I can go on much longer but I also cannot bring myself to make him leave or force him into therapy. He refuses to accept he has a big problem and disasociates from his toxic behaviour, and the more he does the worse he gets. I am so torn about what to do, although I know what I must do I cannot seem to do it. I wish the decision was not in my hands but it would appear the lesson of my life is to be able to choose my life, my daughters life, over helping another loved one. I must go against the grain of who I am and the moral code I have ingrained in me to selflessly help others I must now go against. God give me strength to will thy will. Thanks sigmund for listening sometimes I feel very isolated and alone in my plight as every other person in my husbands life has given up the fight for him.

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Edwin

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chrissy

Reading your article I can see some toxic patterns in my ex, but I can also see many of them in me. Now that we are divorced it’s still toxic. I wish I could find a way to change my own behavior so it wasn’t toxic. He has his toxic issues and I will not be able to change them. But I wish I could change my own. Especially since we have children.

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Mary Clausen

Dear Karen,
I discovered this site recently and I find your articles very illuminating. Years ago I became involved with a man who started out charming, funny, attentive, complimentary – and once he thought he had me “all sewn up” everything began slowly to change. He told me he admired me for my independence of spirit, and then began to do everything he could to erode that spirit. The head games he played were taking a real toll, and I could see that he was headed toward physical abuse. Thankfully I found the strength to bail out before it was too late. I didn’t realize how far I’d slipped until my best friend told me that my typical Monday-morning response to her “How was your weekend?” had become “Well, we didn’t actually fight.” She also said “Mary, you weren’t funny any more!” When I asked why she hadn’t said anything, she said “You weren’t ready to hear it yet.” Obviously she was seeing things I’d become unable to see. I’ve been happily married for 26 years to a non-toxic man, but sometimes I still shudder when I think of what I escaped.
My non-toxic husband, however, has a sister who’s toxic, and figuring out how to deal with her has been a recurring challenge. Fortunately she doesn’t live nearby, and we see her & her husband much less than when the parents were still living. There’s a strong religious twist to her particular brand of toxicity – she has a direct line to God, and she makes you feel you’re disappointing Him if you don’t fall in line with her plans/ideas/points of view. She’s had all the men in her family buffaloed for years – her dad, her brothers, her husband – they always caved because it was less exhausting than resisting her. Interestingly, the only male in the family who successfully stands up to her is our son. He’s 23 so still pretty young, but he’s been standing up to her for several years. He does it nicely, but he’s firm, and it makes her crazy. He doesn’t explain or give excuses – it’s just “No, thanks – I don’t choose to do that.” She’s always been very complimentary about what a wonderful young man he is, but whenever he’s around her, she starts finding things in his personality that she wants to “fix.” He likes himself the way he is, has no desire to be reshaped according to her concept, and has always been far better than the rest of the family at refusing to play her toxic games. His dad is still learning but he’s getting there!
Thanks so much for all these articles – your wisdom and clarity are helping a lot of people!

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Janet

I knew I was in a toxic relationship, but after reading your article, I’m sure, and thanks so much for sharing with everyone. I hope it helps others out as it did me. I have a friend that is sick, treated me like gold the first 2 months of our friendship and then slowly let me carry the ball and let go of everything nice she used to do towards me. Now it’s a one sided relationship that I never should have continued. How cunning she was by being so nice and giving in the beginning…that’s how toxic people draw you in…and then they abandon you. Boy does this hurt, but I’m moving on and I hope everyone out there can do the same. The hard part about a toxic relationship is…it takes time to recognize that you’re being used and taken for granted and by the time you do realize it, some real damage has been done to you emotionally, and that too takes time to repair in yourself. But, don’t give up on yourself and learn from your bad experience, and make sure you don’t repeat it with the next person you meet. Love to you all.

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Hey Sigmund

Thanks so much for sharing your story. It’s the power of the ‘me too’ that is so healing and helpful to other people who are going through the same thing. Love to you too.

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Pamela

Thank you for this very excellent article and all your others! You are wonderful and so very helpful!!! I appreciate your wisdom and your help more than you know!

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Mjit

This has all been very helpful. Is there a way to test if I am a toxic person? My partner has told me I am and I really don’t want to be and am looking for support to change and verification either way.

Thank you

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Hey Sigmund

There is no ‘test’ to see if you’re a toxic person, but . All of these qualities exist on a spectrum and we all do some of them some of the time. Toxic people do them, or some of them, consistently. If you’re partner is saying you are toxic, ask for more details. What do you do that is considered ‘toxic’? Be open to the answers. A warning though, does your partner do any of these things? Make sure this isn’t the voice of a toxic person who is trying to make the trouble all about you. A clue is what would other people say about you? Do your other relationships seem fairly stable? Would the other people in your life agree with your partner? Toxic people generally aren’t the way they are to just one person. It is a way of being so there will be others who are hurt by their behaviour as well. You don’t have to please people all of the time, and you don’t have to be responsible for others, but you do have to be emotionally responsible with them. Would you say the things you do often hurt other people? Do you think about the impact your actions or words will have on other people? We all get it wrong sometimes, and that’s completely okay – remember that it’s about what you do generally. The fact that you are open to what you might be doing and open to change is a sign that even if you are doing toxic things, there is a big part of you that is compassionate, caring and generous. It is important to have boundaries, so don’t think you have to give any of them up, but it you let the compassionate, loving, caring, generous part of you direct your behaviour, you’ll certainly be on the right track.

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Tessa

This article was very helpful to me. I’ve been making a slow break from a toxic friend who I’ve allowed to hold me emotionally hostage. I’ve been feeling very guilty for abandoning her. She has been using an illness (that I’m not sure is real) to get me to do countless ridiculous favors for her every week for the past year. I’ve had trouble getting away from her at the end of every day that I’ve spent with her, because she becomes extremely upset when I’d try to leave. She is a constant poor-mouther and never fails to tell me how good I have it in comparison to her. Because she would become so emotional when I would tell her no, I’ve had to slowly make myself less and less available. I’ve been two weeks without seeing her and though I feel guilty for essentially dumping her without an explanation, but I know that I’m much, much happier without her in my life.

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Mary Heerikhuisen-Beekman

This article reminds me of people with Asperger/Autism. There are high functional autistic people who can’t deal with changes in their life. Therefore they try to control their surrounding/wife/children/friends/collegues. They are not good at giving away compliments/saying kind things, because all their attention is focussed on everything that should stay the same or “proper” to their standard. Once something has changed their frustration takes over and you, as the first person around, will get a load of their frustration/anger/madness. I worked for years with people with Asperger/Autism and have learnt never to take their anger/frustration on board/personally. They themselves are the worst ones off. They feel often alienated; can hardly ever understand other people’s needs…….Personally I feel sorry for these kind of people. They need explanations and clear boundaries, not labels.

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Hey Sigmund

People with Asperger/Autism are certainly NOT toxic. Toxic behaviour is an intentional, deliberate way of responding to the world and the people in it. They know what they’re doing and they don’t care. The behaviours displayed by people with Asperger/Autism are not at all deliberate and in no way would they intentionally hurt people. For toxic people it’s about personality, for people with Asperger/Autism it’s about their physiology, their brain. The processes that drive the behaviours of toxic people and the behaviours of people with Asperger/Autism are completely different processes. It’s like saying that a toddler who is learning is walk is wobbly and so are people who are drunk, so they must be similar. They might look the same on the outside, but in fact they are completely different are being driven by completely different processes.

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Anj

Thank you for providing these articles. They validate my feelings and struggles after leaving a long-term and toxic relationship. Having someone understand what happened feels empowering. I spent a long time trying to reconcile the situation and how it came about and your insights give me some clarity and validation. I left 8 years ago and have come a long way, although I remain a work in progress. Thank you again!

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Hey Sigmund

I’m so pleased this information has been empowering for you. Being in a toxic relationship is hard – it wears you down. It takes guts to walk away and you did it. Thank you for sharing this – maybe it will help someone else to find the strength that is in them and let go of a relationship that is hurting them, as you did. We are all a work in progress. Growth comes from realising where the work is, and pouring light on the shadows. It sounds as though you are doing an amazing job of this. Keep going.

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Jacqui

Hi, I have been in a toxic relationship for around 7 years, we are married, he fits in around 5 of the toxic trait categories. Yes I tend to attract toxic people my previous 10 year relationship and the father of my child was a toxic abusive person. I feel that after 17 years of dealing with toxic partners ( and many many toxic friends ) that perhaps I am begining to show toxic traits myself. I am becomming a little jaded about people in general and come across like I don’t care at times, I think because I have just come to a point where Ive had enough of the playing games and am so tired of the constant effort required to get others through their day that ive no energy left for myself and my child unless i cut them off short and abruptly. Also I cheated on my husband, well we were separated temporarily and I slept with someone, I had no feelings whatsoever for the person and I dont realy have a good reason and I dont feel any guilt, and only minimal compassion as to how it made / makes my partner feel, although I do feel bad for contracting a std and passing this on to my husband. I feel like a cold fish and from the outside looking in, a horrible person with no morals, am I? I have always been faithful in the past with every relationship i have had. I should point out that my husband does have some good qualities that i have managed to dredge out of him through my survival of other toxic encounters where he has been supportive, though manipulative aswell, but his toxic traits have destroyed me and my familys lives and financial capacity a number of times and ways now, and I have lost many good friends and worst of all the way all this has affected my child is an absolute devastating lot, for which I feel such shame and guilt, there is little that can assuage this for me but my constant effort now to redeem myself with her, However Im now seeing a few toxic traits in her too! Is this normal for her to do? Idont think she understands what shes doing but i see it in the way she acts and is with her friends when I am not around, its not how she realy feels but has taken on a persona she feels protects her from being hurt but actually its making things worse! Oh please I need some good advice??

Reply
Hey Sigmund

It sounds as though you have insight into the things you are doing that might be hurting people or your relationships. None of us are perfect and we all say or do the wrong thing sometimes. The difference is the willingness to own that behaviour and to work towards turning it around. It’s understandable that if you are in a toxic relationship, eventually you will become someone who closes down to people or becomes ‘cold’ as you say. It will be the same for your daughter. Children learn what they see, and it makes sense that if your daughter is in a toxic environment eventually she will learn those behaviours. We tend to base our assumptions about the world on what is immediate to us. If there are people close your daughter who are toxic, and not enough people around to balance that out, then it’s reasonable for her to assume others in the world are like that and that the best way to stay safe is to respond to the world in a colder, more disconnected way. I don’t know how old your daughter is, but if she still lives with you and if the environment in which she is growing up is cold, or unsupportive or at all abusive, it’s reasonable to think that her own behaviours that you call toxic won’t get better while she is there. She isn’t going to open up to a world when she is learning at home that opening up and being vulnerable isn’t safe. The only person who can change this now is you – if your daughter isn’t safe from toxic behaviour, it’s for you to protect her. It sounds as though you also need to protect yourself from changing and shutting down further. I understand that you have found the good qualities in your husband, and maybe he is a good man – it’s not for me to say – but everyone has something good about them if you dig deep enough. It doesn’t mean that you make a good combination. If your daughter is suffering and you are suffering by you staying in the relationship, it might be time for you to explore what you are actually getting out of it that is worth what you are all going through by being there. If your daughter is still dependant on you, and if the environment you are bringing her up in is changing her and turning her into someone you don’t want her to be, then it’s time for you to listen to that and do what you can to turn this around. She needs you to be her hero. You sound like you have amazing strength and courage in you, and you have clarity and great love for your daughter – you can give her what she needs.

Reply
Jacqui

Hello thanks for your response and to expain a little further, my daughter is 12, Im 39, my husband 42. Last year was a terrible one for us and after a very messy separation with my husband I fell to pieces at the brunt of his attack,( as you noted toxic people can be very cruel, )my husband would never hurt me physically, in fact he was my saviour from my previous partner of 10 years who was physically abusive and very controlling, my husband came from a similar situation when he grew up and abhors violence against women. In short I healed as a result of his nurturing but as I grew into my self I began shine and he became insecure, and so began the toxic behaviour. He had already showed many toxic symptoms of manipulation of self and others, blame shifting, and excuses for everything but mainly why he couldnt go to work, which caused a rift moreso than anything, as Im proud in that way and dont like to leach off others, particularly my family, hard work is an ethic I grew up with. Our financial situation is solely reliant on me to provide for us- which i do aptly, yet work very hard for. When we separated last year he got particularly nasty and I fell to pieces, and regretfully I met some people and in short I ended up being assaulted and held against my will by a very fearsome man (now jailed) and at that time I asked my mother to take my daughter for her safety but also I could not cope, and my emotional detachment was hard to live with. My husband came to the rescue and once again healed me, or began to until he was also put in prison, (basically for his anti social behaviour and lack of regard for others and the law) he served 7 weeks and during that time I threw myself into rescueing our finances with work. On the night he was released on bail, I fell backwards off a 2 storey balcony onto my coxic bone and broke, burst and crushed all 5 lower lumbar discs in my back. To add to the pain My mother wouldnt give my child back until he pulled his act together and could show her some stability, I couldnt get a rental until now 8 months later. During this time we separated many times, having huge breakups, I saw little of my daughter which pained me greatly, as did the physical agony I was/am in on a daily basis. I was taken advantage of by people I stayed with, stolen from and intimidated by the worst kind of toxic people. I fought for my self respect, my sanity, my love for life and my daughter and against the odds Ive made it to here, dragging him kicking and screaming into a better future, a new home and our family together once more. My health has worsened because of my spinal injury I now suffer seizures and have had some minor strokes, but my heart and soul and spirit is intact, and now i just want to spend my days liveing helping my daughter to heal and showing her the best way to live. My husband just keeps regressing, is always using my dalliance as an excuse for his behaviour and unwillingness to work or contribute financially, is temperamental at best and impossible to please, demands absolute attention 24/7 and behaves like a selfish child constantly complaining although where we just came from to where we are is like a dream come true, its as if he prefers the hell we were in with all the drama and pain and regret.! I am really pushing my limits to handle my pain and health issues, and give my daughter the attention she needs but I also provide for all three of us alone, I just dont have the time or energy or even the will to deal with his cr#p! excuse my language

Reply
Steve Williams

Hey Sigmund
I thank you for such clarity on toxic persons.You hinted at possible reasons how people become toxic but can you elaborate on what brings people to such levels of toxicity?Is this formed in childhood and if so what experiences contribute to this? Thanks

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Hey Sigmund

You’re very welcome Steve. There’s no clear information about what makes people toxic, but it’s likely to be a combination or an interaction between genes and environment. Children will act as they see and when they’re being overlooked, abused or neglected, this is what they will come to expect of the world and they will respond to the world accordingly. This certainly isn’t the whole answer though, because there are plenty of children who grow up in awful home environments who are compassionate, empathic and generous. It can also work the other way. Children who are given everything they ask for and told they are better than everyone else could grow into adults who see themselves as being above others and act towards others as though that’s true. Similarly for children who grow up without consequences for behaviour like lying or bullying. These people might lack empathy, compassion and have no care for their impact on people – all of which are toxic behaviours. Basic personalities are formed in childhood and though people can certainly always change, it would be very unlikely that a compassionate, empathic, emotionally intelligent child would turn into a toxic adult. Neither genes nor upbringing are destiny. People can change but only if they want to. With toxic people, there is no insight into their impact on people and no desire to change that. I hope this helps.

Reply
Lilly

This was really helpful to read. Though I am not in a toxic relationship with my partner. My partners family are very toxic and manipulative to the point that I am the black sheep. Outsiders see the toxic that oozes from them, but my partner does not since its family.

How do you deal with extend family who is toxic and to also point out that every point made reflects them to a tee. I try my hardest to let it be and not rock the boat, but with Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Years approaching, means a lot of time spending with them. They are very good at hiding their true emotions and perception of me to my partner, which makes it harder for me to explain to my partner how I feel and why I do not want to spend extra time around them.

Do you have any tips on how to cope this festive season and continue to grow stronger at staying strong around them?

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Hey Sigmund

I’m pleased this was helpful for you. The difficult thing about toxic people is that you can keep pointing things out to them forever, they just won’t get it. It can also be difficult to point out the toxicity of the behaviour of family members to somebody who has grown up with it. For your partner, rejecting their behaviour might feel as though he is rejecting them so while you don’t have to tolerate their behaviour, if you can understand things from his side without taking it personally, it will help to keep your relationship strong. If you really don’t want to spend extra time around them, that’s completely understandable, but your partner might take that personally as it is his family. The way to deal with this is to try to let him know what you need without laying blame on them. That will make it easier for him to hear you and give you what you need, and less likely that he will feel as though he has to protect himself or his family. Let him know that you love him and you completely understand why his family are important to him, but that it’s difficult for you to be around them. Let him know that your not asking him to make a choice and that you support him spending as much time with them as he wants.

Difficult relationships can make the festive season really stressful. See if you can change the way you think about things, so rather than feeling as though your giving in to what they need and letting them get away with mistreating you, think of it as a few hours where you do what you need to do to have the power and control you need. This might mean acting as though you’re okay with them – whatever it takes to get yourself what you need, which is smooth sailing with your partner. There’s no easy fix for this. If you feel as though you have to be with them, that’s understandable, but also understand that you won’t change them. Build the wall around yourself high and take it down when they leave. Do it from a position of power and strength, not as one that they are manipulating. Decide on what you will tolerate and won’t tolerate and discuss this with your partner if this feels okay – so while you might be okay to receive their attempts to be ‘nice’, perhaps you won’t accept disrespect by way of ignoring you or talking over you. The details of this are for you to decide. I wish you all the best.

Reply
Lilly

Thank you for your response. Unfortunately it is the only aspect my partner and I don’t discuss. We are very open about our lives to each other, but I know it causes my partner great pain to discuss the issues at hand. So I let them be. I cope internally and try and my best to put on a brave and strong front in front of the family. I have not changed over the 15 years we have been together, in being a loving, caring and empathic person. Though I have learnt not to give my time and emotions to the family, because I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

One thing I’m not sure on how to manage, is that the family all talk amongst themselves, even when one has given you an answer or opinion to something. Then another family contacts us, and then abuses us of being uncaring or selfish in something that we have just been “allowed” to do by another family member. Yet again, to my partner this is just the way the family is and they are only being caring…. I know the truth behind what is going on, that they say yes it is ok, but then whinge about to each other and then get another family member to “put” us in our place…. It really just comes off being childish behaviour and is tiring to be around.

How can I deal with them, when they act in this way? We are expecting our 4th child any day now, and I can’t handle the prospect of the way we announce the birth to the world being tarnished, because the in-law doesn’t approve of our way, says it is fine to our face, and then complains to the rest of the family that it was inappropriate, to then have a sibling or aunt come and tells us that what we did was inconsiderate to the family…. This happens over all family occasions and life achievements, how do I cope on this side of their toxicity?

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Hey Sigmund

I completely understand why this is so distressing for you. You can’t change what they do in terms of talking between themselves. Although it feels very personal, it’s all about their own need for control, even if in their minds it’s done with love to protect you from what they think is a bad decision.

You have every right to walk away from a conversation that feels bad. You don’t have to stay and listen to someone who isn’t trying to listen to you. Conversation are two-way, and when there is no give and take or turn-taking between listening and talking, there is nothing in that conversation for you. As important as it is to listen to what other people might need from you, it’s equally important for them to listen to your response.

Decide what you will tolerate and what you won’t tolerate and let them know when they are crossing the line. Let go of needing to be understood or of having them agree with you. The more you need their approval or their understanding, the more likely it is that you will stay engaged with them. It sounds as though they are unwilling to listen to you, so there is just no point having the conversation – it just gives oxygen and air space for their complaints. There is nothing in that for you.

If they are your family, decide at what point you will disengage and when they reach that point, gently let them know that you would like to keep talking but you will only do that when they are ready to listen. Let them know that you will be walking away or hanging up the phone, but that you will be there to speak with them when they are ready, and not before then. Do this gently and without anger.

If they are your husband’s family, refer them to him. When you marry someone, you take on some of their baggage but you certainly don’t have to take on all of it. His family is his responsibility and if he believes they are being caring, that’s fine, but pass it over to him to deal with.

What you do with your lives is completely up to the two of you and it is not for anyone else to judge. You can’t stop them, but you also don’t have to listen to them.

Respect your family, but respect yourself first, and respecting anyone has its limits. Similarly, walking away from a one-way conversation doesn’t have to be done in anger. It can be done gently, respectfully and with love. Have your limits and guard them fiercely – enough for all of you.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

I completely understand why this is so distressing for you. You can’t change what they do in terms of talking between themselves. Although it feels very personal, it’s all about their own need for control, even if it’s done with love to protect you from what they think is a bad decision.

You have every right to walk away from a conversation that feels bad. You don’t have to stay and listen to someone who isn’t trying to listen to you. Conversations are two-way and when there is no give and take or turn-taking between listening and talking, there is nothing in that conversation for you. As important as it is to listen to what other people might need from you, it’s equally important for them to listen to your response.

Decide what you will tolerate and what you won’t tolerate and let them know when they are crossing the line. Let go of needing to be understood or of having them agree with you. The more you need their approval or their understanding, the more likely it is that you will stay engaged with them. It sounds as though they are unwilling to listen to you, so there is just no point having the conversation – it just gives oxygen and air space for their complaints. There is nothing in that for you.

If they are your family, decide at what point you will disengage and when they reach that point, gently let them know that you would like to keep talking but you will only do that when they are ready to listen. Let them know that you will be walking away or hanging up the phone, but that you will be there to speak with them when they are ready, and not before then. Do this gently and without anger so that there is nothing they can blame you for. That doesn’t mean they won’t, it just means that there is nothing for you to feel guilty about.

If they are your husband’s family, refer them to him. When you marry someone, you take on some of their baggage but you certainly don’t have to take on all of it. His family is his responsibility and if he believes they are being caring, that’s fine, but pass it over to him to deal with their complaints.

What you do with your lives is completely up to the two of you and it is not for anyone else to judge. You can’t stop them, but you also don’t have to listen to them.

Respect your family, but respect yourself first, and respecting anyone has its limits. Similarly, walking away from a one-way conversation doesn’t have to be done in anger. It can be done gently, respectfully and with love. Have your limits and guard them fiercely – enough for all of you.

Reply
Tanya

Thank you for your open and honest post. I have just woken up and with coffee in hand, trying to reason through my personal family situation. My sister is married to a toxic person, who has torn our family apart. I have watched my mother “turn herself inside out” trying to understand what was happening. My mother and myself spent years, at the same stage as “Bella” above trying to reason through the situation – 20 years to be precise. Surely there must be some good there? It is very difficult for me to walk away, as I love my sister dearly, but, as you said her “self concept” of herself and how she views the world around her are changed beyond recognition. It has got to the stage where my children have been involved. After one visit [a week during the school holidays] my young son, sat on the bed and screamed for half an hour, clinging to me. Their children had tormented him in small ways for a week, subtle nasty ways. I am walking away. I wish I had understood quicker, accepted my own doubt in the pit of my stomach, and understood the relentless nature at which these people act, and read this 20 years ago. Thank you!

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Hey Sigmund

This sounds like a really painful situation for you and your family. Toxic people are certainly relentless, but if you aren’t used to toxic behaviour it can be almost impossible to believe that people could do what they do. It’s heartbreaking when they change the people you love. It takes so much strength and courage to walk away – I can hear how difficult this decisions is for you – but you are doing the right thing to protect your son and yourself from damage. it’s possible to walk away in strength and love by letting your sister know how much you love her and how much she means to you, and letting her know that you’re there when things can be different – if that’s something that feels right for you. I wish you all the very best and hope that you are able to find some relief from this soon.

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Lily

I got a friend who i met in town couple of weeks ago who ive not seen for a while every couple of months or when we can meet up. She very rudely blurted out while we was sat down inside a cafe that i was lying and she doesn’t trust me i was mortified why she said this im the most genuine trust worthy reliable person out there. She does have a habbit of just coming out of things which can come across rude and insulting she does say things that can upset her other friends and family. She just blurts things out and its really hurtful she can sometimes come across as very disrespectful and mean. I have got a pre existing knee injury and she does the chicken sound to me if i dont walk up stairs any where that has steps i struggle big time with that. She has been told many times her behaviour is hurtful and its disrespectful but she comes out with oh i didnt know i just say things without realizing. She can reduce her friends including me in tears when shes like that ive learnt to walk away from her. Her family has really put up with her rudeness the way she speaks to her other friends and parents my god its it’s terrible really disrespectful and really uncalled for i have said about her behaviour many times in the past but yet i feel she doesn’t listen to what people tell her or her family even her dad as said about something about my friend behaviour he has even said that she needs to respect people much more and she wasnt brought up like this. I find her behaviour sometimes uncomfy and very obnoxious she once made a commet on a eldery couple sitting on our table while we was out on a day trip. I didn’t know where to put myself and i certainly wouldnt ever make commets like that shes in her late 30s I’m 14 months older then her. She can sometimes comes across bully type person. There has been times she has made commets about people appearances and makes judges of them she didnt like the elderly couple sitting on our table where i had no problems with them sitting there after all one day we will be that age and its about respect at the end of the day. I would love to know how to deal with her I’m now having to take days out on my own because my friend while on the bus has said very loudy that i smell bad in front of others on the bus or coaches my hygiene is really good i dont know what to do about this its very hard to ignore these commets she has said to me in the past she doesnt realize she just blurts things out its embrassing and its hurtful I’m seeing her less and less because of the way she is. I would love some advice on this what to do about her.

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Frances

My son is involved with a toxic person. Your article outlines her behaviors to a tee. Such a sad reality. I am going to ask him to read this. Thank you.

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Li

the toxic relationship article was good but I would be very interested in the same topic from a friendship, sibling and co-worker perspective. So much of this type of abuse is going on that most of us with good hearts need to be made aware. Thank you.

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Lenora Parkey

Thank you for this. I find myself being the one that bends over backwards to accommodate these toxic types. However when I stand up for myself, I’m the bad guy!
This is very hard or me to maneuver, especially when it’s an In-law, walking away and showing them the door is impossible because of the relationship. But you are so correct when you allude to feeling the life drain out of you when around these people. I can only describe it as my head and shoulders getting heavier and heavier.

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Hey Sigmund

It’s so difficult when you can’t walk away. When you’re with someone it can be unavoidable to take on some of their baggage, but you don’t have to take on all of it. It’s good that you can see the behaviour for what it is. Protecting yourself doesn’t can be done with love and strength, depending on your circumstances. ‘I want to have a relationship with you but until things change between us, I’m not able to. Let me know when you’re ready to talk about how to make things better for both of us.’ This is a way of protecting your boundary without doing anything that you can be blamed for. It doesn’t mean you won’t be blamed – it’s very likely that you will be by these people because that’s all part of the manipulation, but at least you have acted with grace and dignity and protected yourself from further damage. I wish all strength to you. This isn’t an easy situation.

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N

Hi, I stumbled across this” hey Sigmund” site when I was googleing” how to sort my life out when you feel all hope is gone “,I was feeling really desperate at the time and didn’t expect to find an answer but this site came up and I was so surprised that I’m not the only one out there who is in a toxic relationship and there’s other people who are going through the same situations as me that I can totally relate to. Just when I thought I had nowhere to turn to and I thought no one would understand.it’s been a great comfort to me knowing that it’s not me that’s going crazy. I’ve been in a toxic relationship for 18yrs now and hate myself for allowing someone to treat me badly for so long, I often wonder why I didn’t get out of it years ago but I’m still going round in circles now. Its been all levels of abuse from my so called partner,from physical to mental to financial abuse and it’s still happening to this day, I can’t see a way out, I feel totally lost. And regret for all the unhappy years when I wish I could find a way out.

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Hey Sigmund

I’m so pleased you found us here! You would be amazed how many people are struggling with toxic people. It sounds as though your relationship is abusive on a number of levels and I want you to know that you are not alone. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are in the same position.

I completely understand why you’ve stayed. Toxic people wear even the strongest people down. It’s absolutely no reflection of your strength and courage. At first people stay because they think they can make it work, then they stay because it feels impossible to leave. It sounds as though you are at a point of amazing clarity. It can take a while to feel clear about the situation and to realise that there really is nothing you can do to change the relationship if your partner is unwilling. Your partner chose well when you chose you – you sound warm and giving and incredibly loyal. It takes incredible strength to leave but it also takes incredible strength to stay and keep enough of yourself safe and strong that you can see toxic the behaviour for what it is.

I can hear how lost you feel. Without knowing your circumstances, if it’s time to leave, it starts with a plan. If your partner is physically abusive, the most important thing is to stay safe. Part of an abusive relationship is that you end up doubting yourself and how you’ll be outside the relationship. Know that you don’t have to do this alone. Here is a link to a site that has a lot of practical resources that might help you http://domesticviolenceuk.org/nhs-post-getting-help-for-domestic-violence/. Don’t forget to delete your browsing history if that’s an issue. It might just have one idea that will make a difference and get you on the track to getting your life back. It can be so overwhelming when you’ve been in this type of relationship for as long as you have, but you don’t have to do it by yourself.

There is an incredible strength and courage in you. You might not feel it but when you need it it will be there. You will always be stronger than you think you are.

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N

Thankyou for the link to getting help with domestic violence. It’s difficult to explain my situation as it’s been going on for such a long time. The list of abuse goes on and on Its endless but thankfully the violence towards me stopped about 10years ago after enduring about 8years of it, I tried to get away but he just kept coming back and I felt defeated and lost. I didn’t know where to turn I thought I couldn’t survive on my own even though I was a happy wholesome person bringing up my daughter on my own for three years before I met him.I thought that we where going to be a complete family happy and safe but I was so wrong about that. I had a daughter to him a year after meeting him and I felt trapped. This is what bothers me the most and why I hate myself for allowing this person into our lives, my daughter deserved so much better. We don’t talk about the domestic violence, it’s never been mentioned but my first daughter has a daughter of her own now and lives in her own home with her own partner who is nice and she’s doing really well for herself,I have always had a good relationship with her, considering.. And my youngest daughter is in college now but still lives at home. We are not in danger as regarding violence he’s never been violent towards my /our daughters but I’m still going to look at the link u gave me even though the violence stopped 10yrs ago it has left me with scars that cannot be seen aswell as ones you can see but the ones you can see have healed over but the ones you can’t see are still as open as if it was only yesterday. I have anxiety and I know it’s because of him.The abuse has changed from violence to emotional and financial abuse. My dad died 3yrs ago and left me a small fortune which is now gone with nothing to show for it as I had to use it to live off, (keeping up with rent and bills etc).Partner works fulltime, I work partime, he gives me £80 a week and I have to pay for absolutely everything, I did manage to pay for my oldest daughter to have driving lessons and pass her test out of dad’s money before it went, I even bought him his phone and he sits there saying he wanted driving lessons out of that money. (how dare he) when he keeps about £100 each week out of his wage but quite happy to see me use all my wage and a small fortune to live of. He’s stolen off me numerous times over the years he got a loan out without me knowing anything about it and now there’s been bailiff letters come through the door and he says if they come knocking on the door then I should just tell them he’s not there. The house I live in is shoddy he doesn’t even help clean up he smokes in bed and has burnt holes in all the bedding and the mattress by falling asleep while smoking I’ve been asking him to stop smoking in bed for years now but he carries on regardless. He’s the most selfish horrible toxic person I have ever known. I had that moment of amazing clarity about 3months ago, it felt different to all the other times and has left me with no doubt in my mind whatsoever that this relationship has been toxic from the start. he has no desire to change. I think his intentions where bad from the start. My mum used to tell me to kick him out but I never would as he had nowhere to go and I felt bad seeing him on the street even after everything he had done to me,But I’m drained now physically, emotionally and mentally. I have given my all and more, there’s nothing left of me to give now. I am what you would call an empty shell. I will make it my priority to take the steps to get away from this person. I’m 44yrs old and I don’t want to live the remainder of my life with him in it.he’s proved to me over and over that he’s a selfish horrible person, I wouldn’t treat my worst enemy in the way he’s treated and treating me. Its time to break the cycle that should of been broken years ago I can’t bear it. He has no right to keep doing this to me.

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Judy

Thus is so helpful -and the timing is perfect for me!

I am learning to interact with some family members I haven’t known long and often find myself perplexed. This helps clarify a few of the dynamics I have become aware of.

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Bella

I’m all for leaving a relationship that is “toxic”, however I do take issue with simplifying people down to give them labels such as the 13 above. There is always more than 1 way to look at a situation, a person, a certain behavior. I believe most behavior that impacts on others negatively is borne out of insecurity, fear, anger or ignorance.
There is no mention here of empathy or of trying to understand and get to the bottom of behavior that is hurtful and negative.
True it is important to stand up for yourself and take care of yourself both physically and emotionally but in my mind writing off people in our lives as toxic is not necessarily helpful or right.
Ultimately I don’t agree that there are toxic people as such. We’re all born as innocent babies and we are shaped by many things on the journeys that then become our lives.

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Hey Sigmund

I completely respect your position, though I do have a very different one. You are absolutely right, there is always more than one way to look at a situation, and people who have been in relationships with toxic people have generally tried all of them. It is not at all unusual for people who are in a relationship with someone who is toxic to fight really hard for those relationships. They will, understandably, try to understand the toxic behaviour from different angles, make excuses for the toxic person, blame themselves and turn themselves inside out to change. None of it works.

I have seen lives destroyed by toxic people. I have seen people enter relationships whole, healthy and happy and come out as a shell – broken and weakened by somebody who doesn’t know how to care. It is difficult to understand unless you have been in a relationship with one.

The toxicity comes from their capacity to contaminate somebody’s self-concept. They are masterful at this and do it without a second thought. They will lie, abuse, manipulate, and threaten. It is not anyone else’s responsibility to stand still and continue to accept such treatment in the name of empathy. We have to be emotionally responsible with others, but that is very different to being emotionally responsible for others.

I agree that everyone is born whole and with everything they need to live a happy life. In order to stay whole, there needs to be a certain degree of commitment to understanding your impact on others and changing that behaviour when it does damage. Toxic people don’t do this. Someone who is toxic – as in damaging to those around them – will not look at their own behaviour. They will blame others and manipulate the situation before they do anything to change it. They have no interest in self reflection or being respectful in relationships. If they aren’t interested in changing themselves, all of the understanding and empathy in the world won’t help – it will never make what they do okay.

When people are in a toxic environment, they will physically respond in the way the body responds to anything that is toxic – they will shut down to it. The brain actually changes in response to abuse and toxicity. This has been proven by a substantial body of research. Empathy is powerful when people are open to what they do and to healing and growth but toxic people aren’t. That’s the difference. All empathy does is keep people in the destructive relationship as their self-concept, self-esteem and self-respect whittle away. Not to mention the physiological changes that come about because of the stress, including the changes to the brain. The truth is that not everyone in our lives is meant to stay.

Reply
Bella

I do agree with you!
I just read the initial post as a little one sided.
I’ve seen a very close friend completely broken and diminished by an emotionally manipulative/abusive relationship and after trying to understand and empathize for many years the only healthy thing to do was to get out.

I love your site/newsletters by the way! 🙂

Reply
ashaero

I feel like most people can exhibit signs of at least one or more displayed above given the right situation. I rarely find a person who doesn’t have these every so now and again, even I do. Just put someone in a situation where they feel they have been hard done by or they may just suffer from a severe mental health issue. As someone with severe anxiety, sometimes I can’t deal with just everything friends want when they want it, I can’t always support them with what they need because I don’t have it or I really don’t know what to say or I am so anxious that I am useless but I do need to lean on certain friends sometimes BUT when people can’t cope with me, I tend to go back to what I’ve had to do for years, cope on my own or sleep. I am far too haggered and ravaged by those years coping on my own in amongst CBT that my mind is in no fit state to help all my friends when they need. So yes, me and my friends display some of these personalities. Uusally for the sake of our own health and wellbeing. Although I udnerstand there are people who do not have a decent reason who have these behaviours.

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Hey Sigmund

Yes absolutely – it is very likely that we all do some of these things some of the time. We certainly have the potential too. None of us are perfect and being human can be a messy business. The difference between toxic people and the rest of us lies in their intent and their lack of remorse. Toxic people don’t care who they hurt and they have no remorse for the breakage they cause to lives, relationships and people. They’ll take to your self-esteem, your confidence and your happiness like it’s theirs to own, and even when they know that it might be hurting you, they’ll get up the next day and do exactly the same thing. We all mess up from time to time, but most of us are sorry when we do and work hard not to do it again – that’s the difference.

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Rosemary Anne

This is a really excellent article… wish I could have learnt some of these things 20 years ago. I finally left after 20 toxic years…. so so much happier now:) Thanks for writing this stuff – we all need to hear it!!

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Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome. We’re slowly starting to wise up to these people! I’m so pleased that we’re all talking about it more – I think that’s one of the big differences now. I love hearing about people who break free of a toxic relationship. It takes guts to walk away and you did it. I’m so pleased you’re finding happiness – after 20 years you deserve it!

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Lina

I’ve read some of your articles and found them extremely helpful in recognizing toxic people in my life and learning how to cope with them. So thank you for that. I have a question for you: what if you recognize that you are one of “these people!” and you have a strong desire and motivation to change?

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Hey Sigmund

Lina it’s great that you have this awareness. Remember that none of us are perfect and we all have things about us that could do with some tweaking. If you recognise yourself as the toxic person, start to look at the things you do that impact other people. It may be that a lot of your behaviours and responses to people are automatic. The idea now is to slow things down and take time to be more deliberate about what you are doing. Having the awareness and motivation to change is the hardest part – and you’ve done that. Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t see changes straight away. These patterns of responding have taken a while to build up and they may take a while to come down – but without a doubt you can do that.

Reply
M

Thanks Karen for this excellent post. I appreciate your clarity and actual warmth whenever you write about toxic relationships. This one was quite strict in pointing at one side only, but I have read some of your earlier posts where there was this difficult awareness of each of us displaying some toxic traits depending on the circumstances. Still, having said that, it seems I needed this clarity now, so thank you. Incidentally, would you consider writing something along similar lines – living with a toxic person – but extend it to include the implications of having children in such relationship and thus being additionally challenged when considering a decision of whether to stay or to go?

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Hey Sigmund

Thank you very much for your comment. I’m pleased it’s been able to give you the clarity you needed. You’re right – this one was particularly about the things to watch out for in others that makes them toxic and damaging, even though we can all do some of the things some of the time though without necessarily being toxic.

I love your idea for a post. It’s an important issue and a difficult one. How much the children are impacted during divorce and separation depends so much on how the parents deal with it. A divorce is hard enough on everybody but when you’re dealing with a toxic person, you really can’t trust that they will put the needs of the children first. Most people who separate will love their children more than they hate their partner, so even if they really can’t stand their ex, thy will try to make the separation work as best as they can for the sake of the children. It might be through gritted teeth, but they’ll manage to be at least civil and respectful to their ex-partner in front of the children, even if not otherwise. With toxic people it’s different. They’ll undermine the other parent, fight and spread lies and they won’t care what that does to the children. I’ve seen the most extraordinarily selfish, hurtful behaviour when toxic people are involved in a breakup. It doesn’t mean you should stay – not at all. Leaving a toxic relationship when there are children involved also means that the children get to know a safer, non-toxic environment for a substantial amount of the time. All divorce and separation are hard, but with toxic people there are other things to consider and plan for, but this can be done. Not sure if you’ve seen these articles, but there might be something useful in them for you:

>> When Divorce or Separation Turns Ugly: https://www.heysigmund.com/when-a-divorce-or-separation-turns-ugly/
>> Unhappily Married: What’s better for the kids – together or apart? https://www.heysigmund.com/unhappy-marriage-and-kids/
>> When family (or any relationship) hurts: https://www.heysigmund.com/relationships-when-family-hurts/

See if these have anything that’s useful, but in the meantime, I’ll see what I can put together for a post.

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Mona Bireley

I stumbled upon this article at the perfect time.
I am not or ever will be that perfect friend but I do try.
Hopefully someone will be able to help me end the madness I have been dealing with.
I am in my mid 50s, married and 5 grown children.
I have been blessed having many good new and old friends through the years.
3 of us girls (friends)took a trip this last fall to FL. We have known each other for over 20 years. One of the girls has always been a B. She even sais this of herself.
The holiday was a nightmare starting from day one. I felt like I was in the middle of the insanity. Trying just to make it the best it could be.
A few days before we were flying back home I received a call that I needed to go home. To make a long story short the B said and did things that I can’t find in my heart to forgive.By my leaving should of not affected her at all except that for 4 days I wouldn’t be there to be a sane voice between the others.
I asked before I left to please let me be that I had to process everything that happened at home and there in the last 12 hrs.
Since returning home I have spoken to her and her husband and tried to explain that I don’t know how to unchange my broken heart.
I have express that I will never disrespect her to anyone and at this time I need space.
Soooooooo, I have received Tex’s and calls from people whom said she called and was spreading many untruths.Amazing even from her own family. I appreciate that they respect me enough to share what she has been doing. I am just so flustered for we will be at gathering together and unfortunately I am not sure if I can keep my mouth shut.
Please help!

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