9 things toxic people always do (and what to do about it)

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toxic people 9 things toxic people always do (and what to do about it)

We have all had dealings with people whose behavior is unbelievably damaging. The harm in their behavior lies in its subtlety: you don’t see it coming until you’re caught up in it once again. Their behavior makes you doubt yourself: Did I do something wrong? Am I being hypersensitive? Am I overreacting? Am I reading this completely wrong?

Wouldn’t you love to be able to spot the tell-tale signs of toxic behavior before the storm descends on you and catches you unawares again? Being able to recognize toxic behavior puts you in a better position to handle interaction with a manipulative person.

Here is a list of examples of toxic behavior some people use to manipulate others to their own advantage and how to minimize damage to yourself.

1) They are never act the same

Today they might be the best person you’ve ever known, charming and pleasant and tomorrow morning you’re met with the silent treatment. Of course, you immediately start wondering what you’ve done or said to upset them and immediately start trying to put matters right. But you can’t.

All you get is a cold shoulder or a look that tells you the depth of their displeasure with you. No amount of trying to find out what’s wrong or trying to make up for it helps.

Lesson: It’s not about you. It’s about them and their need to manipulate. Don’t try to please this person, you can’t. You’re not responsible for their mood, happiness, pleasure or displeasure.

If the person won’t discuss issue, it can’t be all that important, can it?

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2) You’re always in debt to them

They’ll do you a ‘favor’ or gift you something, but it comes with a price tag attached. You receive an extravagant gift or something the person knows you’ve always wanted but can’t afford, and then a favor in return is asked. One that puts you in an award situation – usually something that the person knows you will loath to do.

Thing is you won’t always know when the demand will be made for the favor in return. The best course of action is to not accept gifts that are obviously out of proportion or any favors you didn’t ask for.

3) They come at you out of the blue

They don’t give you any warning. You’ll get a phone call and accusations will come raining down on you. You are completely unprepared for the attack, so you falter and immediately sound guilty and in the wrong. They have had time to stew over their grudges and you have no ammunition ready.

Be alert to this tactic and don’t get roped in. You’ll get sucked into their perspective of whatever drama they have created in their heads. The first time the person on the other side, takes a breath, take advantage of the momentary silence to end the conversation. You don’t have to listen to some else’s garbage and you don’t have to defend yourself.

You don’t even need to be right –if you can give up the need to be right, you’ll save yourself a lot of unnecessary anguish.

4) They project their feelings on you

I once had a new friend ask me in a very aggressive manner: Do you have a problem with me? I was totally taken aback and stumbled over my words, because I didn’t understand where the question could have come from. The ensuing discussion was a disaster with me ending up in tears.

It was many years later that I realized the reason I couldn’t give her a satisfactory answer, was that we were not talking about my feelings; we were talking about her feelings! She was not owning up to having a problem with me; it was easier for her to project her problem on me.

If someone’s statements or allegations against you feel foreign to you, as if you can’t relate at all, you can be sure it has nothing to do with you. Just let it be. You don’t need to defend yourself against an accusation that has nothing to do with you.

5) They are never wrong and they never apologize.

Toxic people defy all logic. Facts mean nothing to them. That they are right is all that matters and they’ll defend it forevermore.

They’ll twist the facts so thoroughly that you end up in an argument about details and situations that you don’t recognize.

I find the best strategy is to give up the need for an apology and also the need to be right. Just give it up. You’ll never be right anyway and an apology you also won’t get. Why wait for or demand something that you know is never forthcoming?

If you know in your heart of hearts what your truth is, that should be enough.

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6) They’ll make you feel diminished, even about good things

These people can’t be happy for others. Whatever your good news, they find something to say about it to dampen your happiness. You have just bought ne new house, and the reaction is: Do you really want to live there of all places? You have a new person in your life and the reaction is: I hope he/she is a better conversationalist than the last one. You’re visiting Hawaii for the first time, and reaction is: That dump! Couldn’t you think of a better place to go to?

This type of person should be on your not-to-do list. If this type of reaction happens repeatedly, hit the delete button.

(To learn more techniques on how to let go and practice non-attachment, check out our eBook on the no-nonsense guide to using easter philosophy and Buddhism to live a better life here).

7) They’ll go offline to punish you

You’re still in the middle of planning an outing together or discussing a situation and suddenly the person is out of reach. You can’t get hold of them via text or emails and they don’t answer the phone. Meantime you’re in a state because you don’t know what’s going on. Does the silence have something to do with something you said or did? You wrack your brain and go almost insane with worry and confusion.

Obviously the person can’t face the situation and is punishing you. It is hurtful and cowardly behavior and if it happens repeatedly, you should reconsider if you want to stick around to be some idiot’s punch bag.

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8) They’re masters at using innocent language to hurt

It’s an innocent enough statement or question but the tone in which it is delivered turns it into something nasty. There are many different ways to say: ‘So, who did you spend Christmas day with?’ Or ‘That’s sweet little dress on you.’

These snide remarks are aimed at belittling you. The best defense against this kind of behavior is to know your own value and to realize that nothing another person says about you, defines you.

9) They can’t have a discussion to resolve issues.

Toxic people have no sense of logic. You can have your argument planned and ready and they won’t respond to anything you say, but instead change the subject or dig out old unresolved issues all to confound you. If they can’t deny what you’re saying, they’ll find a way to apologize in such a way that you understand that what they did or said is your fault in the first place. You just can’t win an argument with this kind of person, so don’t even start.

Say what you have to say and don’t defend it; refuse to respond to anything that’s not relevant. It won’t help you win the argument, but at least you won’t get dragged into an unnecessary drama.

This article was inspired by a similar article on Hey Sigmund.

(Resilience and mental toughness are key attributes to living your best life. Check out our popular eBook on developing mental toughness here).

NOW WATCH: If you’re looking to find your purpose in life, you need to know the 10 life lessons in the video below

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Coert Engels

I'm a South African based writer and am passionate about exploring the latest ideas in artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology. I also focus on the human condition, with a particular interest human intuition and creativity. To share some feedback about my articles, email me at [email protected]


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  1. I’ve just joined your site and I really like the inspiration it provides. I am here because I have ADHD and several of the things noted in this article point to behaviors I used to do. I’m not a bad person but a main trait of my condition is the need to stimulate my brain and get an adrenaline bump. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter whether I do something good or bad. A lot of these toxic traits are rooted in created arguments. Arguments are stimulating, peace and calm is boring.

    Anyway, it’s a long list. I have spent the past 9 years to understand myself in depth. Every therapy on the planet, therapy sometimes 3 days a week, 3 hrs a day. I just destroyed a relationship in 3 weeks with the most wonderful woman I will probably ever meet because of how I can turn a fun night into a pile of shit. I was upfront with my condition and I explained that my behavior is a result of it. I am fully accountable for what I do and say and apologize as soon as I return to a more balanced state of mind. Unfortunately she’s had her share of bad relationships and basically seen me exactly as this article would describe me. My greatest hope would have been that she be will to work with me through it. Identify patterns, triggers scenarios etc. But she had been hurt enough in her life that was only to see the negative.

    I was just curious if you have any tidbits for people with ADHD. I don’t want to be a toxic person, but medically I have no choice until a miracle happens and I somehow learn to manage it. At 47 I’ve pretty much lost all hope and just think isolation is my only choice. I don’t want to grow old and alone, but I know what I am and can’t seem to break the cycle. Isolation at least let’s me not hurt anyone else.

  2. You might want to read M. Scott Peck’s book “People Of The Lie”, because there are Very intentionally toxic people out there that You CANNOT appease, in any manner. It’s called “demonic” for a reason.

  3. i agree and experience everything that is in this article. My thoughts are that if someone has some disagreements on any if the above points, all of which create hurt and drama, that person just might want to consider that they themselves are toxic. Of coyrse, we do know that toxic people are not aware of their toxicity and it just truly is ingrained im them. I’m under the impression that most of these types of people have learned this behavior through their own upbringing. my apologies for typos and errors. my epilepsy side-effects have made basic things like typing a single word a challenge. on that note, because this is such a good article, I would consider proofreading it so more will share. Just a thpught. Thank you for this good read. it was very helpful.

  4. I don’t agree to a couple of these.
    For one, someone might actually be trying to improve, and decide to give some friends(who have done good), a gift of gratitude out of the blue.( a book, a course coupon, whatever)If your explanation is to be considered, everyone will keep being suspicious for something simple as a gratitude gift. And if you say that a request will come sooner or later, then I would say that it comes anyways, doesn’t it? Every single person you are connected with has some kind of vested self centered interest on you. The only exceptions are your parents and immediate family, and there are exception cases in that as well. So…gifting is good. Just look out for unrealistic favors.
    For seconds, a person may decide not to act the same. Sure, a discussion can happen, but only if two parties really want it to happen to resolve the issue. People hear what they want to hear. No point in discussing with..lets say..a wrong group of friends who takes enjoyment in belittling you, who know what they are doing wrong. This is especially faced by those who want to do something out of the ordinary and regular. Lack of some leg pulling makes things dry in a friendship..true…but that cannot happen everytime…and especially at vulnerable moments. No point in networking with enemies…cos a friend who innocently mocks you at times of need..in front of doctors…or professional friends..are repeat offenders are..well…nothing short of enemies. And its perfectly okay to leave these folks hanging, even if you yourself get labelled as a toxic person. Also, unless you have done something wrong, no point in apoligising. Apology is a genuine and meaningful courtesy meant for a friend who values and respects you. Apologise without ifs and buts and excuses to these people, they deserve that much. Anybody else…don’t waste your breath.

    The rest of the points I can agree to.

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