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. Actually, it makes us human. We make mistakes, 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 behavior is a habitual way of responding to the world and the people in it. Toxic people are smart but they are emotionally immature. It’s no accident that they choose to project their toxicity on those who are open-hearted, generous and willing to work hard for a relationship. When toxic behaviour is involved it’s only a matter of time before someone is hurt… and it’s never the toxic 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. This is normal – especially if it’s a blood relative, a close friend, or a spouse. Instinctively, you don’t give up on the ones you love – especially if you share a life history and there have been times when they have been good to you.
When the bad behaviour is more prevalent than the good, or there has long been an underpinning personal issue they've had with you from a much younger age, that’s when things get difficult and complicated because it's not your 'behaviour', but who you are as a person that they resent.
While a small part of them might be happy for your achievements, a more dominant part of them resents you for them. This creates an irrational, 'complicated' situation that you are powerless to fix. When you achieve bigger things, it can get the better of them and they might become verbally abusive when they feel insecure or threatened in any way. They can become downright nasty and destructive. You can only change the things that are open to your influence and toxic people will never be one of them. So stop. Just stop. Here are some of the ones to watch out for.
This is the person who exacts revenge on an innocent victim known to them (yes even a close family member), based on fixed, false beliefs that conflict with reality about the person they’re attacking. Despite contrary evidence, a person in a delusional state can't let go of these convictions, which are often reinforced by the misinterpretation of events and deep insecurities and envy that has long existed about that person. Many delusions also involve some level of paranoia.
For someone to be like this, they are often unhappy in their own life and feel as though they are very much a victim with no power or control. They might have an unhappy or emotionally abusive personal relationship and project their issues, blame and toxicity upon others - or one person in particular who they feel insecure or envious about so they don't feel guilt or shame.
If they made disempowering choices in their own life and find themselves unable to move forward the way they desire, they instead try to get power over you to ‘claw back’ that sense of power, control and gratification they so desperately seek in their life.
They might also derive a sense of irrational ‘revenge’ over you given there’s envy involved, even though such behaviour stems from their own life choices, how they are treated in other relationships, and deep-seated issues stemming from their own insecurities that have long existed. You're merely the scapegoat for their own predicament.
Look, there are good reasons that explain it, but it is inexcusable because no one should be treated like that. It’s an abuse of power: selfish, cruel and heartless. It shows they care little about the person they’re treating this way. This behaviour is entirely self-serving.
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, or if it’s just downright abusive, it might be time to question why you bother.
We all have a limited amount of resources (emotional energy and time) to share between our relationships. Every time you make space for negative people who don’t deserve you, you’re saying ‘no’ to someone who is positive and who appreciates you.
Give your support and 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 because when self-love exists, then you love others too and want to treat people well.
This version of toxic people won’t return your texts or phone calls or will wax and wane in regard to their level of contact with you. They do this because most of the time they want to derive a sense of power over you (trying to show you’re unimportant or insignificant), even though you have only ever been supportive and caring.
Even though you give them plenty of space, and get busy in your own life, you still 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. When you ask if they got your message, they become hostile and blame you, saying you’re the problem. It's not rational. They’re insecure and try to crumble another person’s security to make themselves feel better.
Manipulators will tell half-truths or straight out lies and try to have you doubting yourself. They might verbally abuse you just because they're unhappy that day or have been dwelling on their issues with you, then tell you that you are the problem. Absurdly, they might then say that they need to distance themselves from you, while they simultaneously behave in a passive aggressive way and then accuse you of passive aggression.
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 (if you let them get the better of you); then they’ll poke you for cracking and get numbers around them to help support their issues against you. There’s just no reasoning with a manipulator, so forget trying to explain yourself. They'll make any communication into an argument that will run in circles and there will be no resolution. It’s a black hole. Don’t get sucked in.
You: I didn’t say what you’re suggesting I said.
Them: Are you calling me a bad listener?!
You: No, I’m just saying that what you said was taken out of context to what I had communicated. I was saying a positive thing – nothing negative.
Them: Oh. So now you’re saying I’m a liar! Omg why think the worst in people? Please stop messaging me, I don’t need this ridiculous passive aggressive crap. This is exactly the reason I have been distancing myself from you.”
You: Please never speak to me like that again. It's not OK.
Them: Oh you just go on and on and you think you’re always right! You’re not always right! That’s not OK.
You: It’s OK to stand up for myself when getting abuse.
Notice how they want to create a problem? Notice how they want to find something to hate you about and then invent something and accuse you of the very behaviour they’re engaging in? Notice how some separate issue they have with you (their belief you always think you're right) has made its way into the conversation, even though it screams of their personal insecurities?
Their nasty tone, accusatory nature and bad attitude indicates they are someone who does not value or respect you and the relationship. When it frequently happens and it's unprovoked, and gets to the point that you feel like you can’t say anything (not even a reasonable question like ‘how are you?’) without them taking extreme offence and then accusing you of something untoward, then what does that leave you with? Why should any well intended communication turn into something entirely negative, hostile and difficult? When that happens, it is toxicity at its most extreme and you either let them continue to mistreat and abuse you in the relationship, or you walk away.
If you’re feeling vulnerable and are not consciously aware of what they’re doing, this sort of talk from the toxic person might have you questioning or doubting yourself. You might begin to think that they’re right! It might even have you retracting, laying low, tip toeing on eggshells or watering yourself down if you’re desperate to retain that ‘relationship’. Remember your worth. You shouldn’t be treated that way. Don’t believe a word of what they say to you.
These people 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 try to use your weaknesses against you and they’ll use your strengths – your kindness, your openness, your desire for stability in the relationship - when they feel the need. Is this the type of ‘relationship’ you want?
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. These people have extreme self-involvement to the degree that it makes that person ignore the needs of those around them.
While everyone may show occasional narcissistic behaviour, true narcissists frequently disregard others or their feelings. They have no empathy whatsoever. Some do not understand the effect that their behaviour has on other people, while others do but don't care and instead use it to get what they want.
General rule of thumb: people don't typically change. Someone who disrespects waiting staff will always be the type of person who is rude to the waiting staff. Having said that, it's very possible for people to change but only when they’re ready and usually only when they’ve felt burning pain to take real action to do it themselves. 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 due to the toxicity of another, the only thing that will change will be you – a sadder, unhappier version of the person you started out as. You can try to be assertive and communicate your feelings about this treatment, but people like this will be hostile in their response and will likely hang up on you.
If they don't care about your feelings, then they will do whatever makes them feel superior. Before it gets to this, set a time limit in which you want to see change. Check in with yourself 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.
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. Gossip is an etiquette rule many people don’t know they are breaking, and just one way that toxic people engage in relational aggression, a type of aggression in which one causes harm to another by damaging their relationships or social status. Toxic people often exclude people or encourage social ostracism, which can be very damaging to a person, often having psychological effects.
If this is familiar, you’re in a cycle of abuse.
If you have a person who is constantly jealous and envious and they have toxic tendencies, then of course they’re going to find problems with you no matter how hard you try. If you act in a trustworthy way, you deserve to be trusted. If you treat others with respect and kindness, then you expect (and deserve) to be treated the same way.
Anyone can get insecure now and then and could do with a little more kindness and reassurance but when the questions, accusations and demands are consistently unwarranted, and occur frequently as part of any communication without reason or just cause, it highlights the toxic person’s unhealthy jealousy and other issues. You can’t control those interpretations and feelings if they really want to think badly and feel like that, but you can control whether you let them 'punish' you for them.
These people will always have problems that are bigger than yours. When you're sick, they're sicker. When you're exhausted from working hard every day, they insist they worked longer. They are very firmly fixed in a victim mindset, and you'll always be the supporter and never the supported. There's only so long that you can keep drawing on your emotional reserve if there's nothing coming back. A one-way street isn't a relationship. It's an energy sap and a massive waste of time.
If you ever get the feeling that you can only have a positive relationship with someone you care about when the timing is ‘right’ that’s a symptom of a conditional relationship. When someone only gives you time, care, friendship or love in certain circumstances, or at certain times of your life that makes them feel comfortable with it, then it’s completely unreliable and the person isn’t someone who is always going to be there for you.
You might notice at other times when you’ve experienced positive personal growth or have embarked on a new project or career and they responsively withhold their care, time, friendship or love hostage from you, or even verbally abuse you about your personality or intelligence without provocation, that you begin to unconsciously draw conclusions about that new set of circumstances. Sadly, a person who does this to another person is conditional and if you do anything worthwhile and make good decisions, and personally grow, they will punish you for it.
Don’t expect that person will ever be there for you. Perhaps they’ll be nice to you again if your life suddenly went off the rails somehow because that would make them feel superior to you. Then they’ll want to know you because they can feel secure and important in the relationship by giving you sympathy. If this is support, then don’t bother. Why would you want to be rewarded for stuffing up your life, and punished for anything positive? Do you think that would make you a better person?
The toxic person in your life might not fit one or two specific categories like these, but might be a mix of all of them.
Whatever the unique combination, toxic people are soul destroying. They won’t do what it takes to climb out of their own toxic circumstances so they resentfully try to drag you down instead. It’s sad, especially when it’s someone you care about. For those on the receiving end of it, it is important to step back and see it for what it is.
While many say it’s important to see the good in everything and everyone, I have learned over time that it’s more important to see the truth in everything and everyone. That’s part of survival and in your life, your number one priority is to survive and thrive because no one else will make that happen for you. It's important to put things in perspective and understand what you’re dealing with, so you can make good decisions.
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