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Blog Short #194: 9 Signs That You’re Dealing with a Toxic Person

Photo by Alexandru Zdrobău on Unsplash

Last week, I explained why you might repeatedly get involved with the same type of toxic person.

This week, I want to help you identify the signs upfront so you can avoid falling into situations you’ll regret later. To do that, I’ll review some behaviors to look for.

As you read, keep in mind that anyone can occasionally display one of these behaviors when under emotional or physical stress.

The difference between someone who’s toxic and someone who occasionally slips is that, in the former case, the behaviors are part of their overall character.

Let’s start by going over nine behavior patterns to look for.

9 Common Toxic Behavior Patterns

1. It’s all about them.

Toxic people are concerned first and foremost about themselves. Whatever the conversation or interaction, they bring the attention back to them.

Toxic people lack empathy in most cases and are unable to consider the needs and feelings of other people. Theirs take precedence.

And if you ask them for something, they’ll either dismiss or ignore your request or compete with you for the spotlight.

2. They manipulate regularly.

They use manipulation and gaslighting as a one-two punch to get you to keep your focus on them while questioning your self-worth.

They shame you when you address your needs or feelings. It’s a case of chronic one-upping to the extreme.

You feel like you owe them something and need to earn it, although it’s always just out of reach.

They challenge you to prove yourself over and over, yet you never make the grade. Or if you do, it’s temporary.

3. You never know who’s going to show up.

One day, everything’s fine, and the next, they’re upset and cranky, yet you have no idea what caused the shift.

When you ask what’s wrong, they say “nothing,” but you feel it just the same.

They give little hints that you’ve done something. They retreat, get quiet, or give you the cold shoulder. They might make faces, subtly shake their head, sigh, and show visible signs of disappointment.

The air around you is tense, and you feel like you need to fix it, yet if you comment about it, they’ll tell you it’s all in your head.

4. They don’t apologize for anything.

When toxic people get caught doing something they shouldn’t or are abusive in some way, they justify their behavior and subtly or not so subtly shift the blame to you.

They demand your apology, and often, you find yourself apologizing for things they did.

It’s amazing that even in the face of evidence, they manage to make you feel responsible for whatever happened.

5. They’re accomplished gaslighters.

The gaslighter’s goal is to rewrite history to make you question what you see and know.

Over time, you become confused, emotionally beaten down, and unsure about what’s happening. You feel chronically overwhelmed.

They also isolate you from your friends and family so that their voice is prominent and you have little to no outside support.

6. They drain you.

Between the negativity, reality distortion, manipulation, and neediness, these folks suck the life out of you. After a while, you feel depleted mentally, emotionally, and physically.

People who live with a toxic partner for any length of time can eventually become ill, depressed, and chronically anxious or overwhelmed.

7. You can’t have a successful conversation to resolve a problem.

Toxic people use projection as a tool to avoid dealing with issues that in any way focus on their dysfunctional behavior.

When you confront them or attempt to talk through a problem, they either accuse you of the very thing they’re doing or deny it outright.

They also topic-hop to avoid focusing on a subject long enough to delve into it, especially if it portrays them in a negative light.

Often, they bring up old events that have nothing to do with the current issue.

Another common defense tactic is to focus on how you’re talking or your tone of voice rather than the issue.

You start out talking about something that’s bothering you, and before you know it, you’re defending your delivery and losing the battle.

These conversations are always win-lose, and you’re the loser.

8. They steal your joy.

When you share something positive that’s happened to you, or you’re excited about something, they minimize it.

They’re envious of your successes and shift the attention back onto themselves while denigrating your accomplishments.

On the other hand, they will be present during a crisis and, in the process, build a case for your deficits.

They might involve others, such as family members, friends, or colleagues, to support their thoughts about what’s wrong with you.

9. They exaggerate.

They’re famous for choosing a single incident where you tripped up and magnifying it as evidence of your many inadequacies.

They use words like “always, never, and every time” when describing situations.

Conversely, they use hyperbole and superlatives to describe their behavior and achievements.

How Can You Tell Upfront if Someone’s Toxic?

First, take it slow.

When getting into a relationship, whether romantic, friendship, or otherwise, it’s best to take your time getting to know the other person before getting in deep.

People generally put their best foot forward at the beginning. Narcissists, in particular, can be very charming and draw you in quickly.

Over time, they reveal more of who they are. It’s good to allow this process the time it needs before getting further in.

Beware of someone who wants to move quickly, especially if they put you on a pedestal and make you feel special. You’ll fall off soon enough. Take your time.

Secondly, find out about their history.

What’s the quality of their other relationships?

Do they have long-term relationships and attachments? Are they involved with their kids and talk about them with affection? Can they keep friends? Do they job-hop because they don’t get along with people at work?

You might find that they’ve been in a number of relationships that haven’t worked out, and in describing them, they blame the other person while denying any wrongdoing on their part.

How do they treat people? That’s what you want to know.

Other questions to ask yourself if you’re already in a relationship:

  1. Are you walking on eggshells much of the time?
  2. Do you consistently feel like you need to do more, be better, and prove your loyalty to this person?
  3. Do they find fault with you regularly, regardless of what you do?
  4. Do you often find yourself apologizing for things you didn’t do or problems you didn’t initiate?
  5. Do you feel worn out, unappreciated, neglected, angry, or despairing?
  6. Are you questioning your perceptions of what you know and see happening?
  7. Is the overall atmosphere tense, negative, and competitive?
  8. Do you bring out the worst in each other? Do you find yourself behaving in ways you disapprove of, such as gossiping, being mean, and losing your temper often?

If you say yes to most or even half of these questions, then examine the relationship more closely.

Sometimes, the only solution is to get out, but depending on your situation, that may not be possible.

You can work at it by doing any or all of these things:

  • Start setting boundaries for toxic behaviors and stick to them.
  • Get some outside help to walk you through the process. For couples, counseling together and separately is useful.
  • Reach out to friends, family, or activities outside of your relationship. Don’t let yourself be isolated.

People can sometimes change their behavior if they value the relationship enough not to lose it. In those cases, you can work on things together.

But if the other person refuses to make any changes and continues not to be concerned about your needs and feelings, then you have to consider long-term consequences.

I recommend getting some help in those cases. Everyone’s situation is unique.

One Last Thing

If you need help learning to set boundaries and like to read, get the book Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourselfby Nedra Glover Tawwab. It’s excellent and will give you some good strategies to try.

That’s all for today.

We’ll go a little lighter next week!

All my best,


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