All human relationships can be complicated at times. And the reality is that no one is perfect.
That means most of us are capable of behaving in slightly toxic ways from time to time.
This is especially true when we don’t get our way, feel hurt, or feel threatened in some way.
But for other people, this behavior becomes an all too common occurrence.
How do you know you’re dealing with a toxic person?
Here are red flags to watch out for…
1) They say unkind and cruel things
Most of us know by now that words can certainly hurt — a lot!
Being verbally abusive is still a form of abuse. Because in many ways words truly can be violent.
Whilst we all are capable of occasionally wounding with our words, pay attention if someone makes a habit out of it.
If they are forever snapping at you, putting you down, or blaming you, it’s not acceptable behavior.
Sometimes those mean comments or put-downs may be disguised.
For example, they might use humor as a mask. They could suggest they are only joking or you should be “less uptight”.
But nevertheless, their sarcasm is still cutting. And making you the butt of their jokes still hurts.
2) They fly off the handle often, and over the littlest things
This is a sign of anger issues.
Getting so easily irritated and it spilling over into aggression suggests they struggle to control their temper.
Rather than accept and take ownership of their own emotions, they may seek to blame.
For example, it’s always someone else who has “made them mad” or an unfair circumstance or event that “wound them up”.
Their reaction often feels disproportionate to the trigger.
It doesn’t need to involve shouting either.
Sulking, ignoring someone, and giving the silent treatment are still forms of aggression, just more passive ones.
If someone feels eternally moody or mad it’s a sign of toxic behavior.
3) You feel like you have to walk on eggshells around them
When someone seems prone to unreasonable behavior or outbursts you might notice you adapt your own behavior to accommodate them.
It’s impossible to be yourself.
Suddenly you’re second-guessing and overthinking everything you say and do.
You’re worried about displeasing them or setting them off.
You might avoid confronting them on problems and issues because it doesn’t feel worth the fallout.
And this can create a lot of tension and stress. You feel like you are walking on eggshells.
4) They are jealous, overprotective, or envious of you
Jealousy can show up in different ways within different relationships.
In romantic connections, it might present as your regular jealous streak. Your partner seems overly vigilant in “guarding” you from the attention of others.
We’re all capable of falling foul of the little green-eyed monster occasionally, but this is way more than that. Suspicion and mistrust eat away at your connection.
This might lead to overprotective, accusatory, or even controlling behavior.
In friendships, jealousy can also be present, but it might look slightly different. They may be envious of you — whether it is what you have or what you achieve.
Perhaps this leads to bitter behavior, or put-downs in an attempt to self-soothe their own resentment.
5) They play mind games to get power over you
Of course, another word for mind games is emotional manipulation.
The aim of the game is to try to use your emotions against you.
That way, the other person seeks to subtly control you and get you to behave in a way they want.
Mind games can involve everything from the classic dating tactic of “playing hard to get” up to more extreme forms of manipulation.
- Withholding certain things to try to punish you (like affection or sex)
- Trying to make you feel small or unimportant
- Trying to make you jealous
- Playing on your insecurities
- Trying to guilt-trip you or make you feel bad
6) They are coercive and controlling
When toxic traits and mind games fester they can increase in severity.
When a toxic relationship turns really sour, someone may seek to outright control you.
Along with emotional manipulation, they may try to take charge of certain aspects of your life.
For example, they might try to control your finances, who you can or cannot see, or what you wear.
There may be explicit or implicit rules that you are expected to follow.
The consequences of breaking these leaves you feeling under threat.
Not necessarily of violence, perhaps simply that the other person will leave your life if you don’t abide by their unreasonable conditions.
7) They are excessively needy and clingy
Often, we expect controlling behavior to look aggressive. So when it doesn’t it can fly under the radar.
Because to be in control, we mistakenly believe someone needs to take the upper hand through force.
But the truth is that victimhood can be just as controlling and manipulative as anger or violence.
If someone is suffocatingly clingy it is a toxic behavior.
They may make you feel responsible for their entire well-being. And that’s a big burden to carry.
An ex of mine had a previous girlfriend who would threaten violence against herself as a way of keeping control over him.
And it worked.
Before he broke free from this toxic person, he had slowly isolated himself from friends and family and dropped most of his own interests.
Her clinginess had made him feel so guilty about having any independence whatsoever.
The moral of the story is that control and coercion come in many forms.
8) They’re always attention seeking
Anyone who has got sucked into the endless drama of a toxic person will know how exhausting it can become.
We might wonder why anyone would intentionally create drama. But to a toxic person drama and stress can also translate to excitement.
Sometimes people feed from negative energy just as much as positive.
In an attempt to create a buzz and a fuss around them, they might use a constant stream of attention-seeking strategies:
- Being intentionally provocative
- Fishing for compliments and praise
- Exaggerating or making things up
- Always looking for sympathy and pity
9) Everything is your fault and they are just the poor victim
When someone is stuck in victimhood it is a sign of a toxic person.
They are unwilling or unable to assess their own part in things, and also their own power to change.
Sadly, it may mean they have so little self-awareness that they are incapable of taking responsibility.
As the saying goes, it takes two to tango.
Nobody is perfect. So if someone acts like they never do wrong it’s a huge red flag.
No matter what the conflict or disagreement is, they are always 100% convinced that it’s all your fault.
They never say sorry or apologize, yet you constantly have to in order to get back in their good books.
10) You feel like you are talking to a brick wall
Often before I confront someone about something I like to save myself some trouble by asking:
Will they be able to hear me?
What I mean by that is will they be able to absorb and reflect on what I tell them?
Because the unfortunate truth is that no matter how reasonable you are, how valid your point is, or how delicately you manage to put it — some people seem unable to listen.
Sure, they may hear the words. But it doesn’t sink in.
In most cases, this isn’t really about listening, it’s about self-awareness again.
Because when someone has zero self-awareness, talking to them about issues can feel like a waste of your breath.
It goes in one ear and out the other.
Their protective ego which seeks to defend them is too fragile, and so it is incapable of receiving any feedback whatsoever, no matter how well intended it is.
11) You feel bad about yourself whenever you’re around them
Here’s the thing:
Nobody else is responsible for our feelings. They’re ours and ours alone.
But there’s no denying that the company you keep can either lift you up or drag you down.
Being around constant negativity is a real drain on your energy reserves.
What’s more, if they regularly criticize or chastise you, it’s no wonder that would leave you feeling down.
Regardless of whether someone really is totally toxic or not, we should pay attention to how we feel around them.
If spending time with someone makes you feel bad, then it’s wise to look for ways to protect yourself.
Often your own gut is a good guide as to whether someone is a bit of a toxic person who you need to stay clear of.
Can a relationship coach help you too?
If you want specific advice on your situation, it can be very helpful to speak to a relationship coach.