Have you ever felt that your partner is constantly critical of what you do and blaming you for everything, even when the blame lies at their door? Feeling like you’re walking on eggshells around your mother and unable to have the good relationship you want to as a result? You might feel that you’re the reason for them to behave this way toward you, but that’s not the case at all. They’re toxic.
Being in emotionally healthy relationships enhances your wellbeing – unhealthy relationships have the opposite effect, causing stress and depression. As a result, your feelings become trapped in a continual circle of guilt and shame as you struggle to find a way to ‘fix’ things.
But here’s the thing. It’s not your job to fix yourself or the relationships even though you’re consistently made to feel like it is your role to do so. The only way to improve your relationships with toxic people is by reducing and eliminating their toxic behaviour.
Any individual that causes negativity and upset to you and your life is toxic. They’re able to cause so much damage and get away with it because they’re subtle. Toxic people are able to pass off that nothing is ever their fault, there’s always someone else to blame (and that someone else always seems to be you).
It’s worth noting though, that it isn’t so much the individual that is toxic but their behaviour. They’ve been wounded or hurt in the past and now cannot take personal responsibility for their own thoughts, feelings and needs. Although the trauma probably wasn’t their fault, these individuals struggle to get past the role of “victim” and continually focus on this to get what they need by blaming and manipulating others.
Creating drama in their lives is a technique used to draw attention to themselves and meet their needs. For instance, if you arranged to meet with your partner after work but had to cancel due to a work emergency, he/she creates excess drama around the situation, accusing you of “always letting them down” and “never thinking about what they want.” You feel guilty. Again.
Being able to spot their toxic behaviour is the first step in standing up to it and removing it from your life, so here’s what to look out for.
Toxic people can be overly critical of themselves and others. For example, have you ever been travelling on the highway with your partner and become snarled in traffic due to an accident? Rather than accepting the situation for what it is, your toxic partner shouts out “I told you we should have left earlier!” or “I told you this was the wrong route to take!”
Unable to accept the situation for what it is – an accident – they continually swear, rant, and look for anyone they can blame. And all too often that person is you.
This behaviour is because they’re unable to own their feelings. They’ll project their feelings on to yours and blame you rather than taking responsibility for their actions. They may not have told you to leave earlier that day at all and only thought it, but now there is a consequence for not doing so it’s you getting the blame.
Remember that you don’t have to apologise, justify or try to defend yourself for an untruth. While tempting to do so (especially if you are trapped in a car) but this just plays into their drama seeking and manipulative ways. Recognise that their emotions are misplaced and try to remain neutral as much as you can in the moment.
Never sure which version of them you’re going to get? One moment they’re loving and all that you wish for and the next, they’ve turned into a melodramatic ball of emotion. There isn’t anything immediately obvious to explain this change and you’re often left scratching your head as to the cause. If you straight up ask them what’s wrong, the most common response is ‘nothing’.
This is another example of the toxic person being unable to take responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings. They’ve learned that by presenting these behaviours you find difficult, you will be the one to take action and improve the situation. You’ll have noticed this with their heavy sighs and grumbles obviously inviting you to ask them what’s wrong.
Instead of jumping to attention and giving in to their toxic behaviour, stop trying to please them. Until they’ve learned to take responsibility for themselves and how they feel, they’re not going to change. Offer solutions they can do to help themselves and that’s it. Walk away and leave them to it if you have to. You are not responsible for making them feel better, and if you have upset them or done something wrong, apologise, talk it through and then move on.
Fed up of hearing “a good son would…” or “a good girlfriend would…” on a regular basis? These comments come from toxic people who are manipulating you into choosing them over someone or something else.
You’ll notice that it’s when you want to meet your friends, or do an activity without them, or even spend longer at work that the comments will come out where you’re made to feel like you’re choosing the other thing/person over them. It doesn’t matter what it is, or how important it might be to you, if you don’t choose them get ready for the drama to unfold.
The problem here is that you’ll always have to put them first, ignore your own wants and needs and be constantly proving yourself to them. Once you start on this path, it quickly descends into a constant need to be proving yourself more and more because it feels like nothing is ever good enough for them.
The only way to manage this behaviour is to put boundaries in place, insist on your own time, friends and activities, and if they just won’t accept that, you may have to consider walking away completely.
Sometimes it’s not what they say to you but how they say it that’s toxic. You know the kind of thing, where they ask an innocent question like “what did you do at work today?” or “did you have fun with your friends” but there’s a definite negative tone to it that makes you worried how to answer.
There’s an inherent implication here, that whatever you did was somehow wrong because they weren’t there and they’re jealous of what you did behind their back, or maybe they had a terrible day and are choosing to take it out on you. Often when you question their tone they’ll snap back that they were only asking a question.
Remember that you are entitled to do whatever you like, however you like and whenever you like so long as you’re not directly causing hurt or harm to yourself or others. If they feel angry, upset or jealous just because you chose to spend some time with your friends instead of at home with them, you’re not the cause of those feelings. They’re refusing to accept their thoughts and feelings and what caused them. Therapy for you both is often the only way to stop this kind of toxic behaviour from continuing.
Toxic people will never apologise for their words and actions because they can’t see anything wrong with them. They feel that they are the victim and will often twist and retell what happened to such an extent that they honestly can’t see an alternative perspective.
If you feel you are constantly apologising for things, stop. Only apologise when there is a definite need to do so. When you find yourself apologising to avoid an argument or to smooth things over, those are the times you need to be recognising that it’s not your job to put things right when you’re not to blame for them.
There doesn’t need to be an apology to be able to move forward. You have better things to be spending your energy on than fighting a battle where they have a need to be proven right every time. Boundaries are important here, refusing to discuss things when they’re emotional is a sensible one to use when trying to diffuse a situation without having to fake an apology. Wait until they’re calm and then talk things through.
Ever have those difficult conversations and they suddenly don’t respond? It might be by text, email or even in person, they just walk away and stop communicating with you. It’s an effective form of manipulation that a toxic person will use to make you doubt yourself and make you think “did I say the wrong thing?”, “are they ever coming back” and “how can I fix this?”
They know they are hurting you by doing this. It’s a strategy they know will make you feel hurt, vulnerable and ready to welcome back no matter what they’ve done. It may also mean that you just don’t matter to them as much as they matter to you. If they’re not willing to invest their time, energy and emotions into resolving the situation, what does that really say about the state of your relationship?
You’ll need to do some soul searching here and decide if you’re really getting what you need from this relationship and if all this drama and toxicity is worth it.
This is one of those irritating toxic traits that can easily get under your skin because it’s such an effective form of manipulation. “You always do that”, “you never do this”, etc are common examples of this, there’s no middle ground to be found here and that’s why it can be so difficult to defend yourself against this attempt at manipulating you.
They always seem to have examples to back up what they’re saying and seem to relish in using them to evidence your shortcomings and lack of interest and commitment in them and your relationship. You know it’s not true though and so you don’t have to put up with it. Don’t try to argue back because you know you can’t win here. Call time and walk the dog, or have a bath or shower, or any other activity you can reasonably do alone to give you both chance to calm down and move on.
Toxic people have a way of making you feel guilty just for being you. One of the most common ways in which they do this is to poke holes in the way you are talking about something. Remember how they have an underlying tone when they ask you something? Well, it’s a common toxic trait for them to perceive others as behaving the same way they do/would, even when that’s not the case.
So, you might be having a perfectly normal conversation when suddenly, they’re questioning how you talk and your body language. They’ll be accusing you of using a particular tone, of being overly defensive, they might say you’re sitting differently than usual because you’re hiding something, etc. It can all be very confusing and overwhelming, it just doesn’t make any sense!
This is their way of turning the attention back on to them and making you prove yourself to them, so don’t fall for it. End the conversation and take some me time to
When I say there for the bad times, I don’t necessarily mean in a supportive way. They’re there for the drama more often than not. Remember those times when you had a job promotion you were excited to share news off but they managed to deflate your happiness by telling you it’ll mean more pressure at work and less time with them? They always seem to find a way of making your good news feel bad somehow.
That’s because the good news isn’t about them. They have a role to play in a crisis situation that puts the spotlight on them, but good news that doesn’t include them doesn’t afford them the luxury of creating drama unless they poke holes in it.
Don’t let them dampen your spirit and cut away at your happiness and excitement. If they can’t be happy for you, go and spend time with the people who will share your moment with you in a supporting way.
It’s a shared human trait to make mistakes sometimes, in fact, making mistakes is often how we learn, improve and develop as an individual. Yet, toxic people can make it feel like the end of the world and destroy your self-esteem by passing judgement on everything you do.
It’s all too common for this kind of toxic behaviour to be shown in front of others. They seem to take pleasure in not only making you feel bad for an honest mistake, but to use it against you when you’re around friends and family for extra ammunition.
Understanding that we all get it wrong from time to time and that it’s a normal human thing to do will help you see through these manipulation attempts and prevent them from digging away at your self-esteem. Speaking to a therapist can also help you to navigate situations like these and improve your self-confidence and ability to stand up for yourself too.
I’m a relationship specialist.
I challenge and guide my clients to build and sustain successful and fulfilling personal and professional relationships (starting with the one with themselves).
With fierceness, humour and humility, I champion client’s causes.
My focus is working with high-functioning professionals who encounter interpersonal relationship challenges in all domains.
My clients include hedge fund managers, CEOs and CFOs of major international firms, homeless people, bankers, pilots, corporate lawyers, teachers, medical professionals, military personnel and rabbis.
Counsellor for Professionals in Melbourne and those seeking online counselling services.