The answer to "what is a toxic person?" is complicated. A short answer is that the toxic person is one who is controlling, manipulative, abusive and deceitful who expects to be treated as special, wants everything their own way and often causes drama and chaos around themselves.
One of the problems in identifying a toxic person is that they are not all the same, there is no stereotypical toxic person. As in any group of humans toxic people have different characteristics and skills, for example. Some toxic people are better at manipulating than others, some are better liars than others, some are better at faking the idea that they are kind and caring people while others are just downright grumpy and abusive the vast majority of the time. So as you go through a list of characteristics of a toxic person, the questionable person in your life may not seem to fit every single criteria.
Another complicating factor here is that the victim of a toxic person may not actually recognise that they are being abused. There are many reasons for this that I won't go into here. I have written more about this idea in this article about controlling relationships.
So let's have a look at the traits and characteristics of a toxic person.
They say one thing and they do another. They promise they will change and improve their behaviour... and it never happens. They promise you the sun, moon and stars and they don't deliver. They claim they are kind and considerate but the way they treat you is anything but that. The promise to pay you back what they owe you but somehow they always have a reason not to do it.
They are always right and you are always wrong. These people have an amazing ability to twist and distort events in order to put the blame for anything that goes wrong on other people. It's never their fault, they always have excuses and justifications and they will typically find something that you have said or done to be the reason for the problem.
They can be very unpredictable. One day you can say something and it's okay. You say the same thing the following day and world war three breaks out. They can be very moody and you never know what humor they're going to arrive home in. They can change their mind a lot. They will even change their beliefs when it suits them. And, of course, they are constantly changing the rules for their own benefit. They will often not even tell you when the rules have changed and this keeps you in a hyper-vigilant state trying to avoid upsetting them and getting into trouble.
You may find yourself often confused about what is actually happening in the relationship. There may be wonderful moments and times that are absolutely awful. They do things that don't make sense to you. You believe this person is kind and caring and sometimes they treat you with unbelievable cruelty. They may treat you in ways in which you would never even dream about treating somebody else. They may keep stringing you along where you are not even sure what kind of relationship you are in.
You realise you are constantly justifying yourself. You have to explain what you're doing, who you're with, why you spent that amount of money, why you made such a mistake, why you haven't included the toxic person in your thinking or decision or actions and so on.
A toxic person will make you constantly feel bad about yourself. At the start of an intimate relationship they may have made you feel fantastic, wonderful, unique and special. However, later on in the relationship they are constantly criticizing you. Even if they're talking about something you said or something you did, they make you feel personally responsible and they manage to make you feel that you as a person are defective, useless or worthless.
You spend most of your time thinking about them, what they want and how not to upset them.
They don't apologise. They believe they are superior beings, they are always right and any problems or issues are always somebody else's fault. So why would they need to apologise?
If they do apologise it's designed to manipulate you into calming down and accepting their bad behaviour. It's a lie, of course, because five minutes later they're doing the bad behaviour again.
They are professional liars. Anybody in a relationship with a toxic person is subjected to an avalanche of lies every day. These lies can be so big it is difficult to get your head around the idea that it's a lie. For example, if they tell you they love you or care about you, that they are doing something for your own good, this is a lie. Of course if you believe that somebody loves you and you love them then it makes sense to get together, get married, have children and so on. But that whole reality they create for you is based on the lie that they love you. Coming to terms with this is a major task.
Of course, they lie about the little things as easily as they do about the big things. They will withhold information from you, a lie by omission, as well as distorting information to show themselves in a good light and to paint you as the source of all problems. This, too, is a lie. It's actually the complete opposite. They are the ones causing the problems.
A toxic person will criticise you for having feelings. They will make you feel abnormal by claiming that you are overly sensitive, you can't take a joke, your feelings control you and so on. The fact is that many toxic people are psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists and these people don't have feelings themselves. If you are in a relationship with somebody who has a personality disorder you can expect them to be cold, callous and cruel and they never feel bad about anything they say or do. This is a very important factor and it's worthwhile understanding this more completely.
A toxic person can make you wither by using a particular tone of voice, a facial expression, a gesture or even certain trigger words. They do this on a regular basis and sometimes very frequently. Kind, caring people just don't do this to people that they love.
A toxic person may be a fantastic talker. They have a mouth for all occasions. They are experts in everything. They have opinions on everything, and they are not shy about sharing them. They can talk and talk, and although the listeners may think to themselves that the stories they are hearing are an exaggeration, they often end up just smiling and nodding politely. Toxic people will use this tactic to create a good impression of themselves in the listeners' minds and will flood their listeners with so much information that the listeners don't have time to think rationally about everything they are hearing. And besides, the toxic people prefer to hear themselves talk then to listen to what other people have to say.
The thought of breaking up with them is terrifying. Even if you know they are toxic. You worry about upsetting them. You wonder if you can manage without them. You wonder if you will ever find another relationship. You may recognise that this doesn't make sense but what's going on in your head does not match the feelings going on in your body.
Arguing or negotiating with them is impossible. They go off on tangents, they drag all sorts of irrelevant details into the conversation, they refuse to consider your point of view, they will talk over you and they will refuse to give up their position. You literally may as well be banging your head against a brick wall.
They judge everybody but not in a good way. They may be as nice as pie to somebody in the group but as soon as that person leaves the group they have no difficulty in criticizing that person.
They will also be very critical of you, both to your face and to anybody else who will listen. But that doesn't mean that they want to break up the relationship. They will stay in relationships for years with people even if they're critical every single day. Their motivation is not necessarily to fix things but rather to maintain control and domination. Their relationships are based on coercion and exploitation of those around them.
Other people might tell you that the toxic person does what they do because they are insecure and need to build up their own ego. However, usually your experience is that these people don't usually give any indication that they are weak or inferior in any way. Quite the opposite, in fact. They are superior, always right, domineering, and so on and you are the one who feels inferior, insecure, defective and whatever other adjective along this line that you can think of. You can read more about these ideas here.
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