Archana Law discusses how toxic people exploit others

We have all surely had toxic people contaminate us with their poison at times – meaning that we must know at least one person who questions our ‘overreacting,’ ‘hypersensitivity’ and ‘tendency to misinterpret’ though it may well be you who is continually hurt or changing your behaviour.

Being able to spot harmful behaviour is the first step to minimising its impact. You might not be able to change what they do but you can change what you do.

To be able to identify toxic behaviour, it is helpful to know what toxic people do to manipulate others and situations to their advantage. This knowledge will help you to avoid being influenced by them.

These people keep you guessing about the version of them you’re likely to be confronted with! They’re fine one day and upset the next, and you are left wondering what you’ve done wrong. Some subtle signs include acting prickly, sad, cold or cranky and saying nothing in response to your inquiries.

Be warned: if you find yourself making excuses for their behaviour, it will continue to work for them. Their experience proves that decent people go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the people they care about are happy. If your attempts to please them aren’t working or lasting long, maybe it’s time to stop, detach and return when their mood shifts.

Do apologise for any wrongdoing but don’t overdo the guilt or assume responsibility for their feelings.

These folks manipulate you as though you’re the only person contributing to the problem! Toxic people have a way of sending out a vibe that you owe them something; they take from you or hurt you but insist they’re doing it for your sake. This is particularly common in workplaces or relationships where power isn’t balanced. You don’t owe anybody anything. If it doesn’t feel like a favour, then it’s not one.

Toxic people don’t own their feelings and actions; they will project them on you instead – as in the case of a person who is angry but accuses or blames you for triggering an emotion that they can’t handle. Questions like ‘Are you okay with me?’ often progress to be more pointed – e.g. ‘Why are you angry with me?’ Or they escalate into ‘You’ve been in a bad mood all day.’

And there’s no point justifying or defending anything because you may not be the cause of any of this!

What’s more, toxic people will coerce you to prove yourself to them and corner you in awkward situations where you’ll feel obliged to choose them. They’ll wait until you have a commitment and then unfold the ‘if you really cared…’ drama on you.

The problem with this is that enough will never be enough.

They never apologise and may twist the story instead; they change the narration and often believe their own nonsense; and though they’re self-obsessed, they will lean on you in a crisis but grudgingly share your joy.

There always are reasons as to why your good news isn’t great. For instance, a promotion may receive a response like ‘The money isn’t that great for the amount of work you’ll be doing.’ Don’t let them dampen you or curb your enthusiasm – you don’t need their approval or anyone else’s for that matter.

Toxic people fight foul by typically bringing irrelevant details into a conversation when you are trying to resolve an important issue. The problem with ‘five arguments ago data’ is that before you know it, you’re justifying something you did or arguing about what you didn’t do rather than dealing with the issue at hand.

You’ll sometimes find yourself defending your tone, gestures, choice of words or the way you acted even if it doesn’t need to make sense. Stay calm and focussed, and dodge being derailed.

These people tend to exaggerate and distort issues. It’s hard to defend yourself against ‘you always’ or ‘you never’ accusations, which have a way of drawing on the one time you didn’t or did as evidence of your shortcomings. Everyone gets it wrong sometimes but don’t buy into an argument you can’t win – in fact, you don’t need to.

Relationships are complex and not easy to manage – this is especially so in the case of familial or close relationships. But if you feel bad about yourself as a result, it’s time to assess the issue… or yourself! Toxic encounters are emotionally draining, frustrating and unfulfilling.

Success coach and writer Kathy Caprino notes that we ourselves may express toxic behaviour that pushes people away. It’s wise to introspect therefore, so that you can increase your chances of being happy and having satisfying relationships.

Stop taking things personally and don’t obsess over negative thoughts or treat yourself like a victim. If you find yourself tearing someone else down or screaming at people when there’s a problem, there’s more to the problem than meets the eye – and that calls for an external intervention.