50 warning signs of toxic people

While every toxic person is different, there are common traits and characteristics that frequently pop up.  Here is a list of 50 warnings signs to help you spot and avoid toxic people in your life.

  1. Toxic criticism.  Rarely does the toxic individual give constructive criticism.  They pick apart your flaws or even fabricate imaginary flaws to go after.  Their criticism is meant to hurt you, devalue you, or to make you feel ashamed about yourself.  They make you insecure so that you double down on your efforts to please them.
  2. They violate your boundaries for the sake of violating your boundaries.  They pay close attention to where your boundaries are so that they can trespass.  Once you start giving in, they will turn it up a notch and roll back your boundaries even more until they are satisfied with how uncomfortable they make you.
  3. Gifts with strings attached.  They give you nice things so that they can make you feel guilty or obligated later on.
  4. Un-gifts.  They give you very specific gifts to remind you of something painful or to remind you of an inadequacy.
  5. Un-advice.  Their advice, often unsolicited and unwanted, is meant to hurt you.  Their advice may be a pretext to dig up your past traumas or your current insecurities.  It may be meant to further their control over you and/or to sabotage your attempts to leave.
  6. They bully you into giving them ammo.  They demand to know where you are at all times, what you’ve been up to, and to know all of your personal details so that they can re-supply themselves with information to use against you.
  7. They spy on you.  They read your diary, install tracking software on your devices, read your email because you store your password on your computer, and/or search your belongings so that they will get insights that they can use against you.
  8. Gaslighting.  They use psychological manipulation to make you doubt your own reality and to accept the abuser’s twisted fantasy reality.  They deny events that have actually occurred to make you doubt yourself.
  9. Blame shifting.  After they hurt you, they try to blame you for it.  It is somehow your fault that they chose to hurt you.  They do not take responsibility for their actions.  They will try to move mountains before they admit that something is their fault.  They will blame you for their flaws and their failures, even when they are clearly at fault.
  10. Allergic to sincere apologies.  Apologizing would mean that a toxic person might have to think about their deep flaws as a person.  Abusers simply don’t do sincere apologies.  However, they will happily “apologize” to you when they are trying to lure you into a relationship with them or back into the relationship.
  11. They don’t communicate their toxic needs to you.  Abusers need to deal with their emotional turmoil by devaluing you, controlling you, or hurting you so they don’t feel powerless.  However, their shame and/or denial runs so deep that they cannot admit to having a very serious problem.  They will not tell you what they are actually after.  They will not give you a straight answer as to why they are damaged people who need to hurt others.
  12. Toxic people are too ashamed to talk about their true self.  Toxic people cannot have other people see their true self without a deep feeling of shame and worthlessness.  It would cut them deep in ways that a public humiliation or embarrassment would not.  They are extremely afraid of being honest with others about who they really are and why they do what they do.
  13. They are surrounded by other toxic people and codependents. Their toxicity naturally repels well-balanced individuals until the toxic person is only surrounded by narcissists, sociopaths, enablers, and people-pleasing codependents.  Toxic people tend to be raised by toxic parents.  They may have rifts in their extended family where the toxic individuals will band together on one side with the relatively normal people on the other side.
  14. Toxic people have few or no true friends.  Abusive behavior naturally repels healthy, well-balanced individuals.  Toxic people naturally destroy all of their friendships when their friends no longer put up with their nonsense.  If they do have friends, it is with the types of people who can stand having a close relationship with a toxic person: other toxic individuals, enablers, and codependents (doormats who have learned to fawn over others to please them).  The covert narcissists and covert sociopaths are an exception as they have somewhat better control over their issues.  They know that they should hide the monster inside them in most situations, allowing them to have more friends than overt narcissists do.
  15. Control.  If the current relationship benefits them, the toxic individual will try to cement their control over you.  An abusive parent will often try to control their children financially.  They may make their children dependent by sabotaging their education, preventing them from getting a job, disrupting the development of social skills and life skills, etc.  They may threaten their child by withholding shelter or food (not knowing that child abandonment is illegal).  Abusers in relationships will isolate their partner socially from friends and family.  They may try to make their partner financially dependent by getting them to stop working.
  16. Guilt tripping.  Abusers often discover that the victim’s moral compass and sense of guilt can be exploited as a means of control.  They will gaslight the victim into feeling guilt over the victim’s supposed effect on the abuser’s well-being.  Some abusers even talk about killing themselves to trick their victim into staying and pandering to the abuser’s whims.
  17. Sabotage.  Abusers may try to sabotage your success so that you will become dependent on them and fall under their control.  Or, they sabotage because they do not want you to develop self-esteem and a sense of self worth.
  18. They manage your life.  An abuser may to control every little detail of your life to mold you into the object they want you to be, to validate their control over you, or to simply destroy your sense of self-worth.  They will impose their opinion as to who your friends are, whether or not you should have a social life, your choice of university and degree, and whether or not you see a therapist.  If they want you to go to therapy, it’s so that they can blame problems on your mental health and use you as a scapegoat.  They may want you to see their therapist because that therapist has fallen for the abuser’s manipulations.  If they don’t want you to go to therapy, it’s because they don’t want to lose control over you.
  19. They use you.  They use you to feed their twisted emotional needs.  Narcissists treat you as an object to raise their social status either as a scapegoat (that makes them look good) or a trophy child.  They turn you into their slave so that you cook meals, do the chores, clean, do the work needed to raise their children, etc.  They take your money to use for themselves and then lie about it.  Toxic people with little human connection in their lives (and/or unfulfilled emotional needs) may use you as a surrogate friend, therapist, or spouse.
  20. They put you on a rollercoaster of emotions.  Toxic people know that they cannot attract people into their life by being their true self.  They have to sucker others into their web by ‘love bombing’ their target with charm and adoration.  Or, they may temporarily act like a decent human being.  Once they’ve caught their prey, they let their mask skip and let their toxic behaviors loose.  The rollercoaster of good moments mixed with intermittent abuse can be difficult for its victims to deal with because it makes them feel like they’ve done something wrong to ‘deserve’ the abuse.
  21. They build you up so that they can tear you down.  They may initially praise you and encourage you to start valuing yourself.  Then, they start cutting you down to make you unsure of yourself and to make you desperate for their approval and validation.  They do this to make you easier to manipulate and control.
  22. They don’t support you when you need it.  They don’t act with empathy when you vent about things going on in your life.  If they don’t immediately invalidate you then and there, they put your setback into their mental filing cabinet so that they can use it against you later.  They may downplay your adversities to devalue you and make you lose your sense of self-worth.
  23. They make no attempt at having a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship.  They manipulate you into giving them favors but they do nothing to return them or to reciprocate your goodwill.  They have no need to communicate with you to understand your wants and needs.  When you try to communicate your needs, it is an opportunity for them to invalidate you and to remember what you said so that they can mock you later.  They have no use for honesty when they are already openly acting against your best interests. They may be dismissive of your attempts to talk about the relationship and how to fix it.
  24. They suck you back into their life when you try to leave.  They pretend to change after you leave and display fake remorse, only to quickly go back to their old ways after you return.
  25. They recruit others to do their bidding.  They groom allies and use them against you to devalue you socially or to make your life miserable.  They spread misinformation about you so that well-intentioned bystanders will treat you differently and unintentionally act against your best interests.  If there are children involved, they will lie to the children to get them to hate you or to abuse you emotionally (parental alienation).
  26. They constantly raise their standards so that you can never live up to them.  They will never let you be good enough because they aren’t done using you.

Traits specific to narcissists

  1. They inappropriately rage when they feel devalued or humiliated.  While narcissists have no problem devaluing and humiliating others, they are extremely sensitive to being devalued themselves.  They have a meltdown when they face well-intentioned constructive criticism, when they are being attacked, when they are reminded of past humiliations, or when they are made to feel less than somebody else.  They may try to use their rage to silence their critic in a maladaptive attempt at regaining their false sense of superiority.
  2. Maladaptive responses to criticism.  Narcissists do not have normal, sane strategies for handling criticism.  If they should ignore criticism (e.g. from a nobody or somebody with no credibility), instead their response to the criticism may be extreme.  They may ignore problems and hope that their problems will magically go away, only to later rediscover that ignoring problems make them worse.  They may go overboard in attacking the messenger to try to discredit criticism.  They cannot handle even constructive criticism or feedback.
  3. Narcissists surround themselves with people with lower social standing than them.  Narcissists want to stand above others.  They will surround themselves with midgets so that they will seem like a giant.
  4. They intentionally ignore important milestones in your life.  If you are graduating, they don’t go to your graduation ceremony because they don’t want you to get attention or they want to make you feel worthless.
  5. They are stingy when it comes to praising you.  They do not want you to have social status so they will downplay and ignore your achievements.
  6. Center of attention.  Some abusers will constantly try to steal the spotlight from others, disrupting happy celebrations such as weddings when they find ways to make it about them.  If you are ill, they will downplay your misfortune because they don’t want you to get attention from others.
  7. Playing the victim card.  Some narcissists will fabricate or exaggerate their illnesses or other misfortunes (e.g. racism) so that they receive pity from others.  They revel in being the victim because they like having a free pass from being criticized.  Abusive parents may want a special needs child so that they can appear to be a selfless martyr.  They will shop around for psychiatrists until they find one who is easy to manipulate, willing to slap a serious diagnosis on the child, and eager to push mind-altering drugs onto the child that disrupt their ability to appear normal.  Their use some or all of their children as objects to garner sympathy.
  8. They act superior to others.  They constantly talk down to others and act as if they are above everybody else.  At restaurants, they may belittle the wait staff over little mistakes.  They constantly ‘fake it until they make it’, acting as if they deserve to receive adoration, adulation, and admiration from others.  They constantly provide unsolicited advice to their friends to demonstrate their supposed superiority over them.
  9. Grandiose fantasies.  They have grand plans that are often unrealistic.  They act as if they are god’s gift to the world and have no flaws.  Their failures are always due to some external factor that is outside of their control or someone else’s fault.  Their lack of achievement is explained by them not bothering to try (e.g. because it is ‘beneath’ them).
  10. They get scammed easily.  A narcissist’s grandiose fantasies often get them into trouble as they change their behaviors to match whatever they’re boasting about.  They take insane risks and easily buy into false promises from those trying to manipulate them.  Often, they simply scam themselves and make poor decisions with their money or their business.  In the business world, they often repeat the same mistakes over and over because they don’t want to admit to mistakes.
  11. Bizarre sense of reality.  There will always be a disconnect between reality, a narcissist’s true self, and a narcissist’s self-image.  To bridge the chasms between the three, narcissists often have illogical explanations for the inconsistencies.  When they are to blame, they instead blame others.  When they have flaws, they instead attribute those flaws to others.  When they criticize, they have no sense of irony when they themselves are guilty of that particular criticism.
  12. They don’t care about inconsistencies in their stated beliefs.  They may happily reverse their position on a topic if it suits their needs better.  Their fabricated criticisms may not make any sense at all.  Their demands to you may be backed by bizarre reasoning.  As long as they can use fear, guilt or obligation to control you, they have little interest in making sense or being logical.
  13. They are deeply insecure about the very things they boast about.  Whenever somebody is extremely arrogant and constantly talks up their achievements or talents, they are almost certainly deeply insecure about those same things.  They will rage when those deep insecurities are attacked.  When they aren’t being attacked, they will obnoxiously remind others of their greatness at every moment possible.
  14. Domineering in conversations.  Narcissists will hijack and dominate conversations to talk about themselves and their interests.  This is their way of aggressively fishing for validation from others.  If they do not get it, they will dominate a conversation even harder as a last ditch effort.  Narcissists are so addicted to validation that they will risk embarrassing themselves and will go to great lengths to get validation.
  15. They only have negative things to say about their former friends and lovers.  Usually a narcissist’s toxicity is to blame for their closest friends and romantic partners leaving.  However, they will conveniently leave out the actual reasons because it will make them look bad.  Instead, to protect their image, they must always blame the failure of the relationship on the other party.
  16. They often cheat on their partner.  Narcissists (both men and women) cheat so that they can feel superior for having action on the side and getting away with it.  However, they cannot handle the humiliation of being cheated on themselves.
  17. Projection.  A narcissist may project their issues and insecurities onto others. They aren’t going to admit that they are in the wrong.  Instead, they need to concoct bizarre fantasies where others are in the wrong.  If they are cheating, they will accuse their partner of infidelity and take steps to prevent them from cheating.  If the narcissist is abusive (and has been criticized for doing so), they will accuse others of being abusive.
  18. They do not own their problems.  They do not take full responsibility (or any responsibility) for their mistakes and sins.  They are never transparent about having caused harm to others.  Instead, they expect others to clean up their mess without saying anything about it.

Traits specific to individuals with a fear of being powerless

These people have had traumatic experiences which cause them to associate powerlessness with bad things happening to them.  They have a compulsive need to hurt others so that they can feel safe and in control.

  1. They are completely obsessed with control.  Unlike other types of abusers, these individuals are engrossed with having control.  They will go to greater lengths to make you emotionally dependent by bullying you into minimizing contact with friends and family.  They will go to greater lengths to make you financially dependent by taking steps to sabotage your education, your career, and your sense of self-worth.  Whereas narcissists may discard their victims when the narcissist gives up on them as a source of supply, sociopathically-inclined individuals cannot handle people leaving their grasp because it means that they failed to exert power over their victim.
  2. They intentionally push your buttons.  They scan you for your buttons to understand what triggers your misery.  They find creative ways to push your buttons and to torment you.  If they know that you do not like a particular food, they will find ways to strongarm you into eating it or to make you feel obligated to eat that food.  If they cannot get a reaction out of you, they will keep trying new things until they do.
  3. They spend a surprising amount of time and effort to make you miserable.  They will devote a lot of their resources into making you suffer, even though they logically do not have much to gain from it.  While they can ask friends for favors that benefit them in some way, instead they call in favors so that their friends will indirectly abuse you by making your life miserable.
  4. They groom your silence.  They know what they’re doing is clearly wrong.  To prevent you from telling others, they may use any number of tactics to silence you.  They may threaten you, gaslight you into thinking that others won’t believe you, tell you that what happens between you and them should remain a secret, try to make you feel like you ‘wanted’ the abuse or that you were an active participant in it, etc. etc.
  5. They take steps to avoid getting caught.  They take steps to prevent the outside world from understanding what’s going on.  If there is evidence of abuse (e.g. physical marks, psychological problems), they will think of plausible explanations and a plausible story to explain away that evidence.  When others are around, they restrict themselves to subtle and insidious forms of abuse.  If Child Protective Services or the police get involved, they will stop any physical and sexual abuse because it leaves objective evidence behind.  They replace their playbook with emotional abuse and really ramp it up.  They hide what they’re doing so that they can stay in control of their world.
  6. They push the bounds of morality until they break you.  If you show an extreme amount of pain and suffering with only a small amount of abuse, this type of abuser will stop there when they are satisfied that they have made you suffer ‘enough’.  If their tactics fail to work, they will turn to more extreme (and illegal) forms of abuse until you crack.

2 thoughts on “50 warning signs of toxic people”

  1. Mine was covert and not all of these things pertain to him but many do. His ex wife probably could recognize even more traits since she was married to him for 18 years…Ugh.


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