7 Signs of a Toxic Person & How to Deal with Them

A toxic relationship refers to a detrimental and unhealthy connection characterized by behaviors that undermine one’s well-being, such as emotional manipulation, disrespect, control, and a lack of support.

In these detrimental connections, you may feel unsupported, misunderstood, demeaned, or even attacked. Identifying toxic relationships is crucial for maintaining your emotional well-being and overall happiness.

By recognizing the signs and taking proactive steps, you can liberate yourself from the grip of toxicity and foster healthier, more fulfilling relationships.

Toxic relationship
Toxic relationships threaten your mental, emotional, and sometimes even physical health.

7 Signs of a Toxic Relationship

While signs of abuse are toxic in any relationship, there are some more subtle ways in which a relationship can be toxic.

It may not always be apparent when someone is being toxic, so it is helpful to be aware of the warning signs.

some of the signs of a toxic relationship including feeling unsupported, toxic communication, and controlling behavior
If you notice any of the following seven signs, it is possible you may be in a toxic relationship.
  1. Feeling unsupported

Relationships can become very negative if there is a lack of support from one or both sides. A person in a toxic relationship may feel misunderstood and undermined in their relationship and may not feel encouraged to achieve their goals.

A toxic person may see every achievement of the other person as a competition and may always try to ‘one-up’ them.

You may feel there is no point in progressing towards your goals if it will never be enough for the other person to be proud of you. You may be left feeling as if your successes and interests do not matter as much as theirs do.

  1. Toxic communication

Often, you can recognize that someone is toxic in the way they communicate with you and others. They may be very sarcastic and be very critical of you while covering it up by stating that they were ‘only joking.’

They may always find fault with everything you do and blame you for everything negative that happens, never accepting blame themselves. They may also lie, be passive-aggressive, and gaslight, making you confused and have you questioning your sanity.

You can also observe how they treat others, especially those they don’t know. For instance, they may be unnecessarily rude to a waiter at a restaurant or pick a fight with someone who cuts in line.

  1. Distrust

While it is normal to experience a bit of envy from time to time, especially when you are in a new romantic relationship, constant suspicion and mistrust can become draining for the other person.

A partner may never trust you even when you have given them no reason not to be trusted, which can prevent you from enjoying your relationship.

A partner may monitor your location, keep wanting you to check in with them via text messages when you’re apart and may question you if you are late back from work or a social event.

You may feel as though your behaviors are restricted because you do not want to do anything that your partner feels unhappy about.

You may feel as if your life is being micro-managed by someone who needs to know where you are and what you’re doing every minute of the day.

  1. Disrespect

A toxic person can show disrespect in many ways. This can be through embarrassment, criticism, and putting you down, especially in front of others. They may not value boundaries and may try anything to make others look bad.

A toxic person may stonewall, meaning that they shut down and refuse to communicate with someone, especially when they are being confronted about their behavior.

They may refuse to acknowledge or listen when someone is expressing their feedback or wanting to share their emotions.

Disrespect can also be displayed through lying to the other person, name-calling, and being verbally unkind.

  1. Controlling behavior

A toxic person may have a need to control another person in a relationship. This is where there is an unequal power dynamic, usually with one person dominating another in a self-serving manner.

Some controlling behaviors can include wanting to always track your location and making comments about what you wear or do in a way to control. For instance, they may say, ‘I don’t like when you wear that outfit. Don’t wear it again’.

The toxic person may always want to have things go their way, disregarding any other way.

They may even want you to spend all your free time with them, which could isolate you from friends and family and deprive you of your independence and other activities you may enjoy.

  1. Walking on eggshells

Someone who is in a relationship with a toxic person may try to do anything they can not to provoke the other person, avoiding any kind of conflict wherever possible.

You may never know what type of mood the toxic person will be in that day, and they may get extremely angry at the smallest thing. If you are afraid of the response you are going to get, you may end up behaving in ways or doing things you may not want to do to avoid the other person becoming upset.

Likewise, you may not want to share your true feelings or unhappiness with someone if you think they are going to become angry or put you at fault for something which you brought as feedback for them.

‘Some days, not often, he would be amazing, then others he would just be so mean, so horrible, it was confusing… one minute, I felt like he loved me, the next was like nothing but pure hatred. I felt like I was walking on eggshells all the time.’

‘Georgia,’ 32

  1. Neglected needs

When you go along with whatever the toxic person wants to do, even if it goes against your comfort level or wishes can mean your own needs get neglected.

You may go above and beyond to ensure the other person is happy and safe, but they may not do the same for you.

You may try to bring up your emotional needs to them, but they turn it around so that you end up comforting them instead; thus, there is a lack of emotional reciprocity.

You may not be offered what you need, whether this is some space on your own or more independence.

You may also feel too independent if the other person constantly neglects you, leaving you to deal with your troubles on your own.

Toxic Vs. Healthy Behavior

It is normal to have differing opinions in every kind of relationship. Having disagreements does not necessarily mean that the relationship is toxic.

If a relationship is caring, encouraging, and respectful, then it is probably healthy.

However, if there is a continuous pattern of selfish, negative, and disrespectful behavior, then this may indicate that the relationship is toxic.

Healthy Relationship Toxic Relationship
Mutual respect and equality Lack of respect and power imbalances
Open and honest communication Poor or manipulative communication
Trust and loyalty Distrust and betrayal
Supportive and encouraging Critical and demeaning
Independence and personal boundaries respected Controlling and possessive
Emotional and physical safety Abuse and violence
Compromise and collaboration Manipulation and selfishness
Growth and personal development Stagnation and suppression
Shared values and goals Conflicting values and goals
Healthy conflict resolution Escalation and unresolved conflicts

Toxic behaviors in a relationship are often inherently unhealthy, damaging, emotionally draining and can damage others’ self-esteem and self-worth.

Healthy behaviors in a relationship, on the other hand, should positively contribute to self-esteem and emotional energy.

They are often inherently uplifting and secure and have an equal power dynamic. 

What is the Impact of Toxic Relationships?

Toxic relationships can profoundly impact individuals, causing emotional distress, eroding self-esteem, and hindering personal growth.

They can lead to a range of adverse effects, including increased anxiety, depression, and a diminished sense of self-worth.

‘My worth soon depended on his validation. My mood depended on his mood. It was exhausting. Every day going to battle… I now suffer with PTSD. I have very low self-esteem when it comes to my appearance due to the continuous negative remarks he would make… other people’s opinions of me can get to me.’

‘I get nightmares. Often, I’ll wake up after dreaming about an abusive situation.’

‘Georgia,’ 32

Narcissists and Toxic Relationships

A narcissist can be highly toxic in a relationship due to their pervasive pattern of self-centeredness, lack of empathy, and manipulative behavior.

They possess an inflated sense of self-importance and believe they are entitled to special treatment and admiration from others. This mindset often leads them to exploit and devalue their partner for personal gain and validation.

In a relationship, a narcissist tends to prioritize their own needs and desires above their partner’s, disregarding their feelings and boundaries.

They constantly seek attention, praise, and adoration, often engaging in grandiose displays to maintain their self-image. They may belittle and criticize their partner, eroding their self-esteem and manipulating them into believing they are inadequate or unworthy.

Narcissists are skilled manipulators who employ various tactics such as gaslighting, blame-shifting, and guilt-tripping to control their partner’s emotions and actions.

They excel at creating a dynamic where their partner feels responsible for their happiness and well-being, while the narcissist avoids taking accountability for their own faults or mistakes.

Over time, being in a relationship with a narcissist can be emotionally draining, causing anxiety, depression, and a sense of powerlessness in their partner.

The toxic cycle of emotional abuse and manipulation perpetuated by a narcissist can lead to a deteriorated sense of self-worth and a loss of personal identity.

This is not to say that all people who engage in toxic behavior are narcissists, but toxic behavior is extremely common in most narcissists. 

Who is More Vulnerable to Toxic Behavior?

Although anyone can fall victim to toxic behavior, certain types of people are more susceptible to toxic people.

Those who are high in empathy may be a target for a toxic person as their caring nature means they are likely to do as much as they can to ensure other people are happy.

Empaths are probably more likely to want to change someone’s toxic behavior as they can see the good traits in that person.

Likewise, people pleasers may be more vulnerable to toxic people. They may worry that they have no value unless they do something for someone else, which toxic people can take advantage of.

Also, if someone has grown up in a toxic household such as having a gaslighting parent, or they had a chaotic upbringing, they may be more likely to continue having toxic relationships when they are adults.

They may be so used to being around toxic behavior that they see this as normal. They may be suspicious of anyone who is not toxic and be looking out for what the catch is.

Sometimes, people recreate patterns. They may be drawn to someone who confirms what they think about themselves.

For example, if someone believes they don’t deserve to be heard, they may find it acceptable to be with someone who disrespects them or does not listen to them.

In this way, they are unintentionally triggering the emotions and responses they were used to having as a child or in a past relationship.

Toxicity Vs. Abuse

It is important to make the distinction between toxicity and abuse. Toxicity can include emotional and verbal abuse, but toxicity is not always abusive in nature and may not even be intentional.

The abuse stems from the desire to hold power over someone else and control their behavior.

Some signs that someone may be a victim of abuse include:

  • Diminished self-worth

  • Feeling very anxious and having self-doubt

  • Being isolated from family and friends

  • Feeling fearful and intimidated

  • Feeling put down and humiliated

  • Being gaslit – questioning sanity

  • Experiencing physical violence or threats of violence

If you relate to any of the signs of abuse, it is advisable to seek help as soon and as safely as possible through a trusted friend or family member, a therapist, or a domestic abuse advocate.

Can I be Toxic Without Realizing?

As previously mentioned, people can be toxic unintentionally. In relationships, people often need to take a step back to reflect on their behavior and whether what they are doing is toxic.

Below are some of the signs which may indicate that you are acting toxic:

  • You are always sarcastic – you may often mask your emotions behind humor instead of talking them through with someone.

  • You deal with conflict in a passive manner – you may present with sullen behavior, stubbornness to change, give subtle insults, or use passive aggression.

  • Everything is a competition – if someone shares an issue they have, you may tell them how you have it much worse than they do. This is different from relating to someone going through a tough situation. Likewise, if someone shares an accomplishment, you may not be able to help yourself from boasting about your own accomplishments.

  • You may secretly crave disaster because of the care and attention you receive – you may seek pity and comfort from others or want someone to give you advice, although you have no intention of following through with it.

  • You think that pointing out someone’s flaws will help them to change, but it will instead make them feel hurt.

How To Cope With A Toxic Relationship

If you notice that a relationship is toxic and want to work through the issues, then there are some steps you can take to address this.

Also, not every toxic relationship can be avoided, especially if you work with toxic people or have toxic family members that you live with.

Having healthy conversations, boundaries, and awareness may be able to help in some situations.


The first step to managing a toxic relationship is to acknowledge that there is a problem to be addressed. Usually, you can sense when something doesn’t feel right and that things need to change.

You may feel that the atmosphere is very negative and that your interactions with the person leave you feeling uncomfortable or decrease your self-esteem.

Identify the toxic behavior

It will be useful to determine what it is about the relationship that feels toxic. This could be how someone communicates to you, their jealousy, their controlling tendencies, or how they make you feel unsupported.

It may be one or many toxic behaviors that need to be tackled, but putting a name to the behavior can help to address it.

Take accountability

It may be that all the toxicity is coming from someone else. However, it is important to reflect inwards and see if there is anything that you are doing that is toxic toward the other person. It could be that both parties are equally as toxic towards each other.

Recognizing your own behavior and taking accountability is a necessary step to take to address the issues in the relationship.

This may also encourage the other person to reflect on their own behavior and feel less targeted for their toxicity if you also accept that you are part of the problem.

Communicate the issue

Once you have identified what you want to address with the toxic person, clearly and assertively communicate to them what the issue is.

The use of ‘I’ statements when describing your feelings and emotions should help keep the other person from feeling defensive.

Once you have addressed the issue and how it makes you feel, clearly explain to the person what it is you need from them instead and what the consequences of not meeting this need are.

An example of how to communicate this can be, ‘I felt bad about myself when you called me stupid. It made me feel worthless. Instead of doing this, I will need you to take a moment to calm down and think before you say things like this.

This is something I am not going to tolerate, and if this happens again, I worry that I will not be able to spend so much time with you.’

Notice any changes

After you have clearly communicated your needs, notice if their behavior changes. If they have made a clear effort to change and the toxic behavior is no longer present, then this was successful.

If they have not changed their behavior, then you need to decide whether this is something you can live with or whether you need to end the relationship or set boundaries.

Remember that you can only control your own behavior, so there is only so much you can do to make a positive change.

Set boundaries

If you can leave the toxic relationship safely, then this may be a consideration if you feel the toxic person is not going to change.

Suppose you cannot leave the toxic relationship because they may be your co-worker or a family member. In that case, you can put boundaries in place to ensure you are limiting the amount of toxic behavior you are exposed to.

If you have a toxic co-worker, for instance, you could ask your boss to work in a different location away from this person or ask for your breaks to be scheduled at different times.

If the toxic person is a family member or a friend, you could limit the number of times you visit them or cut back on how much you text or phone them.

Leaving a Toxic Relationship

a woman stood in the doorway looking at her partner. She's holding a bag about to leave the relationship
If a relationship is toxic, unhealthy, and not bringing you any positivity into your life, it may be time to leave.

If you decide that the relationship cannot be saved from someone’s toxic behavior, there are some ways in which you can safely leave:

Seek emotional support

Try to open up to your loved ones about what you are going through. They may be able to give you suitable advice for how to cope with the toxic behavior, leave the situation, and can give insight from an outside perspective.

They may also be able to offer you a place to stay if you plan to move out of a home that is shared with a toxic person.

Get additional support

It may be helpful to get support from a therapist or domestic violence advocate who can help you make a safety plan and any additional resources you may need to leave the toxic relationship.

Bring a trusted person

As well as being able to give emotional support, a trusted friend or family member could come with you to end the relationship with the toxic person.

This is especially useful if you do not feel completely safe having this conversation with the toxic person. If a trusted person is present, you may also be less likely to be swayed by the toxic person to stay in the relationship.

Stick to your boundaries

If you have decided that you are going to cut contact with the toxic person, then it is important to stick with your decision.

If you continue to let them back into your life after giving them multiple chances, they may think that they have gotten away with their behavior and that there are no consequences.

Be assertive with the toxic person and clearly set out what you plan to do.

Change your phone number

If you think you may be tempted to get back into contact with the toxic person or think they will bombard you with calls and text messages, it may be wise to change your number or at least block them.

Seek therapeutic support afterward

It can feel very distressing to leave a toxic relationship. You may have lowered self-worth and confidence from being in a negative situation for a long time.

You can seek therapy to help build yourself back, increase your self-esteem, and make it less likely that the effects of the toxic relationship will follow you into new relationships.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to fix a toxic relationship?

In some cases, with mutual effort, willingness to change, and professional help, it may be possible to improve a toxic relationship.

However, it heavily depends on the specific circumstances and the commitment of both individuals involved. It requires open communication, boundary setting, and addressing underlying issues.

It’s important to recognize that not all toxic relationships can be fixed, and the focus should always be on personal well-being and safety.

Seeking guidance from a therapist or counselor can be beneficial in navigating the complexities of a toxic relationship and determining the best course of action.

Can relationships with family or friends be toxic?

Yes, relationships with family or friends can indeed be toxic and are not exclusive to romantic relationships.

Recognizing if you are in a toxic relationship with friends or family involves paying attention to patterns of consistent disrespect, manipulation, emotional abuse, excessive control, constant criticism, lack of support, and feeling drained or diminished after interacting with them.

What are warning signs to look out for when starting a new relationship?

When starting a new relationship, be cautious of warning signs such as excessive jealousy or possessiveness, a lack of respect for boundaries, controlling behavior, dismissive or disrespectful treatment of others, inconsistent communication or unreliability, and a refusal to take responsibility for their actions.

Pay attention to how they handle conflicts, their level of empathy and understanding, and whether they respect your autonomy and individuality. Trust your instincts and don’t ignore any red flags that may indicate potential toxicity or compatibility issues in the future.

Can a person become toxic later in the relationship?

Yes, a person can become toxic later in a relationship.

Love bombing, an excessive display of affection and attention at the beginning, can be a warning sign. It often serves as a manipulative tactic used by toxic individuals to gain control.

Once the initial phase subsides, their true toxic traits may emerge, such as emotional manipulation, control, and abuse.

It’s essential to remain vigilant and assess the consistency of their behavior over time. If there is a sudden shift towards toxicity after the love bombing phase, it is crucial to recognize the red flags and prioritize your well-being.

If you need to talk to someone…


If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for confidential assistance from trained advocates.


or text “Start” to 88788.


If you want to access support over the phone, you can call:

National Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0808 2000 247 – www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/ (run by Refuge)

The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327 (run by Respect )

The Mix, free information and support for under 25s in the UK – 0808 808 4994

National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428 (run by Galop)

Women’s Aid is a national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children. We are a federation of over 180 organisations providing just under 300 lifesaving services to women and children across England – 1-800-799-7233


Birditt, K. S., Newton, N. J., Cranford, J. A., & Ryan, L. H. (2016). Stress and negative relationship quality among older couples: Implications for blood pressure. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 71 (5), 775-785.

Cacioppo, J. T., & Cacioppo, S. (2014). Social relationships and health: The toxic effects of perceived social isolation.  Social and personality psychology compass,  8(2), 58-72.

Farrell, A. K., Simpson, J. A., Carlson, E. A., Englund, M. M., & Sung, S. (2017). The impact of stress at different life stages on physical health and the buffering effects of maternal sensitivity.  Health Psychology, 36 (1), 35.

Umberson, D., & Karas Montez, J. (2010). Social relationships and health: A flashpoint for health policy Journal of health and social behavior, 51 (1_suppl), S54-S66.

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Saul Mcleod, PhD

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Educator, Researcher

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

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