This post is all about buttons, hidden triggers. Toxic people especially are very good at finding those in others. They find them in order to use them, to manipulate you. Recognizing the buttons doesn’t stop the triggering from happening. Yet, it does help you pull out of a bad situation in time.
1. Toxic people strategy one: to make you feel like you are always better off than they are
This is a sneaky tactic. They’ll use flattery to build you up. Then, when you feel extra good about yourself, they’ll come out with their sob story, demonstrating how “much worse off they are than you” and how “you should therefore give them something”.
The remedy: Know how to recognize and accept a true compliment, yet don’t let it sway your view of the other person. In others words: don’t dismiss the intuitive warning signals just because someone plays nice. Not easy, I know. No worries, as HSP’s we get plenty of practice with this one!
2. Toxic people strategy two: attacking your self-image
When you recognize who you’re dealing with and start pulling away, a toxic person will often stall you with an attack. “Who do you think you are? Don’t think that YOU’re so perfect!” etc.
The remedy: At those times it’s imperative to recognize that indeed you are not perfect. So what! Don’t go along with this projection game where you are expected to be something you’re not or denied any rights unless you are ‘flawless’ in the others’ eyes. You’re human. You’re a bit of everything at times.
3. Toxic people strategy three: “you’re not good enough!”
Ever experience this: when you try to help, you get most of what you do thrown right back in your face?
There is a great danger of entanglement here. Once you start to believe that things are not working because your support is inadequate, then you’ll start investing more into the relationship instead of less.
The remedy: If you’re working harder on a solution than the other person is, then you need to do less, not more, no matter whether things are working out or not.
4. Toxic people strategy four: rationalizing the crap
Toxic people often have a staggering ability to pair vicious and exaggerated emotion with rational and logical claims. The fact that they make things sound so logical only makes it harder to figure out why we feel attacked.
Note, it’s a stab underwater. Notice what the other is saying AND notice what you are picking up emotionally. Don’t dismiss the emotional clues simply because they don’t match the rational message. The art of argumentation is that you can construct a rational argument for or against literally anything. In other words, rationally, a skilled person can take any piece of info and make it look like whatever they want it to look like. BUT, this only works if you play dumb emotionally and let yourself be swayed by the words used.
The remedy: Notice how the interaction makes you feel. Look at what the other is trying to do, how they’re playing you. Ask yourself what their real motive is. Don’t give them the benefit of the doubt. There will always be something in their story that “makes sense”. Hence you’ll never be able to say for sure what they’re getting at. That’s their game. All YOU need to do is assess whether engaging with them is good for you or not.
5. “But this person truly needs me!”
If we have a need to be needed, then toxic people will hook us on that. They will present themselves as permanently needy.
The remedy: Be perceptive and decisive about who you want to be needed by. Over time, look into the need for being needed itself. What is underneath?
6. You want to know what exactly they’re playing at
Beware of curiosity. Toxic people are often very interesting. For us intuitive types, they’re an enigma. Why do they do what they do? If you want to find out more, fine. Just make sure you keep your labcoat on and treat things like a scientific experiment (honestly, can you do that?). Just know that the teeny tiny moment when you let yourself get drawn in emotionally, you’ll get hooked in anyway.
The remedy: As HSPs we’re not very good at engaging with people in a “distanced” way. If you recognize this then also know that “hanging out with someone just to understand what they’re up to” is not such a realistic idea. Better to read some psychology blogs instead. In other words:
Accept your emotional vulnerability, and protect it by not engaging with the wrong people.Click to tweet
7. They find a way to convince you that “it’s not about them”
They’re banking on your sense of communal responsibility. You don’t want your community / family/ friends / workplace to suffer. Hence, even if you’ve (finally!) decided that you don’t want to engage with / support the toxic person, you still have trouble saying no, because you believe it will be a huge letdown for others.
The remedy: Realize that if you keep ‘chipping in to save the planet’, people will start to dump their toxic waste right in your backyard pond: because they know you’ll clean it up, every single time. You’d NEVER pick it up and dump it right back in their own lap. Right? So, it’s time to suck it up, or start a new habit and embrace the new you: the one who can no longer be counted on for “taking one for the team” when Mr/Mrs Toxic is involved. Keep breathing.
The Bigger Picture
From a cup-half-full approach, toxic people confront us with our own wounds and places of unawareness. In doing so, we have an opportunity: to heal those wounds and open our eyes and stand up for ourself.
From a cup half-empty approach toxic people drain us in every possible way.
Relationship rule of thumb: ask yourself whether you’d be able to pleasantly spend time with someone even if you were bone tired. Would it feel safe? Would you feel heard? Would you be respected? With toxic people, you might find yourself feeling sorry for them when you’re feeling energetic. Yet, when you’re tired, you’ll just feel miserable and too tired to cut loose. Think about this before you openly sympathise and engage.
What if pleasantly spending time with someone (anyone at all) when you’re bone tired is too much of a stretch? Then imagine being bone tired and telling the other person that you need some time to yourself. Would they let you? Would they be o.k. with it? We’re not looking for a black-and-white point at which you need to cut people loose. Yet, it helps to have an awareness of how people respond to you when you feel extra vulnerable. People close to you need to be people that you can trust, no matter how you’re feeling or what you do or don’t have to give.