If someone uses these 7 phrases in a conversation, they have a toxic personality

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I am a bit loath to admit that when I was in my teens, I loved watching soap operas after school. Like a lot of young people my age, my favorite was—you guessed it—The Young and the Restless. 

I would drop my backpack, grab a snack from the refrigerator, and plop myself on the coach to be entertained by my favorite dysfunctional characters (nice to see you, Nikki Newman—#ifyyk). 

There was always some major drama going on that sucked me in. Every episode would guarantee either a slap, a drink in the face, someone being shoved down the stairs, someone stealing someone else’s baby, or something to that effect.

Of course, there was also the regular onslaught of insults that were hurled every hour. 

Just another toxic Tuesday afternoon on cable television. 

The thing is, whether we realize it or not, we’ve  all come across toxic people in our lives. They might even be actively involved in our lives. 

It could be a critical parent, an overbearing boss, a clingy and insecure significant other, for example. 

A person who has toxic traits might behave in a way that’s hurtful and damaging to those around them, says Matthew Boland, PhD

“Their actions, words, and energy might affect others negatively—whether they realize it or not.”

Boland says that the closer your relationship with this person, the harder it can be to identify just how unhealthy their behavior and actions really are. 

If someone you know uses any of these seven phrases in a conversation, chances are pretty high that they have a toxic personality. 

1) “You’re being crazy”

I’m happy to say that my viewing habits evolved as I got older. So much so that I caught my dad’s enthusiasm for old Hollywood movies. One of my favorite “pictures” has to be the 1944 film Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. 

The movie is actually where the term “gaslight” comes from and we hear it all the time in our current lexicon. 

In the movie, Paula (played by Bergman) is sent to study in Italy after her famous opera-singing aunt dies, so that she can follow in her footsteps and become an acclaimed opera singer herself. 

In Italy, she falls in love with a charming man named Anton (played by Boyer). The pair get married and begin their new life together in London. 

Suddenly, Paula begins to notice strange things happening: pictures in the home go missing, strange footsteps being heard in the night, and gaslights that dim without being touched. 

Anton tells her she is going crazy and Paula fights to save her insanity. But then, it is discovered that Anton has been scheming to put Paula in a mental institution so that he can take over her wealth. 

“Gaslighters will try to manipulate you into questioning your sanity,” says Dr. Cortney Warren. “Making comments that undermine your perspective or rationality is a common tactic.”

Dr. Warren says that some ways to respond to this toxic line is firmly responding this way:

“Please don’t question my ability to think clearly.”

Or: “Even if we don’t agree, this is what the reality [of the situation] looks like to me.”

2) “You’re the one who’s making me act this way!”

No doubt a narcissist will often use manipulative and controlling tactics in their interactions with others—especially during arguments, says Don Gasparini, PhD., from Charlie Health.

A common toxic phrase they’ll use in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship is “You made me do it” or “You’re the one who’s making me act this way!”

This is called blame-shifting, says Gasparini. 

Saying something like, “This is all your fault. If you hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have reacted this way,” is the narcissist shifting blame onto the victim, and making them feel responsible for the narcissist’s negative behavior. 

Research shows that narcissistic people tend to carry an innate sense of victimhood, says Hilary I. Lebow from PsychCentral

“[This] is why they might shift the blame over to you, someone else, or another external factor.”

3) “You’re pathetic”

Belittling or criticizing is probably a toxic person’s main form of communication. 

“Name-calling simplifies a person into one negative attribute instead of appreciating the complexity of who they are,” says Dr. Warren. “[This is] an individual with a host of characteristics, some of which we may not like.”

People who display toxic behaviors might be doing it to try and bring others down, adds Kate Bettino from Psych Central

“This might be done to make them feel better about themselves, to get more attention, or other reasons. They may judge your looks, actions, and decisions, regardless of how much it hurts you. They may rarely self-reflect on their own behavior, but eagerly wait for a chance to criticize others.”

4) “Shut up”

Rachel Pace from Marriage.com says that these two words pretty much sum up a toxic relationship.

“‘Shut up’ gives no room for disagreement or the other person’s point of view,” she says. “[This] ultimately creates a toxic relationship.”

If someone says “Shut up” a lot (or even at all), they might be what’s called a Strait Jacket Narcissist, Vanessa Van Edwards from Science of People.

“The Strait Jacket is someone who wants to control everything and everyone around them. They want to be in charge of what you do, what you say, and even what you think.”

These are the people who will freak out whenever you disagree with them, and won’t stop trying to convince you that they are always right and that you should basically just do what they say, says Van Edwards.

“In a relationship, this person will give you no breathing room and will constantly nag you until you are in complete alignment with them.”

Van Edwards warns that you have to be careful with these people, because they will go after your emotional, conversational, and mental freedom until you have nothing left.

Her words or wisdom: “Get out while you can!”

We second that motion. 

5) “______________” (In other words, they stonewall you with silence)

Silence can be just as damaging to a relationship as saying the wrong thing, says Kelsey Borresen, who is a relationship writer with HuffPost

“Those who have a tendency to stonewall disengage when their partner is trying to have a mature conversation. They may shut down and exit the room, refusing to talk about the issue at hand.”

“This behavior can leave the other partner feeling abandoned and rejected at a moment when emotional connection is needed,” says psychotherapist Brittany Bouffard.

“These refusals to stay connected during or after a conflict are like a bomb, often leaving each partner without an understanding of why the other is hurt or how to repair.”

Bouchard says the tendency to stonewall and withdraw is common among people who have an avoidant attachment style. They feel uncomfortable with too much closeness and mash “check out” as a way to distance themselves. 

6) “Why are you always in a bad mood?”

Instead of being an adult and owning their feelings, they’ll act like the feelings are actually yours, says Karen Young, BSc. (Psychology).

“For example, someone who is angry but won’t take responsibility for it might accuse you of being angry with them. It might be as subtle as ‘Are you okay with me?’ or a bit more pointed, ‘Why are you angry at me,’ or ‘You’ve been in a bad mood all day.’”

This might compel you to justify and defend your feelings but often what ends up happening is that the conversation will keep going around in circles, says Young. 

“Be really clear on what’s yours and what’s theirs. If you feel as if you’re defending yourself too many times against accusations that don’t fit, you might be being projected on to. You don’t have to explain, justify, or defend yourself or deal with misfired accusations. Remember that.”

7) “If you’d only stop to think about it”

This one is pretty patronizing. 

This phrase suggests that the other person’s perspective isn’t worth considering because it’s naive, ignorant, or plain stupid. 

It’s insulting and it’s offensive. 

“Basically, it suggests that the other person’s position is so indefensible that they couldn’t have thought it through, and that they should instead acquiesce to the speaker’s position,” says Bill Murphy, Jr, from Inc. Magazine

Some communication techniques when it comes to toxic people

Dealing with someone who has toxic tendencies can be mentally draining, but there are certain communication techniques that can help protect your boundaries, says Janet Brito, PhD

  • Avoid playing into their reality
  • Don’t get drawn in 
  • Pay attention to how they make you feel
  • Try talking to them about their behavior 
  • Put yourself first
  • Offer compassion, but don’t try to fix them
  • Say no, and walk away 
  • Limit the amount of time you spend with them
  • Make yourself unavailable 
  • If you have to be around them, set boundaries 
  • Have an exit strategy 
  • Encourage them to get help
  • Don’t take it personally
  • Maintain calm

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