Not to brag, but you consider yourself a fun, friendly and generally easy person to be around. Your sister-in-law, on the other hand, always seems to push your buttons. Is there a conflict between you, or is she engaging in toxic behavior that anyone would have a hard time dealing with? Here’s how to know for sure.
When you ask your friend a question ("Hey, want to come over next week?"), you don't have any ulterior motives. When a toxic person asks you a question, though, they might be setting a trap. ("Are you free for dinner tomorrow at seven?" Subtext: "If you aren't free for dinner tomorrow at seven, I'll be mad at you for the rest of the week.") "Their modus operandi is to get people to do what they want them to do," says Abigail Brenner, M.D. "It’s all about them. They use other people to accomplish whatever their goal happens to be. Forget what you want; this is not about equality in a relationship—far from it."
They take more than they give.
Your aunt agreed to go to your birthday party, but then she spent the entire time complaining. She wouldn’t stop talking about the uncomfortable chairs at the restaurant you picked, and isn’t afraid to tell you what a miserable, awful time she had. You feel so bad, you end up buying her a gift certificate for a massage to make it up to her. While it's easy to write your aunt off as being curmudgeonly or cranky, if she regularly makes everything about her (and insists you take care of her needs above your own), she's a toxic person, plain and simple.
Their apologies aren’t sincere.
Have you ever expected an apology from someone and ended up apologizing to them? This is a classic red flag. Let’s say your friend blew off the brunch plans you had last Saturday. Then, when you confront her about it, she delves into this long story about how she got into a huge fight with the guy she’s dating that morning and she doesn’t think she’ll ever find her soulmate, and it’s all her parents’ fault for getting divorced when she was five. You feel for her, and you want to be there for her if she’s having a crisis, it’s just…she’s always having a crisis. And weren’t you just talking about brunch? Shifting tactics and turning herself into the victim is toxic territory.
They don’t listen to you.
Every good relationship—whether it’s with a friend, partner or your grandma—is based on a balance of sharing and listening. Toxic people have apparently missed that memo. When you start to confide in a toxic friend (or even try to engage him with a quick anecdote about your life), you’ll quickly notice his attention drifting to something else. Before you know it, he’s interrupted you, changed the subject and wrangled the conversation back to something that he finds more interesting: himself.
They make you feel bad.
Immediately after spending time with a friend or family member, ask yourself, "Do I feel better or worse than when I left the house this morning?" If you consistently feel worse, they’re toxic. "[These] people are draining; encounters leave you emotionally wiped out," Dr. Brenner says. "Time with them is about taking care of their business, which will leave you feeling frustrated and unfulfilled, if not angry. Don’t allow yourself to become depleted as a result of giving and giving and getting nothing in return."