You may be wondering why you would even get entangled with a malignant type in the first place. After all, as an HSP, you have nothing in common with a psychopathic individual. You are highly empathic; they are highly manipulative and destructive. Yet it is your greatest assets that often make you an appealing target for such a predator.
Empathy, conscientiousness, sentimentality, resilience, a giving nature—these are all qualities that malignant toxic people use against their targets to exploit them. In a healthy relationship where both partners are empathetic and emotionally attuned, traits like these help the relationship flourish. In a relationship with a narcissist, however, these traits are exploited and used against you. Since highly sensitive individuals tend to make decisions based on their own sense of right and wrong, they are likely to project their own sense of morality and conscience onto the narcissist and assume that the narcissist, too, possesses that same degree of empathy for others.
The Three Steps a Manipulator Takes to Get Your Pity
Step 1: The toxic person acts remorseful with crocodile tears or fake apologies. But they never actually change behaviors in the long term.
Step 2: They rationalize or justify their abuse. They might describe their suffering or claim their mistreatment of you was a misunderstanding, unintentional, or out of their control (for example, blaming it on alcohol or something you did). The abuse cycle starts again once you forgive and reconcile with them.
Step 3: If the pity ploy fails to elicit the desired reaction, the manipulator labels the victim bitter, judgmental, selfish, or otherwise unhinged. They lash out in rage, use gaslighting, and continue their manipulation until the victim is beaten into submission.
Toxic Personality Type #1: Garden-Variety Boundary-Steppers
These types of toxic people are the most benign out of the bunch, but they can still be harmful and are unaware of how toxic they are. They habitually cross over your boundaries by talking over you, invading your personal space, asking more of you than you can give, bestowing unsolicited advice, wasting your time, being flaky, or breaking commitments. They may be loud and self-absorbed, selfish, or otherwise unable to read social cues.
Toxic Personality Type #2: Crazy-Makers and Attention-Seekers
A step above the garden-variety toxic person are the “crazy-makers” and “attention-seekers.” These types have one selfish agenda: to have the focus be on them at all times, even if the feedback they receive is negative. They will create drama, introduce conflict, or showboat to garner praise out of an overwhelming need for attention. While they can be incredibly draining, frustrating, and demanding of your attention, they are a bit easier to work with than your more malignant types.
Toxic Personality Type #3: Emotional Vampires
“Emotional vampire” is usually used as a catchall term in other books and articles to encompass many toxic types. In this book, the term will specifically refer to toxic people who are capable of empathy but profusely drain your energy with their demands.
Toxic Personality Type #4: Narcissists
Narcissists can be dangerously toxic because they lack the empathy to actually care about anybody else’s needs but their own.
they are self-absorbed, self-centered, and extremely entitled. Depending on the severity of their narcissism, they can also be abusive when any perceived slight induces their narcissistic rage. Here is an acronym to help you remember the characteristics and behaviors of a narcissist:
- Never admits to being wrong
- Avoids emotions and accountability
- Rages if anyone challenges them
- Childish when they don’t get their way
- Instills doubt in their victims
- Stonewalls during conflicts
- Smears and slanders you
- In denial and gaslights you
- Subjects you to the silent treatment
- Triangulates you and tears you down
SETTING BOUNDARIES WITH A NARCISSIST
An abusive narcissist is not one you can set boundaries with like you can with other everyday toxic people. Your boundaries will be trampled upon and violated without care; so will your rights. When you assert your boundaries, the narcissist will take that information as a clue as to what will most hurt you, and they will use that as ammunition against you to further provoke you. In other words, when you tell a narcissist what hurts you, they will simply do more of that. That’s why direct or diplomatic communication with them often falls short of inspiring effective results.
Be emotionally unresponsive to their tactics and provocations.
If a toddler was attacking you with insults and tantrums, would you react as if their rantings had any meaning? Don’t get me wrong: narcissists are adults and are fully responsible for their behavior. However, you don’t have to satisfy their need for attention or a reaction. Whenever possible, observe their rages with the gaze of a detached outsider rather than someone personally involved with them. See how ridiculous their antics are and keep your responses as short and emotionally distant as you possibly can.
Additionally, set a boundary for yourself that you will not give in to emotionally manipulative behaviors out of a misplaced sense of obligation or guilt. You didn’t cause the narcissist’s dysfunction and you’re not responsible for remedying it. Unless you are their therapist (and even then, you’re there to offer help with boundaries included), it’s not your job to “fix” or “cure” someone of their destructive behavior toward others or to tolerate it to your own detriment. It is their responsibility to heal and fix themselves. Your duty is to yourself—to discern when someone is toxic to your well-being and to know when to detach and walk away. Do not feed into their crazy-making by reacting the way they want you to.
Keep interactions as short as possible; you can be cordial, but do not engage.
Narcissists are master provocateurs who will subject you to dizzying diversion tactics to make you feel off-center and off-balance. That’s why you must understand when you are being manipulated and stay focused on your real goals. If your goal is to do your best work at your job, then you must do everything in your power to stay focused on that goal and channel your energy into producing high-quality work rather than feeding into your narcissistic coworker’s inevitable mind games. If your goal is to keep custody of your children, do not fall into the trap of sending the narcissist anything that could be used against you in court, no matter how much they try to provoke you (especially in ways that can be documented, like voice mail or text). If your goal is to attend a family event without being harassed by your toxic parent, zero in on spending time with nontoxic family members, politely shutting down conversations that could escalate, and limiting interactions with your narcissistic parent.
Switch the topic when discussions enter unsafe territory.
In unavoidable conversations with narcissists, get into the habit of switching the topic or exiting the conversation whenever you can feel things shifting into territory you deem unsafe. If, for example, your narcissistic sister has a habit of bringing up your relationship status as a way to demean you, redirect the conversation to something she would be interested in—anything that allows narcissists to talk about themselves will usually distract them from focusing on you.
Brainstorm ways to exit in the future.
Just because you feel stuck in a toxic workplace now doesn’t mean you’ll be there forever. Just because you feel unable to leave a toxic relationship at the moment doesn’t mean you have to stay in it for life. Make a plan for the future. Save money, build good credit, and explore your options. If you’re married to a narcissist, obtain the services of a divorce financial planner and a lawyer who is well versed in high-conflict personalities. Get support from counselors, support groups, friends, and family members who “get it.” Don’t let the narcissist in on your plans; they will often try to sabotage them.
Documentation with a narcissist is often necessary, especially in the workplace. Keep a record of emails, texts, voice mails, and even audio or video recordings of conversations if your state laws allow it should you ever need proof of exploitation or abuse. Documentation is especially pertinent if you decide to bring a legal case against your abuser, and it can help immensely to resist the gaslighting attempts of a narcissist.
Practice mindfulness and extreme self-care.
Self-care is extremely important in the aftermath of being terrorized by a toxic individual, but it can also be absolutely necessary when your energy is being drained by such people. Healing modalities like meditation, yoga, and visualization of a safe place can all be great tools to ground yourself back in the present moment so that you can bring renewed energy and confidence to any situations you encounter with a narcissist.
Toxic Personality Type #5: Sociopaths and Psychopaths
“Sociopath” and “psychopath” are the more common terms used for people with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), which is the closest diagnosis we have in the most current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to describing psychopathy. Someone with ASPD will usually exhibit traits and behaviors such as a pattern of violating the rights of others, a failure to conform to social norms, irritability and aggressiveness, deceitfulness, impulsivity, reckless disregard for self and others, consistent irresponsibility, and lack of remorse. Although not everyone with ASPD is necessarily a sociopath or psychopath, many sociopaths and psychopaths do meet the criteria for ASPD. It’s theorized that while sociopaths—more commonly associated with the secondary high-anxious and impulsively hostile subtype described earlier—are produced by their environment, primary low-anxious psychopaths who engage in premeditated, instrumental aggression are born rather than “made.” Yet whether you’re dealing with a sociopath or a psychopath, they have many overlapping characteristics.
They leave a trail of victims, and they also take sadistic pleasure in harming others. Use an acronym below to help you remember the defining traits of a psychopath:
- Pathological liar
- Superficially charming
- Yearns for constant stimulation
- Conscienceless and callous con artist
- Hides double life
- Overestimates self, grandiose
- Parasitic lifestyle and promiscuity
- Aggressive and impulsive
- Taunts and traumatizes for fun
- Hides in plain sight
SETTING BOUNDARIES WITH A SOCIOPATH OR PSYCHOPATH
Because of the dangers involved, setting boundaries with these predatory types calls for a different set of standards and safety protocols. If you suspect you are dealing with someone who is a sociopath or psychopath, do not pass go. Avoid any face-to-face meetings. You must put your safety first. Here are some basic guidelines to follow.
Notify all those you trust that you may be dealing with someone who is potentially dangerous. Tell a trusted therapist, a close friend, or a family member (preferably someone who isn’t close to this person) your concerns about what this person might do. This way, at least a few people will know what’s going on in case anything should happen to you.
Contact law enforcement if there is any stalking, harassment, or threats involved. The documentation you’ve collected (texts, email, voice messages, etc.) will corroborate your claims. Do not let the person know your whereabouts. Place privacy controls on your social media to limit information you give out to the public.
In the early stages of dating someone, closely guard your identity and personal information. Instead of using your actual phone number, use a number from a texting app or Google Voice for calls. Don’t reveal where you live and always meet in a public place. Avoid going over to each other’s houses in the beginning. Don’t disclose your income or personal traumas you’ve endured until you’ve gotten a better sense of someone’s character. Don’t loan money or let anyone move in with you before you know them very well. Sociopaths and psychopaths are always looking for people whose vulnerabilities they can exploit, those they can leech off of and con.
Call to Action: Know Your Predators
- Who are the toxic people and manipulators in your life?
- Make a list of people who exhibit the behaviors
- Next to each name, write down which of the five categories of toxicity they seem to most closely align with. Which of the strategies
- Can you practice next time you interact with each one of these people based on their category type?
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