In short, if the person is toxic, they probably think they are perfect and will resent the suggestion that there may be any room for improvement. Or they might give a very empty answer.
If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s a fact. Start be recognising the fact before seeking blame. If someone is making you doubt yourself, they possibly are gaslighting you. If they want what’s best for you, they will listen to you, not break you down, there should be some balance, not one person pretending to be the voice of sanity and convincing you that you are crazy.
Be mindful of what you share. When you share, share a bit and observe the reaction. How is the information you are sharing valued? Is the other person being dismissive of you? Are the putting you down? Share slowly and carefully. If they are not making you comfortable, sharing MORE is a risky strategy.
When someone tells you a story, ask a normal question: “what year was that?” Make a note: does it add up? When you ask a question, does the person become restless? Do they deflect the question? For example by replying “Why do you need to know that?” or “Don’t you trust me?”
Look at the micro expressions on their face: are they getting fearful? Angry? Contemptuous? If so, try and understand why. How we react is not necessarily an indicator for how others react.
If you do not believe you are in physical danger (and be careful, you may be), call them out: “Why are you deflecting my question? What are you hiding?” or “I don’t trust people who refuse to answer simple questions” or “You’re being awfully dismissive” or “Your stories never add up” or “You’re a rather average liar, it’s very entertaining to observe”. See how they respond. Are they concerned about not being believed – or will they volunteer more information that seems accurate?
Once you believe you’re faced with a liar or a toxic person, get out of the relationship or friendship as quickly as possible. The world is full of good and positive people, who don’t feed off your energy and your money, who want to contribute positively to your life.
Liars and toxic people usually require some collaboration from their victims for the lies to work: they will make you uncomfortable about asking certain questions (“I was traumatised as a child”, “my best friend died in a car accident”) and sometimes the purpose of saying this is to avoid scrutiny. Once you censor yourself, you are an accomplice of their modus operandi. We are often afraid of saying something that might make the other person uncomfortable. However, if by being ourselves, we make the other person uncomfortable, perhaps we do not have the right dynamic for being in each others’ lives.
If we do say something untactful, we can simply apologise. If they chose to get offended, that’s a choice. And getting offended is often a tool used to shut other people down instead of engaging with them.
When you are being introduced to a third party, get their version of the story: “So, when did you meet?”, “I hear you travelled together to XYZ, tell me about it”. Tell you story honestly: “I barely know this person, though we met a few years ago, we’ve nearly never seen each other and I don’t know them well”.
If you’re doubting yourself, talk to a professional who does not know the person: they will be more objective than your friends and family and they do not know this person. Your friends may have been charmed or misled too – which actually is often how these people operate.
If you are unsure whether the person may be a threat to you, get a professional assessment.
As Professor Jordan B. Peterson writes in his bestseller 12 Rules for Life: surround yourself with healthy, trustworthy people who want the best for you. Toxic people have chosen a life of misery and will pull others down with them. If you aspire to a better life, surround yourself with inspiring people who make you feel good, who hold you to high standards, who motivate you upwards when you need it. And remember that not everyone who asks for help actually wants to change their situation.
If you feel you are in this situation and need an independent opinion, you can contact me.