There are countless articles about the different types of toxic people, such as psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists. These shady characters use sophisticated manipulation techniques like gaslighting to take advantage of their victims. But what about those who make you feel bad about yourself without having the intention to?
In fact, these people are much more common than evil manipulators with personality disorders. Yet, there is a lot less information about them on the web.
Yes, some individuals can be toxic and manipulative and not even know it. It’s part of their nature, an inherent talent if you want. Sometimes, they develop their manipulative abilities as a result of unhealthy upbringing and childhood trauma too.
So who are these types of toxic people and what are the roots of their behavior?
6 Types of Toxic People Who Often Turn into Involuntary Manipulators
Let’s look at the possible reasons for unintentionally toxic behavior and the types of people who are most likely to have it.
1. The complainers
When you are a negative thinker, you always focus on the worst aspects of everything. You dwell on problems and worry a lot, sometimes for the most trivial reason. You are prone to negative emotions like sadness, frustration, and anxiety. At some point, all this becomes unbearable so you start to displace your negativity onto others. You become a bitter complainer who is difficult to deal with. After all, who wants to be around a person who is constantly complaining and discrediting everything?
More often than not, you don’t mean to spoil everyone’s mood. Sadly, this toxic behavior is a natural consequence of your own issues. The truth is that some negative and unhappy people have a subconscious need to see others unhappy too because it brings them relief. When they make you feel bad, they feel less alone in their own misery.
2. The enviers
Some people’s life is a pure failure, or at least, they believe it is. Everyone seems to be doing better than they are – having a happier marriage, being more successful in their career, living in a bigger house, etc. This list can be endless because a jealous person will always find something to envy.
Thus, this type of toxic people can make you feel uncomfortable by showing their jealousy openly (which is less likely) or indirectly. For example, they may say wistful things or give you backhanded compliments. As a result, they manipulate you to feel bad about having things that they lack or succeeding where they failed.
3. The needers
I bet that you have a friend or a family member who asks for favors just too often. This might be a person who is always in trouble. Their finances are constantly on the edge of collapse, their relationships are messy, and the whole world is against them. Yes, these people don’t look toxic at all and just seem to have the worst luck in the world!
So, they need your help to get through the hardships life throws at them so insistently. They make you feel like you are the only person who can save them our of their misery. For example, they may ask you to borrow them some money or to help them find a job.
Guess what? They will never get out of trouble, either with your help or without it. Whatever issue the needers face, they will always turn to others for help. This type of toxic people just can’t handle their problems on their own.
4. The judges
These are the individuals who always know what’s right and what’s wrong for you. They have a firm belief that they indeed know better. So be ready that the judges will give you the advice you never asked for. They may become quite unkind with their remarks too.
They have no clue about other people’s personal boundaries, so they may get invasive and controlling. The judges will also downplay your achievements and focus on the things that went wrong. However well you are doing, it’s just not enough to get their approval and praise. These types of toxic people can make you feel bad about yourself and your life with their constant criticisms and judgmental attitude to everything.
5. The approval seekers
Having self-esteem issues doesn’t automatically make you manipulative or toxic. However, people who have a damaged sense of self often become involuntary yet toxic manipulators.
An insecure person may grow into a manipulator when they have an excessive need for approval. This unhealthy need may turn them into an attention beggar as well. Thus, they may be phishing for compliments, i.e. saying self-deprecating things for the sake of getting your reassurance that they are much more competent, attractive, or talented than they say.
The approval seekers feed off your attention and empathy. They are a sort of emotional parasites who starve without praise and social validation. So they will subconsciously seek opportunities to make other people say nice things to them.
6. The misunderstood geniuses
We just talked about the toxic people who suffer from low self-esteem. But there are also those who have a too big idea of themselves. Surprisingly, these two extremities have lots in common and can both end up being manipulative and toxic in an attempt to satisfy their unhealthy ego.
Someone with an inflated ego will seek to be in the spotlight all the time. They will crave attention, turn the focus of every conversation to themselves, and overestimate their achievements. However, a misunderstood genius goes further than that. You see, they believe that they are too good for this world and their life is a failure because of society/fate/a higher power/other people. Thus, whatever great thing they have accomplished (or more often, could have accomplished) gets unrecognized and underestimated.
The misunderstood genius will be overly sensitive to criticism and can make you feel uncomfortable and guilty for giving them negative feedback, even if it is constructive criticism and you have the kindest intentions.
5 Manipulation Techniques These Types of Toxic People Unconsciously Use
Now, the question is: what types of manipulation techniques do these toxic people unintentionally use? More likely than not, they are not aware of doing these things at all, so calling them out won’t be helpful. However, recognizing these behaviors will help you figure out a strategy for dealing with them.
1. Passive aggression
Passive aggression is a favorite tactic for negative, secretly jealous, and insecure personalities. So almost all of the above types of toxic people can use it, especially the approval seekers and the enviers.
They lack the emotional toughness to speak their mind openly and face conflict. Thus, they throw out sneaky comments and wistful statements that make you feel bad and bring them temporary emotional satisfaction.
An example situation:
Your friend Bob tells you about his financial difficulties. He has lost his job and doesn’t know how to pay his bills the next month. You are comforting him and give him advice. At some point, the conversation turns to you and you tell Bob about the detention your unruly son received at school. Bob has an absent expression on his face and says, “I wish I had your problems”.
The result? You are feeling guilty for worrying about such trivial issues while your friend is going through a really difficult time in life. In reality, though, Bob didn’t mean to cause you discomfort or guilt. He is just overly self-absorbed right now because of the hardships he is facing, so anyone else’s problems look like a joke to him.
2. Guilt trips
The needers often use guilt trips to get what they want. In fact, needy people are natural manipulators and may not even know how toxic they can become. Since they are used to relying on others and hanging their happiness on people and external circumstances, they are intrinsically skillful in evoking guilt in those around them.
An example situation:
Ian proposes to Melissa while they’ve been in a relationship for just three months. She is not ready yet and not sure whether Ian is the one, so she takes some time to think it over. One day, Ian tells Melissa about his past heartbreaking relationship and throws out a comment like, “That breakup was a real disaster. It was a struggle to get over it. If our relationship doesn’t work out either, I’m not sure if I can handle it”. As a result, Melissa feels sorry for him and accepts his proposal.
This may sound deviously manipulative at first, but Ian is not a bad person. He is just prone to black-and-white thinking and gets too enthusiastic about people. He also has an intense fear of loneliness and gets emotionally attached to women too easily. So he meant every single word of what he said to Melissa.
3. Playing the victim
Some people genuinely believe that they never did anything wrong and all their failures are due to the outside circumstances. They may blame the unkind people who took advantage of them or the unfair society that ruined their chances to succeed. Maybe they were born in the wrong time or had a too underprivileged family background to achieve anything significant in life. They may even go on to believe that all their misery stems from a generational curse or God’s will.
The core reason for this toxic attitude is that people with a victim mentality are afraid of responsibility. There is always someone or something else to blame for all the adversities life throws their way. So, they have a natural talent for playing the victim and distorting every situation accordingly.
They don’t do it because they are evil manipulators, however. In reality, they are simply too mentally weak to accept their faults and deal with their responsibilities. Many types of toxic people use the manipulation tactic of playing the victim. In our list, the misunderstood genius, the needer, and the complainer will do it more often than others.
An example situation:
Elliot’s business has failed, which totally ruined his motivation. He now stays at home, watching TV all day long and doing nothing. His wife Ashley has a good job and is the only person who is supporting the family now. After a few months, Elliot still doesn’t look for a new job or business idea.
Ashley is tired of supporting the family on her own and at some point, she insistently asks her husband to get a job. Elliot says, “How can you be so heartless? Don’t you see that I’m depressed? These people took from me everything I had worked for so hard and you are suggesting I should just forget about it and work for someone else now?”
Elliot is clearly playing the victim to avoid responsibility and make Ashley feel sorry for him. Still, this is unintended because he is convinced that it’s not his fault that his business failed. Also, he thinks that he is too gifted for a regular 9-5 job, so even suggesting him to get one causes annoyance.
Negative and controlling types of people are sometimes so critical of everyone and everything that they become truly toxic. It’s not easy to be around a person who always has to say something critical, unkind, or disproving. Thus, critical people become involuntary manipulators because they make those around them feel worthless and often start conflict out of nothing. Sometimes they do it to feel better about themselves or because they really believe that they are always right.
An example situation:
Jane just got a promotion at work and shares the exciting news with her elderly mother, who happens to be an overly critical person. She gives her daughter an indifferent look and says, “Good for you. Too bad that you still haven’t started a family at this age that you are though. Your younger sister has two children already, and you are still single”.
With this kind of remark, Jane’s mother makes her feel inadequate despite her career achievement. She downplays her daughter’s success and shifts focus to her relationship failures, which is a sensitive topic for her. As a result, Jane starts to doubt herself and feels miserable. She forgets about the promotion and begins to think that her life is a failure.
5. They become parasitic
Some types of toxic people become emotionally or financially parasitic to those around them. Parasitic individuals make their partners, friends, or family members feel responsible for their life. This manipulation tactic can be a combination of guilt-tripping and a victim mentality and is often used by needy people as well as the misunderstood geniuses.
An example situation:
Two adult siblings live entirely different lives. The younger brother Tom has become a successful lawyer while the older brother Jack fails one business after another. Jack has already borrowed a great deal of money from his brother and never paid him back. He is now asking him for a new loan.
Tom has had enough of supporting Jack and denies it to him. Jack says that in this case, the bank will take his house and he will have nowhere to live. Moreover, he feels heartbroken and betrayed by his brother. He accuses Tom of being ungrateful for all the good things he did to him. Jack even goes on to remind him how he babysat him and helped him with homework when they were children.
The situation now looks like Jack is a victim and Tom is a villain. This makes the younger brother feel guilty and ironically, responsible for his older brother’s life. As a result, once again, he decides to give Jack the money he is asking for.
As you can see in this example, Jack is inducing unjustified guilt in Tom. In reality, he is just exploiting his brother as it’s much easier to borrow money from a wealthy family member than to find a job to pay off your debt. But Jack is doing this unconsciously. He may genuinely believe that he has done too much for his brother, so Tom owes him.
The Involuntary Manipulators Are Those Types of Toxic People Who Don’t Mean to Do Harm
In the end, the individuals we discussed above have no ill intent. These unconscious manipulators are usually pretty good folks at their core but just lack mental strength, which makes them use unhealthy coping mechanisms.
So the bottom line here is that these types of toxic people tend to be deeply unhappy and discontented with themselves, hence their manipulative tendencies.
This means that they are more likely to change and stop their toxic behavior than devious manipulators like psychopaths or narcissists, who have the power to make you question your sanity. Establishing firm personal boundaries is often enough to stop their toxic influence.
Does any type of these toxic people sound like someone in your life? Please feel free to share your experiences with us.
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This Post Has 4 Comments
Absolutely fascinating and so insightful.
This is a very good article. I have tended to think of these people as fence sitters or wanna be narcissists or potential flying monkeys of narcissists. They aren’t quite normal but they don’t have a personality disorder either. But it is helpful to look into the psychology of why these people are the way they are and that mostly they don’t mean the harm they cause.
This is a very interesting article! I actually see a number of these toxic types in my Sister. We have never actually gotten along our entire lives. And I am a very easy going person. I also have a Psychology degree and studied Abnormal Psychology in college but we didn’t study these types of negative behavior. I am still going through Probate since my parent’s both passed December of 2017. I know! More than 3 years already and of course my sister is the Executor. She really needs professional help. How can anyone be happy that is trying so hard to make another person (me) miserable? I just want it to be over so we can go our separate ways. Personal boundaries have definitely been established!