4 Red Flags: How to Spot Toxic People Before You Get Involved With Them

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My business coach once said to me, "Relationships are relationships, whether they are business relationships or intimate relationships."

Yeah, he nailed it.

I don't know about you, but I have a propensity for landing myself in some pretty nasty relationships, both at work and at home. I even followed a toxic spiritual teacher for awhile.

There seem to be an abundance of articles on how to identify these relationships after we're already in them. What I wanted to know was how to spot these toxic people BEFORE getting involved with them.

This can be tricky.

First, in the beginning everyone wants a new relationship to work out, whether it's familial, spiritual, or professional. We tend to put on our rose-colored glasses and ignore even the most obvious of warning signs.

Second, toxic people are kind of like food allergies. People who are toxic to me might not be particularly toxic to you. You might find arrogance annoying and worthy of an eye roll, but for me, arrogance pulls the plug on my energy and plunges me into depression.

I think it's fairly safe to say that annoyance isn't a toxic reaction. Depression is.

This article is an analysis of five case studies from my own life: a former intimate partner, two former bosses, and a close family member.

As I mentally lined up this cast of characters and recalled my experiences with them, I asked myself, "If I were just meeting these people for the first time now, what behaviors might tip me off to steer clear?"

Here's what I came up with.

Red Flag No. 1: The Wall of Words


Case Study: The Victim

This person used to call me up out of the blue about once a month and talk my ear off. I would hear about their kitchen appliances, the repairs they made on the car, and other things that bored me to tears.

Their language was sprinkled with "that person did this to me" and "this person did that to me", and "I'm going to sue that company for this..."


Case Study: The Lord


"Conversations" with this person were composed almost entirely of their orders. The language was sprinkled with "That's wrong", and "I expect you to". When asked a question, the response was, "How hard can this be? I don't have time to answer your questions -- just go and do it." or "This process has worked for years; you're the first person who has ever gotten it wrong."

In both of these Wall of Words cases, if I had left the room or said that the house was on fire, I doubt they would have even noticed. They talked AT me, as if I weren't even there.

Oh, and those ear-shaped things attached to the sides of their heads? I'm fairly sure they were purely decorative in nature.


Red Flag No. 2: The Disappearing Act


Case Study: The Calculator

At the other end of the one-way communication spectrum was the Disappearing Act. With this person, communication went in the opposite direction. I did most of the talking; and it felt like I was talking into a void.

After awhile, they stopped responding to phone calls and texts, and when I walked into the room, they didn't even acknowledge my presence. I later discovered that they were quietly collecting the things that I said and calculating how to use the information to manipulate me.

This person had characteristics in common with both The Lord and The Volcano (whom we're about to meet). They expected me to read their mind, and nothing was ever their fault ("You just don't get it"). It's just that their disapproval was silent rather than out loud.


Red Flag No. 3: Schedule? What schedule?

It is interesting to note that in all three of the above cases, there was a total lack of respect for anyone's time but their own.
  • The Victim called at all kinds of crazy hours, including in the middle of the night.
  • The Lord made it clear that they were doing others a favor by setting aside time for them.
  • The Machiavellian was always at least an hour late for everything -- if they bothered to show up at all. 


Red Flag No. 4: Something's Not Quite Right Here


Case Study: The Volcano

When The Volcano and I first met, we had wonderful back-and-forth conversations. There was genuine two-way communication. However, I also got the sense that this person was slightly disconnected from themselves, like they were hiding something. I felt uneasy in their presence.

One day, out of the blue, this person jumped to a conclusion about something I said and started hurling false accusations at me (a favorite trick of The Machiavellian as well). After the blowup, things quieted down for awhile, but after I began to relax, with uncanny timing, they attacked again.


A Couple of Final Thoughts

These red flags aren't necessarily deal killers. Some people are naturally talkative. Some are quiet. Some are emphatic and vociferous when expressing emotion. And everyone has a different tolerance level for different types of behavior.

So be alert, yes ... but your response to these red flags should be your ultimate indicator.

In all of these cases, I felt uneasy and my stomach sank down to my toes when I was in their presence. After being with them for awhile, I was almost literally unable to do anything except stare at the floor.

This should have been the clearest red flag of all.

What do you think? Did any of these characters sound familiar? What are some of your red flags?
Share your stories in the comments below.

Love this post? Here are a couple others you might enjoy:

How to Forgive Someone and Develop Compassion At The Same Time
How to Forgive Someone and Develop Compassion At The Same Time

Why the Positivity Meme Is a Lie
Why the Positivity Meme Is a Lie


  1. You need these people in your life, everything happens for a reason and you must learn for this people what to do and what not to do. This "obstacles" will make you more powerful then before

  2. Thank you for taking the time to comment, The Shaman.

    I'm not sure about "needing" these people; I think rather that we attract them as the result of the momentum of our emotional baggage. This is in keeping with the science of universal law.

    If we pay attention, we can use these obstacles as opportunities to wake up. They act as flashlights, shining a light in the dark corners of our psyches, illuminating the subconscious thoughts that drive us. :-)

  3. Oh my god! I laughed my ass off. I so needed this. I attract them too, and also followed a toxic, sick spiritual teacher. I suspect the guy I'm seeing is a narc, he's like the Calculator....like talking to the void, staring at the floor...all things I identify with.

    I love the message from the universe. Thing is, I think this narc is hiding he's a narc, because I opened up to him too early at the advice of my toxic narc spiritual teacher. I told him all about a narc family member, so he won't give himself away. But he won't commit...it's a long distance relationship...but the sex is addicting. I can't figure it out, but I will....this helped a lot.

    1. Hi, Emily!

      Apologies for not replying to you earlier; busy life and all.

      I'm glad you found this post helpful and even amusing. Someday, I hope these folks will get nothing stronger from either of us than an eye-roll.

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by and leave a comment. I always appreciate hearing from my readers.

      Be well :-)

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