Of course it makes sense to learn about toxic and manipulative behaviour in order to understand it and to know what to look for, but in my experience, some toxic people are able to point out the very same toxic traits in others that they express themselves, yet they don’t see it in their own behaviour. For example, some toxic and manipulative behaviour is the result of projection; sometimes the projection of the shadow self, as Jung put it. When this part of the identity is projected, the last thing the manipulative person wants is to be aware of it. Their mind will do all kinds of mental gymnastics to avoid the truth of their behaviour.
For these reasons it is important to not only learn about toxic and manipulative behaviours, but to also place an emphasis on the signs of this behaviour. Here are a few ideas to help you build this awareness.
Firstly ask yourself why you believe you have these behaviours, what have you seen to make you have this thought? Has there already been signs that you can place at the tip of your awareness.
Learn about manipulation and toxic behaviour. There are several books on the subject.
Are aware of any mental health condition/disorder that you may have such as bipolar, borderline personality disorder and the like. An unfortunate aspect of certain conditions is highly manipulative and toxic behaviour.
Observe others closely. If you find yourself in disagreements, arguments or situations often, where another person is angry or upset at you, consider whether what they are saying to you has any merit. If you see signs of discomfort or avoidant behaviour in others, it may be a sign that they don’t want to be around you, which may be a hint.
Listen to the words people use during arguments or heated discussions. If someone says to you something like ‘whats wrong with you’, or ‘you need help’ or ‘why are you treating me like this’, it may be because they cannot understand why you think your behaviour is normal when it is anything but.
Understand what is considered to be normal and reasonable especially in relationships. I have heard people say ‘its normal to argue in relationships’ which can be a misleading generalisation. Yes it is normal, but not if it occurs frequently and with intensity.
Cultivate an open mind. There are rules you must follow in order to achieve this. 1. Agree with yourself to be open minded 2. Don’t always be right and accept that you could be wrong 3. Try something new 4. Try it more than once if it seems reasonable to do so 5. Reserve judgment until you understand the other persons perspective with clarity.
Self assess. This is part of self awareness. Once a situation has occurred that has the markers of a ‘toxic incident or interaction’, stop and assess yourself. Ask questions like, why did I say that? what was my tone like? why did the other person act the way they did? etc
Develop Emotional intelligence through courses, training, research and learning. Emotional intelligence is in direct opposition to toxic, nasty and manipulative behaviour. However, Dark emotional intelligence aligns directly with this kind of behaviour. Stick to the conventional version of EQ.
Find a meaningful reason to improve. If you don’t have the right motivation or reason, your efforts may be derailed. You really have to care. I know a woman who struggled to quit smoking for a number of years, then she got pregnant. She stopped smoking within a week. The right motivation, reason and meaning matters.
Write the signs down as you become aware of them. Self deception is a key characteristic of toxic and manipulative people. They unconsciously deceive themselves on a consistent basis, hiding the truth under a psychological smokescreen. By writing it down, it is there to be seen.
Focus on a single toxic trait for up to a month. For example, a lack of forgiveness, especially for small things. Just pick one so it is obvious when you do it, acknowledge it and record it. It can be difficult to build awareness of many things at once, by choosing one, you improve your chances.
Ask yourself why? Why do I behave like this? What is behind it? What am I hiding from? Although some people are calculated in their manipulation, many are simply conditioned to be that way due to a mental health condition or due to experience and conditioning from their earlier years. Toxic behaviour is often a protection mechanism; what are you afraid to hear from others or to think about or of yourself? What don’t you want to be seen as or known for? Did something happen during your childhood- a highly emotional experience or trauma. So many things can spawn a mind that is conditioned to be toxic and manipulative in an automatic and unconscious way.