4 Signs Someone Isn’t Just Toxic, but Also Abusive

Nowadays, it’s easy to call someone “toxic” and “abusive” when they’ve done something wrong. Some people even use the terms interchangeably. To correct any misconceptions, remember that toxic behavior and abusive behavior are not the same, and not everyone can be labeled outright toxic or abusive without reason. 

DISCLAIMER AND TRIGGER WARNING: This article talks about abuse, sexual coercion, addiction, and other themes that can be triggering for some. Please proceed with caution. The information in this article is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained in this article is for general information purposes only.


The reason why people use the word “toxic” a lot is because, to some degree, it is subjective. 

Don’t we all have something we dislike about someone? And don’t we have parts of our personalities that irk others? Every person has a different threshold for what makes them feel drained, or worse, traumatized. 

But despite its subjectivity, one can argue that there can be objective toxicity, especially if their actions greatly offend and impact the rights of others.


Toxic behavior refers to patterns that harm other people through physical, mental, or emotional means. 

Although the word “toxic” is used famously in the context of mental health and psychology, it isn’t a psychological term. According to Jeffrey Sherwood of the Oxford English Dictionary, its figurative meaning only started being used in the 20th century.  

Some examples of toxic behavior are self-centeredness, being judgmental, and backstabbing. Being constantly subjected to these acts can drain you. It may even feel destructive or “poisonous”, hence the name.

On the other hand, abuse is defined by the United Nations as physical, sexual, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. It involves the exertion of power and control over a person, causing significant harm to their safety, well-being, and sense of self. Examples of abusive behavior are coercion, harassment, selfish control over finances, violence, and more.


Toxic people tend to have a lack of control or even a lack of awareness over their actions. According to psychologist Perpetua Neo, there’s a difference between acting toxic and being toxic. The former refers to unintentionally having toxic tendencies while the latter deals with actively hurting others, therefore leaning towards abuse. Abusers tend to be more calculated and deliberate in order to obtain control, which is why toxic behavior is not always abusive, but abusive behavior is always toxic.

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You may think manipulation is a common, minor tactic toxic people use, but this is, alarmingly, already the work of an abuser. Manipulation doesn’t just mean lying and diverting attention. There are tons of ways abusers manipulate their victims, sometimes even leading the victims to question their sanity and reality. Abusers may utilize love bombing, treating their victims like children (even though they aren’t), and always acting dissatisfied or disappointed to keep the victim wanting their approval.


Do they volunteer to be in control over money, food, and other resources? At first glance, it may seem like a sweet, responsible gesture, until they begin withholding them. This act of selfishness may already seem toxic but it worsens when the abuser doesn’t allow the victim to access funds and seek or receive help, causing them to depend on the abuser to live. 


According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, estimates suggest that 13% of women and 6% of men in the United States will experience sexual coercion in their lifetime. Excessive persuasion and deceit may just sound like annoying methods used by scammers and the like, but abusers are also known to guilt trip, threaten, and make false promises just to get what they want.


Alcoholism, drug abuse, and other types of addictions are undoubtedly toxic. However, abusers with addictions open a whole world of risks to vulnerable victims like children or teens. Grave physical, emotional, and sexual abuse are only some of the things they can do to cause harm when under the influence.
Recognizing signs of abuse is vital for safety. We’ve attached a list of online resources down the description box for those who need help. If you’re a victim of abuse or know someone who is, please immediately tell a family member, close friend, or another person you trust who can monitor and shelter you when needed. You may feel pressured to stay silent and suffer alone, but speaking up can save your life and the lives of others, too. You can click on 5 Signs You’ve Been Mentally Abused to learn more.



APA Dictionary of Psychology. (n.d.). https://dictionary.apa.org/abuse#:~:text=1.,and%20psychological%20(emotional)%20mistreatment.

Brenner, A., MD. (2016a, September 24). Toxic People. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-flux/201609/toxic-people#:~:text=%E2%80%9CToxic%E2%80%9D%20is%20obviously%20not%20a,when%20dealing%20with%20certain%20individuals

Brenner, A., MD. (2016b, September 24). Toxic People. Psychology Today. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-flux/201609/toxic-people#:~:text=%E2%80%9CToxic%E2%80%9D%20is%20obviously%20not%20a,when%20dealing%20with%20certain%20individuals

Davis, C. (2022). Signs of Abusive and Toxic Relationships: What’s the Difference? Seattle Christian Counseling. https://seattlechristiancounseling.com/articles/signs-of-abusive-toxic-relationships-whats-the-difference#:~:text=Although%20there%20may%20be%20some,but%20abusive%20is%20always%20toxic.

Deutsch, S., MD. (2021, March). Child Abuse. Nemours Children’s Health. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/child-abuse.html

Domestic Violence Statistics – The Hotline. (n.d.). The Hotline. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from https://www.thehotline.org/stakeholders/domestic-violence-statistics/#:~:text=Estimates%20suggest%2013%25%20of%20women,men%20experience%20unwanted%20sexual%20contact

Harbinger, J. (n.d.). 8 Signs It’s Time to Cut a Toxic Person Out of Your Life (And How to Do It). The Jordan Harbinger Show. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from https://www.jordanharbinger.com/8-signs-its-time-to-cut-a-toxic-person-out-of-your-life-and-how-to-do-it/#:~:text=To%20some%20degree%2C%20toxicity%20is,relationship%20has%20become%20objectively%20toxic.

Jeglic, E., PhD. (2021, March 8). What Everyone Needs to Understand About Sexual Coercion. Psychology Today. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/protecting-children-sexual-abuse/202103/what-everyone-needs-understand-about-sexual-coercion#:~:text=The%20consequences%20of%20sexual%20coercion,lower%20sexual%20desire%20and%20satisfaction.

MMA Medical Experts. (2022, December 14). What is Toxic behavior and how to deal with people with toxic people? Manhattan Medical Arts. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from https://manhattanmedicalarts.com/blog/what-is-toxic-behavior-and-how-to-deal-with-toxic-people/#:~:text=Toxic%20behavior%20definition%20refers%20to,or%20traumas%20on%20others%20behavior.

Neo, P., DClinPsy. (2021, June 29). We All Have Some Toxic Behaviors: Here’s How To Identify & Stop Them. Mindbodygreen. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/toxic-relationships-are-you-toxic-person-in-your-life#:~:text=We%20spend%20a%20lot%20of,or%20patterns%20without%20realizing%20it.

Office on Women’s Health. (n.d.). Sexual coercion | Office on Women’s Health. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from https://www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety/other-types/sexual-coercion

Raypole, C. (2020, February 28). Types of Addiction and How They’re Treated. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/types-of-addiction

Sefor, L. (2021, March 8). Toxic Relationships vs. Abusive Relationships. Leah Sefor. https://www.leahsefor.com/post/toxic-relationships-vs-abusive-relationships

Spector, N. (2018, November 20). Oxford Dictionary’s Word of 2018 says a lot about how we feel as a planet [Video]. NBC News. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from https://www.nbcnews.com/better/pop-culture/oxford-dictionary-s-word-2018-says-lot-about-how-we-ncna937896#:~:text=%E2%80%9CToxic%E2%80%9D%20originated%20in%20the%20mid,literal%20until%20the%2020th%20century.

United Nations. (n.d.). What Is Domestic Abuse? | United Nations. https://www.un.org/en/coronavirus/what-is-domestic-abuse#:~:text=Abuse%20is%20physical%2C%20sexual%2C%20emotional,%2C%20injure%2C%20or%20wound%20someone.Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. (n.d.). Types and Signs of Abuse | DSHS. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from https://www.dshs.wa.gov/altsa/home-and-community-services/types-and-signs-abuse#:~:text=Examples%20include%20intimidation%2C%20coercion%2C%20ridiculing,Signs%20of%20emotional%20abuse.

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