Awhile back I wrote a post on trusting our gut instincts. As an autistic person I often don’t give myself enough credit when it comes to my impressions about someone. I am hesitant because of how much I struggle with non-verbal cues. People take advantage of this.
I think that many of us crave relationships and friendships where people cue us and help us. We have a lot of sensory and processing to deal with, so helpful cues make a world of difference. However, because of this we can fall into the trap of misidentifying controlling behavior as helpful behavior. It can often look similar. And toxic people are insidious.
They gain your trust to make it appear they are helping you when in fact they are controlling you. As an autistic person, we can be the perfect targets. That is why I have created these tips on how to tell if what you are experiencing is actually toxic behavior. Throughout my life I’ve discovered specific patterns to toxic and controlling people. Once you know the pattern, you can identify it early.
First, it’s important to understand that controlling people will appear to be trustworthy at first. That is how they get in. They will say and do all the right things but something will always be a bit off about them.
- How to identify a lie
These people are good liars. In fact I truly believe that sometimes they blur reality with lies. And unfortunately, autistic people are the types of people they gravitate to because we have a weakness in identifying lies. We take everyone at face value and don’t expect insidiousness. We in many ways are the most genuine group of people because we do not have the underlying social skills to create lies. Why do they lie? They are chameleons. The lies are meant to present a fake version of themselves that they know you will trust and want a friendship or relationship with. It is the first step to gaining entry into your life.
The first way you know that someone is likely lying is if they give you an extremely elaborate story for even the simplest of questions.
“Where did you go for lunch?”
“I went to work then I saw Sarah. We talked for 20 minutes because she wanted help with her laptop. Then I went to the parking lot and saw my other friend and we talked. I went to lunch for 30 minutes and then I came back to work on this project and now I’m coming home. I just want you to know all of that so you know exactly where I was.”
Do you see how unrealistic that is? Most NT people would say, “I went to this restaurant and ate a pizza, it was good!” They are making elaborate stories to create the illusion of transparency. You trust them because they give so much detail so you don’t suspect the details they leave out.
The opposite is shorter answers where facts don’t add up.
“I don’t have my car registered or insured even though I drive it regularly and have had it for months now because I don’t have time to go to the DMV and I haven’t called to make an appointment.”
In this example, this is a red flag. Most people would easily be able to fix this, even online in many US states, and it would take no time at all. Certainly they would not drive an unregistered car with no insurance for months on end. But for whatever reason, this person hasn’t addressed it. They are hiding something. Look for facts that don’t seem right. Even the smallest fact that doesn’t add up can be hiding a BIG secret. (As an aside, the above DMV example is borrowed from my real life experience. The person was hiding an extensive criminal record and active arrest warrant from me. I repeat, red flags).
- Helpfulness vs. Controlling.
With the lies here and there they slowly gain trust. Next, they disguise controlling behavior under the guise of helpfulness. For myself, I like people that cue me. It takes so much stress off and alleviates some of the work I have to do. Toxic people see an opening and come to take advantage.
A helpful person will be coming from a place of protection. They are always looking out for your best interest and gently cuing you. “Did you notice Tom waving at you from across the room, I think he is trying to say hello.” This is good. You missed it because you are in a crowded and overwhelming place and the person is looking out for you.
A controlling person is coming from a place of fear. They create fear in you by preying on your insecurities. “You probably hurt Tom’s feelings because you ignored him and didn’t see him just now. I mean you hurt my feelings all the time because you don’t realize my emotions but I don’t say anything.” See the difference? This statement is belittling you. In a way it seems helpful at first because it mentions that you missed Tom’s cue. But it also makes you insecure. It wrongly makes you believe that you can’t understand people’s emotions and that you are the toxic person. If you ever push the person as to why your behavior is hurtful, I guarantee they won’t have any real or concrete examples. Because it’s not true. They already know you are insecure about missing cues and make you believe your worst fears.
- They will make you feel like you are in the wrong.
Toxic and controlling people will always make you feel like you are the one who is controlling or mean when in fact it is themselves that are these things. It keeps you from discovering their agenda or game. The thing is, all the toxic and controlling games are the same. Some play it a little better or more elaborately than others but it all boils down to the two basic points already discussed. This is the last hook they will use in the process. They have already gained your trust with the lies you didn’t recognize and have started to control you through pretending to be helpful because you gravitate towards that support. Naturally what starts to happen, even for us, is we begin to catch on. So they make it your entire fault. And you believe them because they have already dug their claws in so deeply.
Once you reach this point it is hard to break away. You have built a friendship or relationship with this person. But it has all been under a ruse, even if subconsciously for the other person. That’s hard to believe and it’s hard to let go. And when processing is so hard already you begin to question whether your feelings are valid. I promise you they are. If you identify that someone is constantly shifting blame on you, leave. This is difficult because it never starts out blatant or apparent. It builds over time and even at it’s worst it will still be disguised as helpfulness. However, it will still be twisted. If it feels twisted, it likely is. And even if not you owe it to yourself to back away to get clarity.
For this reason it is so important to recognize this behavior early. It’s not that we attract toxic people, it is that they are attracted to us. This is a key difference. They flock to our genuine personalities because it offers a type of stability that they don’t have. It is not your fault, these are drowning people looking for a life raft. But they have the potential to drown you too. Recognize the lies early, and recognize the first signs of controlling behavior. If people exhibit the behaviors in the first two sections use caution or back away. It will save you in the long run.
- Set your boundaries early
Finally, set boundaries early and these types will be less likely to come your way. Because they will know you are serious. People always either consciously or subconsciously test each other’s boundaries to see what they can get away with. If you set a boundary, stick with it because the moment you make exceptions people know that they can control you and possibly make you back off of other boundaries as well. A firm stance sends them the other direction. They can’t control you. So they don’t waste the time.
Identifying these types of people is extremely important and once you are able to see these signs you will know someone’s agenda even if you cannot read them. I know I beat myself up when I realize how controlling or toxic someone was. How did I not see it? It is because they are very good at what they do. And control is about gaining intimate trust first so that you are willing to be controlled and don’t suspect the controlling behavior. I have spent the past year actively ending toxic and controlling relationships. And so far 2018 has been one of the happiest, most productive, and most successful years in my life both personally and professionally. Coincidence? Absolutely not. Set yourself free.