Manipulators and Backstabbers: How to Neutralize Toxic People

Do you feel used? Are you confused with someone’s intentions? You might be dealing with toxic people. And here’s how to neutralize them.

Let’s start with a truth: everyone has their own angelic and demonic side. Everyone has the capacity to lie and manipulate. The difference then depends on their level of integrity.

From Merriam-Webster:

 Integrity is firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values; incorruptibility

Having integrity means that the person could manipulate and lie you to have the easier way out, but he/she chooses not to. The person, instead, decides to take the harder way: to say their truth.

Now, the flip side to this statement is something much darker. I call it the first principle of toxic behavior:

Whenever someone manipulates you,  it means that he/she consciously decides to manipulate you.

The toxic people knows full well what they are doing. It’s a choice that they choose to take, as opposed to a forced action. If you think about it, would you be more okay being lied and manipulated to, or being told something harsher but true?

I’m pretty sure most of us would rather drink the bitter pill of truth, than eating the sweet candy of lies that actually is a poison.

You are especially prone to this when you are vulnerable and want to be accepted but have good things to bring to the table like status, intelligence, and connections. These manipulators and liars would flock to you to leech onto your resources and give a negligible amount back.

I’m in a stage that I give much fewer fucks to these kinds of people then I used to. You can probably already tell by the way I promised myself to say “no” more. I simply have no time and patience to be involved in these unproductive dramas.

Those time and energy can be otherwise spent on building more genuine connections, improving skill, volunteer to new projects – you name it. In short, you are at loss. Especially considering the fact that they know exactly what they are doing, to you.

What I’m about to tell you is the strategy that I have used to identify,  protect against, and counterattack these toxic people.

Notice the first signs

When you encounter someone highly manipulative, befriend one, or being influenced by one, it could be hard to understand what you are going through. Especially if it is your first few encounters, and especially if this person smart, powerful, or good-looking.

They shower you with support and attention which you are flattered with. Often he/she appears  very sweet and says nice things about you.  They might even give out confidential information to you or use their power to help you out, to make you think that they are on your side.

Then you thought, oh, he/she is quite nice actually. 

You start getting close and befriend each other. However, gradually, they give you a dose of cynicism and disrespect. It will leave you confused. Then an incident happens, which makes you question their intentions, such as these:

  • Tells another person a little secret about you
  • Complains about you behind your back, about something insignificant 
  • Do a mild sabotage to exclude you out of projects, such as framing the project in such a way that you would say no
  • Don’t mention your involvement at all when you give out ideas that turn into a success. But it’s small and not like a major thing, you think. 
  • Make you feel small; dig into your insecurities
  • Treat your accomplishments as a joke
  • Make you feel that you’re not good enough

These first signs are very critical. These manipulators are banking and thriving on the fact that you stay oblivious. Therefore, it is important for them to keep their “sheep clothing” and let you just saw their sheep version.

At this stage, what they did annoys you a little bit. But most likely, you might dismiss these actions and think that it’s not too bad. Maybe the person is in a bad mood or just plain stupid. And you go on becoming oblivious.

Alternatively, if you are bold, you will confront them directly after the first signs. They will immediately show their puppy eyes and beg your apology like a child, to make you think that what they did is an honest mistake. Or alternatively, they will accuse you to be petty or overthink the matter. Either way, they will be more careful about what they are up to.

My friend, always remembers the first principle of toxic behaviors: they choose to do that to you.

What I would suggest will depend on the situation. If this is just an acquaintance, then all you need to do is to stop giving them the benefits of being friends with you. Eventually, they will think that you are of no use and fades away.

Good riddance.

But most of the time, you need to deal with these people because of your job or because you have dismissed the first signs and now they already become more than just an acquaintance. This is when you need to go to the next step.

Watch them like a hawk

When the first signs hit you, instead of being in denial, accept them as data points. Most likely you are in denial because your ego got hurt – you subconsciously think that somehow it’s your fault if they can manipulate you. So you’d rather dismiss these signs and pretend everything is alright.

Which introduces the second principle of toxic behavior.

They are the problem.

Wherever they go, they will do the exact same thing. That is their way of life. Back to the integrity issue.

I would say, don’t take it too personally. Most likely, if you really listen to what they say, they will tell you that in the past they have a problem related to their cover blowing up. Either their friends left them, they get fired, or somewhere along that line.

Of course what they will tell you their version of the story. But if you listen closely and match their current behavior with their past, you can read between the lines.

Now at this point, it is really important for you to start paying attention. As Jordan Peterson, a Canadian psychology professor often says, “Stop talking and start listening to these people – they will tell you what they are up to.”

Listen intently to what they say about other people, their work ethic, their social life. Witness how they treat other people, especially those they perceive as rivals or threats. Believe them when they brag about a dirty trick they have done to get something.

And when they make you feel small or sabotage you again, listen carefully to what they say to uncover what is it about you that they want to take away or take advantage of. As well as their motives. Do they want you to do things for them? Is it because they are jealous? Is it because you are seen as a competitor and they want to slow you down?

Also, the fundamental difference between them and people that want to form a genuine friendship is this: the genuine ones stay true to who they are; the manipulators are two-faced.

What you can count on is the fact that lying, manipulating, and backstabbing needs them to be actively masking their feelings and saying what they don’t mean. These are exhausting.

If you watch them closely, there will be times when they show their true selves. These are actually the time the first signs happen – when they are so blindsided, they let their true intentions slide.

At this point, you can absolutely continue to be civil to them. However, you need to gradually retract the benefits of being your friends. Set a healthy barrier.

Most importantly, don’t tell them anything that they could use against you. They way I usually remind myself about this is to treat telling them about something equivalent to telling every single on in their circle of “friends”, the boss, or the person you’re talking about. Give a safe answer – comment only when necessary.

In short, don’t tell them anything substantial about your life, and practice saying no to their demands.

When you successfully pull away gradually, then they will fall into the “colleague” and “acquaintance” zone permanently. Don’t ever think to make them any closer, regardless of how nice they appear to become.

Remember, when people tell you what they are, believe them.

Put them in their place

Ideally, if we are talking about fresh manipulators, then you should not that close, to begin with. You’ve noticed the first signs before you get too involved. So, any retraction will be easier to do.

This way, when a dispute happens, such as when they blatantly and willingly hurt your feelings, sabotage you, or took the credit off of you, you can counterattack in the harshest way possible and not be holding back. The harshness will bite them hard and teach them not to mess with you.

The tricky part is when you’ve fallen into the oblivion trap they’ve put together and let them be your closest friends. Unfriending close friends will always be ugly, but there are ways to minimize the damage.

Slow but sure, push them away from your closest circle. The ultimate goal is to put them in the “acquaintance” or “colleague” zone when you occasionally speak or be nice to each other, but strictly in a professional manner.

You can spend more time on your hobbies, take unusual projects at work, or have more confining commitments. Those are legit excuses that you actually need to do in order to advance in your career or achieve your dreams. Naturally, those activities will take the time and energy away from them.

Sounds like hitting two birds in a stone – getting closer to your goal and pulling away from toxic people. Every time you said no and don’t budge, you teach them that this is the way it works from now on.

You can start hanging out with new friends that actually care about you and your wellbeing. If the person holds a certain kind of power, start building an alliance with another powerful person. There should be a less lunatic one around. If everybody is as bad, maybe you need to rethink the reason why you stay in that environment.

It is not unlikely that this close friendship will end in a nasty way, involving huge breakup, drama, or scandal. You will experience a hard time that feels a little bit alone. But here’s one last thing you need to remember:

The right way is to cut the tumor out.

Any doctor on earth will advise you to kill or cut the tumor, cancer, or parasite growing in your body. It sounds very harsh, but you can’t deny that it’s true. The natural and most sensical solution is to cut them off your life,  keep a healthy distance, and prevent them from ever coming back that close to your vital organs.

There is no benefit for you to keep a traitor under your bed.


The second you identify and put an invisible label on these people’s foreheads, you won. Their number one strategy of keeping you in the dark has failed. They no longer have power over you.

And when you accept the fact that it’s just the way they are, your sanity will thank you. Because then you stop blaming yourself or justifying their actions, and simultaneously ignoring your gut that has been screaming to you the whole time.

One thing that you need to know is that the number of close friends that you have is not something to brag about. The equivalent is bragging about how many people have access to your bank account. That is just stupid.

Sure, you can know a lot of people, hang out with anyone, and network far and wide.  But when it comes down to close friends that you will share your most personal stories, treat this like choosing your husband or wife.

Over time, you’ll develop an instinct and can detect these kinds of people from a mile away.  But. until then,

Stay safe. And don’t get bitten with the same kind of snake twice.

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