4 Signs of Toxic Communication Patterns

Toxic people are everywhere and not always easy to spot. What seems like innocent, logical behavior on the surface can actually be the building blocks for a toxic relationship long term. I’ve left two toxic relationships (both living together, one engaged) and I wish I knew these patterns sooner. I actually remember Googling “am I dating a narcissist” so I hope this post gives you clarity on your situation.

Pay attention to the communication patterns during conflict. This tells you everything you need to know about where the relationship is headed. So I’m sharing the 4 communication styles of a toxic person during conflict so you can avoid falling for these traps.

signs of toxic communication

Why do people use toxic communication?

Let’s start with an understanding of the perceived need for toxicity. Toxic people believe on a fundamental level, if they do something wrong they are unworthy of love and relationship. So they never admit what they did was wrong. They have a deep fear of abandonment, they constantly feel the need to prove themselves, which is why they portray a false sense of superiority. This is why they cannot take blame or admit majority fault.

Rather than seeing this as immature, annoying, and destructive (which it is) you can handle this from a point of compassion. How would it feel to truly believe that you have to earn love? How would it feel to be terrified of losing someone you love because you made a mistake?

The idea of you not forgiving them is so terrifying they don’t ever want to be in that situation. They distract you from the part they played, invalidate your feelings, and deny any damage they caused. Here are the toxic communication styles toxic communicators use.


Best Available Motive (BAM)

No matter what, toxic people always have “good intentions”. Rather than taking responsibility for the part they played in hurting your feelings, a toxic person will try to convince you it’s not that bad because they didn’t mean to hurt you. They create the best available motive for why they did the thing that ended up hurting you.

This invalidates the hurt they caused and “lets them off the hook” in their mind because they didn’t mean it. It doesn’t matter if they meant to hurt you or not, the focus should be on repairing the hurt.

Example: they were feeling insecure so they started texting a friend who obviously has feelings for him. You find out and are hurt. So instead of owning up to it, they tell you the only reason they’re talking to her is she’s going through a hard time and you shouldn’t be upset. They turn it around to be your fault, your problem. Toxic communication always makes you out to be the unreasonable one for being upset.

Confident people own up to their true intentions, apologize for any hurt they caused, and develop a mutual plan for it to not happen in the future.

Worst Available Motive (WAM)

They defend their actions by assigning the worst available motive to your actions. Insecure, toxic people are really good at distracting you and get themselves out of trouble they know they caused. Here’s an example using the scenario above.

Example: You’re upset your boyfriend is texting a girl friend of his who obviously has feelings for him. He says it’s because you aren’t giving him enough attention, you’re too focused on work, and you seem disinterested in the relationship. Putting all the blame for his inappropriate, insecure actions on you. Distracting you from the real issue, and getting you to try and change your actions so he can be a good boyfriend.

They come up with BAMs for themselves and WAMs for other people. If you notice a pattern of this in any relationship, realize that is toxic behavior that needs to be resolved. If it’s not resolved, you need to put up a boundary and distance yourself so you aren’t feeling the consequence of their emotional incapacity.

A confident person would take responsibility for the inappropriate texting and communicate their feelings. They would admit they should’ve brought these feelings to you before acting out, and apologize.


How much “good” do I have in the bank? The way toxic people think about relationships is an equation. Good things equal money in the bank. Bad things equal debt. As long as they can convince you they have more money in the bank than they do debt, they don’t see a reason to change their behavior.

Toxic relationships always distract you from the true issue. Banking is when you bring up a concern and rather than discussing it in a healthy way, they turn to their “bank balance” and show you they’re actually a really good person. By the way, they’re the one who gets to decide what’s good and bad. They usually stack the deck in their favor, and they don’t ask for you input.

Banking is a strange toxic communication pattern because both parties are expected to do good things in a relationship. You don’t get extra points for being a decent human being. That doesn’t get you out of the hurtful things you’re doing or the concerns your partner has. It doesn’t mean just because you have more good things than bad, you don’t have to address the bad things, it just means the relationship continues for a while longer.

A confident person will accept feedback and change their behavior because it’s not about who’s better or worse. They focus on making the relationship as healthy as possible, not settling for the bare minimum bank account balance.

You are allowed to leave a relationship at any time you want.

You don’t have to have “relationship debt” in order to leave. Toxic people use this banking technique to convince you because they do more good things than you have concerns for, you should be happy. You should feel lucky. You should have zero complaints. That’s manipulation, it’s not true, the concerns you have are still valid no matter how many good things they do.

One way to confirm if you’re being unreasonable is to ask, “how would I respond if they had a concern?” A confident person would take that feedback and try to become a better person. They’re more concerned with the well being of others than themselves.

Story Cropping

This one takes effort – toxic people do this on purpose. Rather than telling you the whole story, they crop out the parts where they contributed to the issue.

They tell stories like, “As soon as I got there and they were really upset, I didn’t even get a chance to explain what was going on”

From what they just said, that other person seems like the bad guy, right? That’s because they cropped the story! They conveniently don’t mention that they showed up half an hour late, which caused their friend to become irritated.

Be wary of people who always seem to be the victim. If nothing ever seems to go their way, they’re just doing the best they can, and it’s other people who are always the problem…they might be a story cropper.

Story cropping drives me crazy because it’s just lying. I don’t believe in full disclosure, but if you’re specifically leaving out important details that change the perspective of what happened, you’re lying.

Measure the frequency

Obviously, we all do a little bit of this now and then. It’s not like if someone does this once, they’re toxic. If you’re noticing patterns over a few weeks or months, you’re in a relationship with a toxic person. You need to establish boundaries or end the relationship.

Don’t let the compassion you feel for that person’s hurt trap you in the relationship. You don’t owe it to them to be there while they heal. They might never heal unless they feel the consequences of being selfish. It’s okay for you to walk away from someone so they have space to heal. Be the confident person who stood up for them and left.

Did you love this?

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June 5, 2020


Rebekah Buege is a body confidence coach helping strong women process critical thoughts and heal insecurities.

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