It's neither constructive nor helpful to label someone 'toxic'.
However, the insidious, covert variety of emotional manipulation has a destructive effect on anyone who is subjected to it, regardless of the motives of the manipulator, and it's about as close to toxicity as you can get.
Someone who unconsciously uses manipulative strategies to swing things their way every now and then is a million miles away from a hardcore manipulator who sets out to systematically undermine the autonomy of another person for the purpose of controlling them. That's taking it to extremes. The manipulator tells themselves that anyone who is that easily duped deserves everything they get, but it can be so insidious that the victim doesn't even know what's being done to them until it's too late. How can you combat that when you don't even realise what's going on?
I used to think I understood what manipulation was, but it turns out that I had only the sketchiest understanding. Well, now I've remedied that, and it was a real eye opener. Things that had puzzled and troubled me about a particular friendship for years were suddenly revealed to me as manipulation tactics, and explains why I felt such extreme swings of emotion around him.
I know now that it's perfectly normal to experience an outburst of emotion at the end of a manipulative relationship. You suddenly realise there's no further point in holding back all the stuff you have been manipulated into bottling up over the years. So I don't need to feel any guilt for 'emoting'. I'm the normal one in this scenario.
It's the MANIPULATION itself that does the damage, not the intent behind it.
If anyone reading this by chance is interested in learning about what it's like to be in a manipulative relationship, here's a list for your elucidation.
HOW TO TELL IF YOU ARE BEING MANIPULATED
Your joy at finding love has turned to fear of losing it. (This is known as the manipulative shift)
Your mood depends on the state of the relationship.
You're unhappy but you dread losing it. You feel like you're screwing up the best thing that has happened to you but not sure how.
Your relationship feels very complex, but you're not sure why.
You obsess about the relationship constantly. Analyze every aspect of it and desperately try to figure it out. It gets you nowhere.
You never feel sure where you stand which leaves you perpetually uncertain.
You frequently ask if something is wrong, it feels like it.
You always feel on the defensive. You continually feel the need to explain and defend yourself.
When you question your partner, the focus is immediately turned onto you
You don't know how to make them happy no matter how hard you try.
Expressing negative thoughts or emotions feels forbidden, causing you to experience extreme frustration and even hostility.(THIS, ESPECIALLY!)
You feel inadequate. You feel less strong, less confident, less secure, less intelligent, less sane than you did before the relationship.
You feel like you're always falling short.
You feel guilty. You blame yourself for your partner pulling away. You can't understand why you keep sabotaging the relationship.
You feel like you're walking on eggshells, carefully controlling your words and actions to keep him from withdrawing affection again.
From Psychopaths And Love
If you're in a relationship like this, get out. People who will do this to you only have their own interests at heart and are never going to give you a genuine, equal, mutual relationship of any kind, be it romantic, friendship, colleague or family. You deserve better.
I am out of that friendship now and have never been happier. I thought I was going crazy at one point, but it was just the effects of the manipulation. He said to me once that he preferred to hang out with people who were not motivated by fear or greed, which I took as a not so subtle jibe at me. Personally, I've realised that I prefer to be around people who are comfortable with being genuine and congruent. At least you know where you stand, and there is a worthwhile emotional payoff from that kind of friendship. If you are forever having to guess and stress, it's just not worth the bother. The trouble is, people like that want a 'yes' person because they can't cope with being disagreed with or stood up to, but when you compromise yourself for their benefit, they despise you for it.
If I can help even one person to realise that they are onto a loser, it will be worth it.
Ironically, I was looking at a discussion on Facebook about the merits or otherwise of counselling, and one thing that was said was this: If you ever come across someone claiming to be a Life Coach, run for the hills.