A Subtle Warning Sign of A Toxic Person

The Department of Homeland Security has a color-coded terrorism alert system. Red, the highest level, means a severe risk of terrorist attacks. The lowest level, green, means low risk of terrorist attacks. Between those are Blue (guarded risk), yellow (significant) and then there is orange (high). There is a lesser known and very subtle early warning sign you may be dating a toxic person that you never hear about. It’s not quite the level of a red alert, but it is definitely in the orange to the red range and it should put you on high alert that you are in danger of being at the very least, emotionally abused, by a toxic person, narcissist or sociopath. It’s a tactic called Subtle Ignoring. It is generally a precursor to full-blown narcissistic abuse.

Subtke ignoring usually starts in the very beginning of a relationship, even as early as on the first date. It is a form of boundary testing that is extremely easy to dismiss and often goes unnoticed. For example; you might be talking about your day at work and the narcissist will begin to lose interest. You will notice that his/her facial expression starts to change. Or he/she may begin to suddenly seem distracted and start to look around the environment.

Or if at home, they may start to do a chore that drowns your voice underneath the noise of washing dishes or vacuuming. Or they may be more subtle in their approach, and start to straighten a picture hanging on the wall, turning their back to you. They may even check their Facebook or cell phone. Sometimes, they will blatantly interrupt you and change the topic to something completely different.

When you notice this the first time, you may dismiss it. When it happens again, you may or may not confront them or decide to pretend you didn’t notice it and instinctively attempt to win back their attention.

Most likely if you confront them they will provide a plausible excuse for their behavior and respond with something like, “Oh, I couldn’t help but notice the painting on the wall.” Or, “sorry, I just remembered I had to text my co-worker something important about a meeting tomorrow”

There are people who suffer from ADHD or other impulse control disorders that may have difficulties paying attention, are easily distracted and compulsively interrupt. However, when confronted, they will admit fault and offer an apology and will appear more embarrassed by their social faux pas.

Narcissists will make excuses, deny, minimize, dismiss or trivialize your concerns when you try to point out their selective attention.

Your intuition will tell you that something is off, but jeez no one is perfect…right? However, if this kind of behavior occurs more than a handful of times, you are definitely in a code orange situation, and you better be on high alert that you may be in the crosshairs of a narcissist.

You may find yourself confused by their behavior because at times they will pretend to be the most attentive listeners and will hang on to your every word. Narcissists are great at mimicking concern when it benefits them or when they are trying to pick your brain and pinpoint your vulnerabilities.

Their selective attention, or subtle ignoring, is a very deliberate tactic to assess your vulnerabilities, beliefs, and values so they can transform into your ideal partner, while mentally noting any sensitive information you share with them to be used to exploit and manipulate you in the future.

They will alternate their attentiveness with bouts of subtle ignoring to confuse you, cause you to doubt your instincts and establish how effectively they will be able to control you.

However, if you pay close attention, you will notice that they never seem to have a problem staying focused during conversations when they are the ones doing the talking or when they are trying to make a good impression on someone. 

This type of boundary testing is a clear cut sign that you are in the clutches of a character disordered abuser. The narcissist, like any predator, will take your willingness to put up with their blatant disrespect as your implied consent to continue violating your boundaries, disrespect and abuse you.

Pay attention to your instincts. Don’t make excuses for poor manners or try to justify bad behavior. You should never feel the need to explain the basic principles of common courtesy and respect to another adult. Period.

img_9351Bree Bonchay is a Los Angeles based licensed psychotherapist who believes relationships are the currency of life. She’s dedicated to helping people heal from break-ups, recover from toxic relationships with narcissists and sociopaths and to never settle for a life less than the one they dreamed of. She is a Blogger, Advocate, Facebook Toxic Relationship Recovery Forum Administrator, Radio Guest Expert, and is the Author of the book, I Am Free.

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Begood4000. (2014, October, 5) How To Spot A Narcissist 101. Retrieved from http://www.menwhoareabused.com


Copyright © 2015 Bree Bonchay. All Rights Reserved

31 thoughts on “A Subtle Warning Sign of A Toxic Person

  1. The behavior you just described can also be seen in people with autism spectrum disorders due to their difficulties in social situations. But yeah if a woman is bothered by those things, why stay? Some make a mistake staying and then they are miserable. it doesn’t always turn out bad when someone shows those signs because of behavior overlaps in conditions.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. After ten years of marriage and being with her for almost 20, I have recently started the hardest phase of my life. The phase of seeing that the person I thought I knew never existed. That the life I once had was never a life at all. At least not my life. This site and many others like it have been devastating to me and what I thought was normal. I know I’m not perfect. I know I can be selfish and stubborn. I have had my moments of weakness. But I know I’ve learned from my mistakes. Its hard knowing that what I once felt was normal, was and is anything but normal. Its hard hearing that I’ve been used. Its painful knowing that I’ve been used to fulfill the never ending narcissistic supply of attention. And I am still stuck deep in it. I am learning. I am taking baby steps. I am desperately trying to understand all of this.I know I may never understand it. These posts hurt like no other hurt. They hurt because they are so real and so close to home. Yet I know after the pain slowly goes away, I am more powerful. More educated. And one step closer to finding myself for the first time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Njblack48065, it is a very hard pill to swallow! But you are right, once you accept it is what it is and not personalize it, you will be stronger and will not only find yourself but will be able to rebuild yourself in to a better version of you! ~ Bree

      Liked by 1 person

    • keep pushing on for you. recognition is the first big step, accepting it the second, and taking action is the third.
      Just keep remembering all the incidents, acts, lack of acts, etc that they have done and get a plan and move on!
      one cannot lose what they never really had.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with so much of what I have read on this site… But as someone with ADHD, I struggle to focus on conversations with my SO or friends, especially if we are out in town of my phone is buzzing, etc. I think the reaction the person has when you point it out makes a difference (is the person defensive and denies it or apologetic and willing to take responsibility for their distraction?).
    I agree if they act like it’s all you (crazy making), that’s a bad sign.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that’s a very good point. A PD person will blow it off or say they are multitasking, while someone who has ADHD or someone who has issues with impulse control would take responsibility and apologize. Thank you for commenting.


  4. Carrie, I’m glad you are sending information your son’s way and hopefully it will help him see through the manipulation and abuse. The more he reads the better. If you want, you can subscribe to my blog via email and new posts will be delivered to his email as they are published. Just look for the follow blog by email on my blog site. Also check out psychopathfree.com for a wealth of information you can share with him as well. Keep supporting him and hopefully he will realize there is no hope for future filled with happiness with a narcopath and he should not ever tolerate emotional and physical abuse. ~ Bree


      • Thank you. The Narcissist ex daughter in law is still at it. Stalking, lying, saying now he and I are Narcissists on her page and even on Peninterest, and she has a stupid site about Narcissism! She is the typical Malignant Narcissist! Acting the victim! Always blaming others for her own actions! Haven’t seen or texted, or spoke to her for a year but I am still being called a Monster ex mother in law because I had called her out as a Narcisssist! Our son is still being stalked, lied about, threathened and she all the time defaces him on Facebook, her narcissist site, any where she goes! Uses even pictures of him! What can we do to stop the bull crap? This hurts his job and the kids ( people talk) he has full custody of! Any suggestions?


  5. Thank you for this article–very clear-cut and understandable. My SO often does this, and when confronted, will tell me that he just happens to be thinking about something else, or “thinking on a higher plane”; and will get very angry and defensive. He constantly interrupts with his own views, or changes the subject entirely, or simply ignores me. I can see him thinking about HIS responses while I am speaking, not really paying attention.

    As Alaina pointed out: “You should never feel the need to explain the basic principles of common courtesy and respect to another adult. Period!”. Once I asked him why he never says “please” or “thank you” or feels like just ASKING me to do something–he would rather order me or tell me what to do, like I’m a servant or employee–and he responded: ” we’re married now, we don’t have to be formal”. It’s not formality, it’s common courtesy and politeness!!

    As for people with autism: our child is mildly autistic, and sometimes rude without thinking, but when it is pointed out, will sincerely apologize. My SO likes to claim he is autistic, so that I have to “put up” with his behavior, but there is never any sense of remorse or sincerity. Due to circumstances, I am not willing to leave him, but am educating myself to keep my own self-esteem, and learning how to respond to (or ignore) him; what to let slide and what is important. Nicely written, Bree 🙂


  6. This article is very spot on and close resembles my experience.
    The narcissist in my life was my colleague. She was either flirting or ignoring me, To me it was like some kind of sick test. If I was good she would be sweet and flirty if i made a mistake she would pretend i did not exist.
    A mistake could be if i did not greet her the right way, usually because i was busy talking to someone or she was giving me the creeps.

    It sounds weird but i think she monitored every single step i took and planned a response based on that.

    I felt i was being treated as a child except I am 35 year old mand and she was a fourty year old woman. She would never walk over to me i always had to walk over to her, it was so humiliating. Over time she became more and more friendly but it was like i had to prove i was bendable, breakable and subject myself to the goddess. Somehow I felt i was selling my soul to the devil.

    When i figured out her planning, i started to pull away, then i got the death stare and she started to sulk or whine..

    Those few times I actually got to talk to her was rather weird. She was so selfobsessed and would only talk about herself or she would pick the topic if I tried to change topic she would zone out. She was actually quite boring. Not much was actually going on inside her head.

    Luckily i got fired and the fog cleared. The last time i saw her was at the christmas party I just gave her an angry face, she immediately went over to some of her colleagues and gave me a smear campaign. I have not heard or seen anything of her since.

    I have heard i should get a lovebombing/ idealization phase with lots of pornosex but I have never seen anything about that. I guess, the self-loathing afterwards would be unbearable.

    I somehow have a feeling, she has learned me quite a few things on how to define myself and the partner I am looking for and who the right one is for me.
    One thing is for sure a woman that shows these traits has no place with me.
    Someone once told me that my selfrespect is the most precious thing i will ever own, Now i know what they were talking about.


  7. Oh I wish I had read this article months ago! I could give so many examples from a now defunct relationship but the one that got me preparing to leave is when I wished him “Happy Six Months” together and all he said was, “I don’t know what to say to that.”


  8. I know this person who uses his ADHD as an excuse for his narcissistic abuse.
    He always claims he can’t remember things well and that his attentiveness is not very good when in fact sometimes you can catch him remembering certain details pretty clearly (for example he says he can’t remember how many prostitutes he has used but he remembers the women and how they looked or what they talked about and what he did with them clearly).
    To him him allegedly not remembering is just an easy excuse.


  9. A great article! I didn’t know this was a sign! I would be talking about something and suspect the ex was not listening, so I would suddenly quit talking, in the middle of a sentence. He never even noticed, or asked me why I had quit talking. And often I would be talking and turn around to catch him texting a friend or checking his email or facebook. What a painful process it has been working through all the fallout of this toxic relationship alone. Thank Heavens for these wonderful blogs or I would think I were crazy


  10. Wow. This perfectly describes my narc mother. She manages to find a way to cut short every single conversation (even when I’m mid-sentence) that she is not in control of or the primary speaker in. Every single one. No exceptions. I could be bearing my soul deeply and she will move on to some other thought or start talking to someone else or say she has to go or she’ll respond aloud to something on the TV or even stand up and walk away without even excusing herself. She is the one who raised me in such a way that I readily accepted my stbx narc’s abuse. He too ignored me. He sometimes even said aloud, “I don’t care”.
    btw Today I also read your post on narcs controlling food. Each did that in their own way. My mother being the worst. Since I live 9 hours from my mother and my stbx has been gone a year, I have been so enjoying what I want to do with food. This is the first year of food freedom in my life.


  11. After going no contact with narcissist I feel much better. That person nearly destroyed me with his lies, gas lighting, cheating, and taking and not giving anything in return. For the year I was with him I never got one gift for either my birthday or Xmas or even a Valentine’s card. He on the other hand got gifts for his birthday and xmas gifts that he asked for and got.What a horrible person he was and I am so glad he is out of my life I say that but I know that the hovering will come. He has hovered me twice and I went back but no more. I can’t take no more of his behaviour and I know now that he is mentally ill. He is not my reality. Mel xx


    • Mel, I went through the exact same thing. And of course, the whole time I’m thinking I’m the crazy one, I must be missing something, because he’s from another country he doesn’t understand how things are done in the US. All excuses!!! When I brought up the fact that he didn’t do anything for my birthday, his explanation was that he doesn’t really celebrate birthdays. Only for his sons. As I reflect on a lot of things that happened, I now see how the warning signs were right in front of my face. Surprisingly he told me that his ex-wife, who he said was crazy (I don’t call any of my exes crazy. I now see this was projection. The only ex I call crazy is him) got very mad at him for ignoring her birthday. One of the only times he ever really shared anything with me. And just like you said, I gave him cards quite often, took him out for his birthday, bought him a gift, got a cake. The self centered shell of a man couldn’t even be bothered to get me a card!!

      When I was at the end, I was doing everything I could to ensure that my instincts were right. I don’t like to judge people. Because he would be quite nice sometimes (cooking dinner, helping out a little financially – which was eventually thrown back in my face) I couldn’t understand the two extremes. Like when he was mad (he created the fights), I wanted to talk and resolve things like normal adults and he would ignore me for days with one word responses.

      It really is an amazing feeling when you realize what’s going on. That you’re dealing with an emotional scam artist. That he will never take responsibility. I know every time I accidentally see his picture in my photos I want to vomit. I feel that writing down everything that you felt was wrong in the relationship is very therapeutic. Even if you don’t send it. It opens your eyes. I would read mine over and over until I was SO DISGUSTED with him that I could never look back.

      Stay strong!!! You can do this!!


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