There they sit, all coiled up, lying in wait, hissing as you approach, quenching at the perfect moment to strike…and then WHAM! They’ve got you.

No, I’m not talking about vipers or cobras, I’m talking about actual living and breathing human beings. We’ve all heard of these people. Notorious for their manipulative abilities and downright dangerous in how close they can get without you ever realizing what they’re really doing. Speaking from experience, these people are loitering around the hallways, pacing through the streets and strolling in the subways. They look with prying eyes at their victim, and once they’ve got their sights set, they strike without hesitation, and if you’re unlucky enough to get caught up in their purview, you’re in for a ride.

Yet the question remains as to what, not who, exactly are these people? Why did they become this way? Why do they do what they do, and what have you got to do with them? All these questions will be addressed.

We can take the simplest example in this regard: the school. The glaring safe haven that sheds the light of education, preparing today’s youth for tomorrow’s journey. In this scenario, we can take the example of some missed class work. Now, there’s a major difference between someone who merely refuses to send you the notes that were made in that class which you missed and a person who deliberately goes out of their way to send you the wrong answers, but for the purposes of this essay, I’m going to identify them under the same category.

“Well, why are you going to do that?”, you may ask. The reason is very simple, because all these behavioral traits are created by the same single factor: competition. “The competition is maddening!” says Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, a quote that I recently used in my English Literature CIE, and a quote that applies perfectly to this situation for competition emerges as the forefront factor in encouraging these individuals to pursue their goals through twisted intent.

Since we’ve established that their main motivating factor is to get ahead of the competition, it must also be noted that their reckless disregard for others is only accentuated by anyone or anything that they perceive to be a threat to final goals. If someone is a passive participant in their scheme, someone who has no idea what they are involved in, then they are increasingly likely to get trampled upon. However, if you’re aware of their schemes, then they will assuredly back off.

We can use a whole variety of names to label these characters, from narcissists, sociopaths, toxic people or “baiters”, as Dr. Phil McGraw describes them. Notwithstanding that, a point in our favour is that most of these characters display very similar characteristics. In fact, I was absolutely flabbergasted when I compared my own situation to a couple of exemplars from YouTube videos only to come to the realization that these people are very similar: they follow a pattern. Disrupt the pattern, and they are no more.

These “snakes” are not born like this, but rather shaped and nurtured into these situations. The contribution that one’s upbringing has in their latter stages of life cannot be understated in any context, specifically in this one. Although it is not of key importance, it may be interesting to note that most people who display these characteristics suffer from either neglect in their childhood, over-protection, or abuse and though this may seem enough to warrant them a degree of sympathy, it would be nothing short of a virtuous error to do so. When dealing with these people, it is absolutely crucial that you do not provide them with the benefit of the doubt, remember that it is not your fault for who they are and subsequently you should not be made to suffer for what is essentially a fault in them.

Moving on, let’s put a magnifying lens on some of their manipulative strategies. These people feed off emotions, the emotions that you display towards them. They crave controversy as well as your angry outbursts and do so in such an apt manner that to bystanders, it looks as if it is you who’s causing the trouble. These individuals are highly intelligent, a master of the game that they play and they know how to trap you like a fish on a hook. Typically, they seek out victims who are honest, helpful and trustworthy as those characteristics can be easily exploited. In my experience, I’ve noticed that “snakes” align themselves with other “snakes” and the gridlock which they form is deadly, to say the least.

If you’ve made the mistake of associating yourself with one of these individuals with absolutely no clue of what was to follow, then you can’t be blamed. These individuals are renowned for their charming attitude, perceived friendliness and well-furnished public image, yet it’s only when you get too involved that the warning signs start to go off.

At first, there seems to be no stem in relations until it develops onto a personal level wherein they extract personal information from you (something which you probably willingly opened up about under the pretense of friendship) and they’ll use this against you at a later time. It can be likened to a rope, pulling out all your weaknesses and secrets, and then tying you up by them before you even know what happened. The point must be made that this is a gradual process, and it will take time to realise what is actually happening, and when you do, it’s urgent that you leave the toxic zone.

Other techniques which they may employ include emotional blackmail whereby they make themselves look like the victim by arousing sympathy, telling tales of how the world has been unfair to them in particular, and if you buy into their scheme, then they’re hoisting you into their toxic terrain. Once you’re in, they can use gas-lighting to convince you of how you aren’t helping them out sufficiently and how you should really try to help them more. This can vary from buying them food, to entertaining them around the clock, and with increasingly engaging tasks; the need for instant gratification is rife.

They will also hoard you with lies, and blame you for their problems; every single one of their actions is underlined by cruel intentions. Moreover, they depict the latent entities of passive-aggressiveness through which they conceal their hatred beneath the sweetest of smiles, but are always ready to stab you in the spine.

Another thing that must be seen is how they isolate their victims with the use of the silent treatment. In their minds, they are superior to you and by depriving you of their company, they’re waiting for you to go squirming back to them since at this point, it becomes difficult to proceed without their company since they’ve become such a pivotal part of your lives, or so you think. An apt example of this may be taken in the form of business companies, where employees have been known for sabotaging their fellow worker’s progress, and even going as far as cheating on their partners in order to create an internal conflict amongst the office members.

So how do we deal with these people? What I provided in the preceding paragraph was merely a brief overview of individuals that are wracked with a whole host of manipulative characteristics that are multiplied with even more traits that I don’t have the space to discuss.

If the whole picture is really as grotesque as it may seem, then how on earth are we to combat this massacre? Fortunately for us, the solution is much easier once we’ve understood these people. I mentioned before that these people are masters of elusive behavior, but once you’ve deduced what they truly are, then you can take action. This can be done in multiple ways.

The most effective method would be to deprive them of their platform of performance by completely ignoring them. Trust me, it is much more difficult than it may seem as they can trigger you in such ways that remaining silent would only be something that a fool would consider. Yet is by far the most effective method. By showing them that you are unfazed by their actions and couldn’t care less, they will gradually leave you in search for another victim. Unfortunately, there is always another victim since they manipulate other people as a means of gaining self-esteem in an attempt to prove that they are better than the majority.

The second method would be to inform someone, be it your employer, parent or teacher of what is going on, so that the matter can be dealt with swiftly.

The last method is definitely the least recommended and most dangerous method of all: to dance with the devil in the pale of moonlight. Play them at their own game; or at least try to. This is also the least effective one since these impostors tend to be two or even three steps ahead of others, and any attempt and handling them alone can lead to collateral damage. It takes a snake to beat a snake, and I don’t believe that it’s worth reducing yourself to their level in order to try and get revenge, especially since success in this regard is far from guaranteed.

In the long run, it’s best to know who your neighbor is. “Keep your friends close and keep your enemies closer” may have worked in the Godfather, but life isn’t an Italian mob movie. When I left primary school, I was involved in certain incidents which prompted my teacher to strongly advise me to choose my friends wisely, yet I wasn’t able to do so.

It was only after certain interactions with these toxic people that I learned how human behavior practically works, and I trust that this article will prevent you from making the same mistakes that I did.