Toxic guys (and girls) are not going to show their true selves in the courting stage or during the puppy-love period of the relationship. There might be miniature red flags, but most of them will be invisible to the untrained eye.

When you’re deep into the relationship — once the affection fades away and control and manipulation becomes the norm — you are going to wonder how you were stupid enough to fall for him in the first place. You are going to wonder what happened to the perfect person you handed your heart to in the beginning.

Even though you are bound to feel lost and confused, you cannot blame yourself for being fooled. The things is, toxic people are really good at playing pretend. You are not stupid for believing he was who he said he was. If you need proof of that, look at your neighbors and coworkers and even close friends.

Even after you have told them horror stories about what he has done to you, they still think he’s the nicest guy they have ever met. When they accuse you of overreacting and doubt whether you are telling the truth, you are going to wonder how no one else sees it. You are going to wonder why the people surrounding him have no idea about the darkness hidden inside — but it’s the same reason why you felt that way at first.

Toxic people are experts at manipulation. He will be on his best behavior in public because he wants to paint a certain picture to the world. More accurately, if you ever say something nasty about him, he wants you to come across as the crazy one, the unbalanced one, the liar. He wants everyone to choose his side. He wants to twist the truth to make it look like you are the bad one and he is the victim who is doing everything right but still getting screwed over.

When you are dating someone toxic, you are going to feel crazy, you are going to feel insecure and off-center, but that is not enough for him. He also wants the rest of the world to look at you like you’re crazy. He wants you to feel isolated, because if you have no one else to turn to, then you will have to turn back towards him. You will have to stay — and that’s exactly what he wants. He wants you to stay, even though he treats you like he would rather have you gone.

You have to be careful because toxic guys seem like the nicest guys at first. If you slowly see him changing and becoming more controlling as the relationship progresses, don’t stay with him because you think the guy you first met is the real him. The real him is the one you see every single day, the one who appears when no one else is in the room. The real him is someone you do not want to waste anymore time alongside because he will break you into pieces.

By Holly Riordan for ThoughtCatalog