By Syjil Ashraf - 11. June 2019
While it’s easy to say that one should always stay away from toxic people, toxic behavior can be difficult to identify, especially when it’s present in those we care about — or even in ourselves. It’s important to recognize it, however, because staying in a toxic relationship can be damaging to one’s emotional and mental well-being.
There are certain behaviors that are telltale signs of a toxic individual, and by identifying these behaviors, you can protect yourself by avoiding or putting down boundaries with this person. If you notice that you yourself display any of these behaviors, working on stopping them and seeking out better coping mechanisms would do wonders for your own self-esteem and the health of your relationships.
Giving unsolicited advice
Unless someone specifically asks for it, giving out advice can be patronizing and interfering. Toxic people are especially prone to do so when it’s inappropriate or even when the other person has made clear it’s unwelcome; it may offer them a feeling of superiority and control.
The most toxic thing someone can do is to bring others down. Toxic people will often explicitly insult others, as well as subtly do so in the form of jokes and backhanded compliments. This causes others to feel hurt and self-doubt that can be quite lasting.
Toxic people have a habit of focusing on others rather than doing their own introspection. They take information, or even make up lies, about other people and spread gossip in an effort to hurt the other person’s reputation and perhaps even hurt their credibility should they speak out about the toxic person’s behavior.
Gossip is just one way that toxic people engage in relational aggression, a type of aggression in which one causes harm to another by damaging their relationships or social status. Toxic people enjoy pitting others against each other, and they often outright do so by excluding people or encouraging the social ostracism of those they feel threatened by or envious of. Such social exclusion can be very damaging to a person, often having psychological effects.
Constantly talk about themselves
A big indication that someone is bad news is their lack of interest in others. Some toxic people talk about themselves constantly and show very little regard for other people, turning the conversation back to themselves whenever possible.
Giving the silent treatment
Unless you’re putting down boundaries with someone with whom you know communication is futile, giving another person the silent treatment is an extremely toxic behavior. Not only does this make the other person feel rejected and undesirable, but it also helps the toxic person avoid any confrontation about their behavior.
Refusing to take ownership of their behavior
Most toxic people will do anything to avoid accepting responsibility for mistakes or toxic behaviors. They tend to shift blame to others or on their circumstances; nothing is ever their fault. This can be especially damaging when the toxic person is treating others badly, as they will make their victims feel as though they have done something to deserve the abuse.
While sometimes it is necessary to tell a white lie, frequent lying is a sure sign that a person is toxic and difficult to deal with. Whether it’s telling constant small fibs or huge lies that affect your entire relationship, this kind of behavior can completely undermine any trust in their relationships.
An especially insidious kind of lying, gaslighting is when a person tries to create doubt about another person or group’s reality. This is typically done to deny abusive behavior, but also to distort reality to their own narrative. When being gaslighted, you’ll find that you question your own memory or perception of events and sometimes even your own sanity.
An extremely nasty thing to do is to outright verbally abuse another person with name-calling or attacks on another person’s behavior, appearance, personality and more. A toxic person will often do this to take the other person’s confidence down, and if someone is subjected to verbal abuse enough, they’ll come to internalize it, affecting their self-esteem and even sense of identity.
Toxic people rarely apologize, if ever at all. As they are loath to take responsibility for their actions, they are very unlikely to say they’re sorry, since doing so would mean having to face consequences or make the effort to do better. Many times, when a toxic person does give an apology, it’s an attempt to manipulate others into doing what they want.
Another way toxic people attempt to get what they want is through guilting others. If you refuse to go along with a toxic person’s wishes, be prepared for them to try to make you feel like a terrible person for it in order to get you to give in.
Far from examining their own behavior and attempting to be better, toxic people tend to enjoy judging others’ behavior and commenting on it. They’ll often also judge others for their appearance, job, financial situation, relationships, family and more. Being around someone who is so judgmental can cause both confidence and self-esteem to take a dip.
Being a fair weather friend
While a toxic person is more than happy to feed off others for support and help in their own times of need, they’re often very reluctant to return the favor. A toxic friend can be great to have when times are good, but don’t expect them to be around to lend a hand or a shoulder when you’re going through some rougher days.
Always having to be right
If someone always insists on being right, that’s definitely a sign of some toxic behavior. They’ll even twist the truth or get into their habit of lying in order to ensure that their side of an argument is the right one, or refuse to see other points of view entirely.
Although it’s not immediately apparent, constant negativity is actually quite toxic behavior to both the person doing it and the people around them. Not only are negative and pessimistic thoughts detrimental to one’s own confidence and self-esteem, but it’s extremely draining to others who have to be subjected to the constant negativity. This lack of positivity puts a damper on everything, as a very negative person will also react to other people’s good news with condescension or skepticism.
The need to feel superior is a constant for many toxic people, and they tend to see life as a competition. If you share good news, they’ll feel the need to share even better news. If you tell a great story, they’ll come up with an even more interesting or outlandish one. This toxic behavior is meant to make the toxic person seem as though they are the smartest and most interesting person in the room, and it can be quite draining.
Minimizing others’ feelings
If you’re ever trying to vent about something that upsets you, and the other person constantly makes you feel as if you’re overreacting, that’s definitely toxic behavior. It’s understandable to seek validation, and your emotions are always valid. Anyone who tries to make you feel otherwise does not truly care about how you feel.
Habitual criticism of others helps no one, and only serves to put people down. If you’re around someone who you notice is constantly criticizing other people — whether to their faces or not — there’s a good chance they’re doing the same to you. If they are in fact doing it to your face, this can also have a huge effect on your own self-esteem and sense of self.
Not respecting boundaries
It’s important to put down boundaries with toxic people in order to protect your own mental and emotional health. However, a person who is toxic will not appreciate this and will often attempt to continue to cross those boundaries. Entitlement to other people’s time, space or even person is not only damaging to relationships and other people’s sense of safety, but it’s violating as well.
If someone is deeply insecure, they’ll often overcompensate by trying to bolster their own image by bragging about their talents and accomplishments. Toxic people will often do this in a way that’s clearly meant to show how much better they are than others, and they’ll often put down those around them in the process.
It is that very insecurity that will also cause a toxic person to be very unhappy when they perceive that someone else is having some sort of success or happiness. Instead of noticing and appreciating the other person’s hard work to attain their success, they’ll feel indignant and resentful. A dead giveaway that a person is experiencing toxic envy is when they minimize other people’s accomplishments or insult others that they perceive to be doing something well.
Losing their temper
Anger is an understandable and necessary emotion, but like any emotion, it’s important to channel it in a healthy manner. Expressing your anger by raising your voice or getting physical is not healthy, however, and it is a definite sign of a toxic person when they can’t keep their temper in check.
Instead of being straightforward and trying to communicate their needs, toxic people tend to try to control others outright through covert means. A toxic person does not care about what others want or need, but would rather manipulate a situation in any way in order to attain a goal that will benefit them.
The most difficult toxic behavior to deal with is when the other person is simply inconsistent in their treatment of you. They will change their outlook and their opinions on people, events and other subject matter to whatever suits them, and often this results in switching between a hot and cold attitude towards friends and family. If you’re constantly unsure of where you stand with someone, it’s best to let them go in order to bring more peace into your life.