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Did you ever spend time with someone who seemed friendly but left you feeling insecure and emotionally exhausted? If so, you might have encountered a toxic person.
Apparently, toxic work cultures are the cause of the Great Resignation, according to an article in Sloane Management Review. After all, a toxic culture starts with toxic people.
What’s even more concerning? Study results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that negative relationships can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and metabolism problems.
This is why you should pay attention to toxic behavior and learn how to spot it before it sends you or your team members packing.
Related: The 4 Most Toxic People at Work—And How To Handle Them
What does a toxic person look like?
People use the word toxic differently. In scientific terms, toxic substances are those that can cause harm, such as poisonous chemicals. But, it can also refer to a person’s unpleasant or malicious behavior.
The phrase “toxic person” is often used to describe someone who is subtly or outwardly manipulative, self-centered, needy, or controlling.
There may be underlying feelings of low self-esteem, and mental disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), childhood trauma, or other deeply rooted psychological issues manifest in these behaviors.
In addition, research indicates that toxic people might have a “dark core” personality trait. Their behavior is justified with rationalizations to avoid guilt or shame while placing their goals and interests first.
The fact that the toxic behavior may have a rationale doesn’t make it any less harmful. When this happens to you from someone else, it can be confusing and painful and may even make you feel that you’ve done something wrong.
If you’re dealing with someone whose behavior may be toxic, look out for the following signs.
1. Their behavior is passive-aggressive.
As defined by the Mayo Clinic, passive aggression involves indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. Toxic people will often attempt to make others feel small by passive-aggressively slighting them. For example, you might get compliments from a manager that are actually insulting, like, “Great job on this report! See what happens when you put in some effort?”
The most disheartening part is that the target often feels confused and rattled and ends up thanking the person because they don’t know how to react.
Related: 12 Passive-Aggressive Phrases That Can Destroy Your Business
People who are negative may see the world as cold and cruel. Because of this, they complain. A lot.
Additionally, they have a tendency to ruin the fun by making depressing comments or acting in a defeatist manner. This can include negative feedback on socail media, which I personally find harmful to my mental energy.
3. They’re always the victim.
Toxic people are always the victims. Whatever the situation or whoever is actually to blame — they’ll twist it to make it seem as if someone else was responsible.
What is it about playing the victim card that they love so much? In their minds, it keeps them looking good and gives them a sense of control over others.
There are always going to be misunderstandings. But nevertheless, when a person blames their partner for every problem, it is a sign that something is wrong.
4. They play the blame game.
People who are toxic tend to hold their inadequacy or insecurity against those closest to them rather than own up to it. For example, let’s say that colleague is in a bad mood. Instead of owning their feelings or taking responsibility for them, they may turn to you and say, “You’re sure in a bad mood today,” which may confuse you.
There’s a good chance you’ll be on the defense without really knowing why. It’s normal to get accusations or questions that don’t make sense or seem random.
We all have ups and downs, as well as good times and bad times. It is rare for a toxic person, however, to be consistent. Instead, behaviorally, they are erratic.
They do not follow through on their commitments and promises, for example. And their next move is never predictable.
You find it hard to be there for someone when they are inconsistent like this. But, unfortunately, it’s also possible for them to be elated with you one minute and write you off the next.
6. They’re always right.
Toxic people are never wrong. Or, at least, that’s what they believe. Even when all evidence points to the contrary, they may create “alternative facts” to provide evidence for their perspective. It is often futile to try to persuade a toxic person to see another viewpoint because it strips them of their power by admitting they may be wrong.
“Their need to be right trumps common sense, truth, and even normal social bounds,” Talented Ladies Club reported. “They’ll pursue an issue until it’s conceded that they are, in fact, right. They’ll even happily take their fight to the legal system, incurring huge costs and a waste of time, often over very trivial matters — even suing neighbors over inches of land or the height of boundary hedges.”
7. They leave conversations unfinished.
You won’t be able to reach toxic people on the phone. Emails and texts won’t be answered either. While listening to their voicemail messages, you might wonder how the relationship is going. Consequently, you wonder whether they are okay or if you just upset them.
If someone cares for you, they will attempt to resolve any problems you may be experiencing. Of course, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll resolve the issue. But, at least they’ll try. If they leave you for long periods, consider it a sign of their commitment to the relationship.
A toxic person will engage in any kind of dishonest behavior, whether it’s deceit, lying, or general secrecy. There are a number of ways to handle this one, depending on how good of a liar you are dealing with. However, don’t let a lie go unaddressed — especially if it happens more than once.
A toxic person constantly criticizes others for their appearance, personality, behavior, or any other aspect of their life that catches their attention. Over time, this criticism can severely damage your sense of self-worth.
If you are younger or more sensitive, you may feel more negatively affected by receiving this criticism.
When things don’t go as planned, a rigid person may be stubborn, inflexible, or incapable of adapting. Likewise, an employee may have difficulty adapting to a new team dynamic due to a new manager joining your team. In some cases, they may even display insubordination when they refuse to perform a task under the new leader’s direction.
11. They can change their emotions in a flash.
There are often extreme emotions in toxic people, which can change anytime. In an instant, they can be happy and suddenly angry and screaming at you.
The situation can be highly confusing and frustrating, which is understandable. Every moment is different, so you never know what mood they’ll be in. As a result, when dealing with them, you might feel as though you have to walk on eggshells or avoid specific topics because you never know what might trigger them.
12. Boundaries are disregarded by them.
No matter how many times you’ve asked them to change their behavior, it doesn’t matter. When someone is toxic, they will violate your wishes. People with toxic personalities also expect you to come through for them, no matter what. Neglecting your boundaries and not recognizing when they’re walking all over you makes it impossible to build a positive relationship.
To separate yourself from the world around you, you set your own personal and professional boundaries. In addition to defining you, your boundaries protect you from hurtful, disrespectful, and invasive people. The ability to know and express one’s own limits is a characteristic of people with healthy boundaries. On the other hand, a person with unhealthy boundaries pulls on you relentlessly.
Related: How to Say ‘No’ to Anyone Without Feeling Guilty
13. They demand your attention.
Are you constantly being asked for something from the person? They always need your emotional support, whether it’s via phone calls, texts, or even a visit to your door. But, in return, they probably aren’t being supportive of you. It’s like they take everything from you without giving anything in return.
Additionally, they have a heightened sense of self-interest and a desire to receive affirmation by showcasing their greatness. In some cases, this can be linked to narcissistic personality disorder.
Gaslighting is an emotional manipulation technique. Nevertheless, it’s worth highlighting because it’s hard to notice when it’s happening.
When you express your thoughts and feelings, someone will deny your reality by using phrases like “you’re making that up” or “you’re being dramatic.” You can become distrustful of your own intuition and experiences as a result.
15. They love drama.
Drama is a favorite pastime of toxic people. Everyone else is just an extra in their movie. So it may feel privileged to be part of a walk-on role in the story that is their life if they are skilled manipulators.
“Some toxic people are magnets for drama,” The Science of People reported. “Something is always wrong. Always. And, of course, another one emerges once a problem is solved. And they only want your empathy, sympathy, and support–but not your advice! You offer help and solutions, but they never seem to want to fix anything.”
16. Emotional blackmail.
To get what they want, toxic people resort to guilt trips and emotional blackmail. In one example, a divorced parent may tell you how lonely she is and how much the other parent has hurt her over the years in an attempt to get you to avoid spending time with your other parent.
To gain compliance, toxic people will pull on your heartstrings or invoke guilt.
17. A lack of empathy.
The inability to empathize with others may make it difficult to understand what others feel and think. Lacking empathy, for instance, may prevent a leader from noticing that one of their employees is exhausted and struggling to complete work.
18. They can’t let go of the past.
A toxic person often harbors grudges from the past — whether accurate or not. Then, in retaliation, they’ll bring up everything you’ve done wrong ever since you’ve called out their behavior.
Having apologized and moved on, you might have come to terms with the situation. However, toxic people will still hold a grudge against you for as long as they live. In their eyes, the past can be a weapon used to attack you.
19. They don’t listen.
If you are talking with a toxic person, they act bored or change the conversation topic frequently. However, they expect you to listen to them when they’re speaking. So you divert attention from them by talking and placing it on yourself instead.
The toxic person will think more about what they want to say next than listening to what you have to say. Instead of trying to understand what you are trying to communicate — they will appear uninterested in what you have to share.
Does this person support your goals and dreams? How happy are they when things go well for you? Do they care about what you want and need?
That person is toxic if the answers to these questions are no.
Even when they pretend to support you, it can often come off as “toxic positivity.” In other words, it’s an insincere optimism that serves no purpose other than to avoid holding space for you.
A bossy person may assert dominance, demand control, or take control in a situation.
Bossy colleagues, for instance, may micromanage you despite not having authority over you. It is also possible that your bossy colleague will challenge your manager’s leadership or undermine it.
22. They’re not respectful of your time.
Did you ever have a friend say they would meet you at the coffee shop but never showed up and refused to answer your calls?
Perhaps you come to pick them up for carpool, and they haven’t even started getting ready when you arrive? Then they say it will only take five minutes, but it takes them 30 minutes.
A toxic person can manipulate or drain you in various ways during that time. For example, it is common for toxic people to arrive late, which in turn makes you late They may also miss deadlines and be “too busy” to meet with you.
23. They boast about their achievements.
The need to brag arises from a deep sense of insecurity. In order to appear superior to others, people who feel inferior overcompensate. Only by making other people noticeably unhappy can these uncertain people be happy. In short, when toxic people brag, they hope no one will learn about their shortcomings.
They’ll even take credit for others’ accomplishments to feel better about themselves. Only by inflating their perceived greatness will they be able to meet the inherent need to feel like a valuable member of society.
24. They abuse substances.
The abuse of substances, such as drugs and alcohol, is another toxic behavior. When a person constantly harms others and themselves, those behaviors become toxic.
By involving you in their habits, toxic people can also bring you down with their substance abuse.
It may be difficult for a lazy person to complete a task because they lack motivation, inspiration, and drive to do so. For instance, employees may avoid completing tasks because they don’t like them. In turn, they miss deadlines, which can harm your reputation. Moreover, you or another team member will have to pick up the slack.
Tips for coping with toxic people.
Toxic behaviors can hurt your mental health and well-being. Thankfully, there are ways to reduce their effects.
Discuss it with them.
A toxic person might not even realize their actions or words hurt you. You may wish to have a heart-to-heart discussion about your situation if that describes your situation.
However, some people may struggle with effective communication due to underlying personality disorders or mental health issues. It might be more beneficial to encourage them to talk to a mental health professional in that case.
Don’t let guilt stop you from setting boundaries.
It is crucial to know where to draw the line when dealing with toxic behavior. In order to place and enforce appropriate boundaries, one must eliminate guilt and exercise self-determination.
A person may hesitate to set boundaries out of fear of how the other person will react. This is particularly true if they manipulate situations with angry outbursts.
Maintaining clear boundaries is essential to moving on and healing from toxic experiences.
Although this may cause guilt, remember that no matter how hard you work, it may not be enough to save the relationship.
Avoid getting drawn into the drama.
People with toxic behavior are prone to drama, which can infiltrate every aspect of their lives. As a result, there will always be situations where something bad happens to them.
Curiosity, however, can cause others to get sucked into their drama. There’s research that says people get curious about negative things because they’re morbidly fascinated with them.
Basically, we’re drawn to hearing about other people’s troubles because of our human nature. The problem is you can’t really separate yourself from toxic behavior if you’re over-involved.
Rather than getting caught up in the chaos, try ignoring your curiosity when necessary and talking to them only when you need to know.
You shouldn’t try to fix everything.
When someone is having difficulties, it can be overwhelming to want to help them. Therefore, it is beneficial when you have sound advice that might be able to help solve the problem.
The problem is that when you try to help, you may end up in a frustrating cycle of listening and advising without coming up with a solution. Try to remain uninvolved to avoid this by remembering the expression, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
Keep your distance from them.
It might be time to cut ties and move on if you’re experiencing a lot of stress and harm from your relationship.
This may not be feasible if you share a workplace or are co-parents. If that’s the case, you should limit your contact with them to only when necessary and avoid any unnecessary contact.
Avoid blaming at all costs.
You are not at fault despite the person’s attempts to convince you otherwise.
You do not have the right to feel negative emotions like anger, guilt, or anxiety. In reality, these feelings are owned by the person projecting them onto you to meet an unmet need.