13 Things You Should Know about Toxic People … For the Common Good

Ain’t it just a bitch to deal with those toxic people? You know, people that grind your gear? People that just don’t know how to be positive even just on that really short moment you share with them? But…if you usually sound like that (in your head, hopefully) then let me tell you that you are a toxic creature, too.

Oxford Dictionaries has chosen “toxic” as the word of the year for 2018. Last time I checked, “toxic” is used for poisonous substances. Nowadays, however, anything—or anyone—can be toxic, even as literally as poison.

This post attempts to somewhat define toxic people. You could say this is a list of signs, types, behaviors, traits, or whatever you want to call it. But I attempt to tackle them all anyway, and a few of them might surprise you.

Now I want to make it clear that I don’t really intend to cast a negative light on toxic people (which seems to be the trend). Because we don’t exactly know what’s going on with the person, especially if they don’t want to seek help. I’m talking narcissistic personality conditions, bipolar conditions or any other sorts that from the outside might be impossible to understand.

They might have been emotionally scarred in the past and they haven’t found ways to properly cope, heal and move on.

If you’re here looking to validate some anger or contempt for someone because you think they’re nothing but human poison, why not try empathy instead?

In any case, this list is for everyone, including you. Treat it like a “qualifying list,” though not exhaustive, for recognizing signs of when someone’s turning toxic already.

Toxicness is very contagious. It’s quite manageable to “ignore what other people think about you,” but when they say it out loud and you hear it, it becomes a whole different toxic ballgame.

So what are some of the things you need to know about toxic people?

1. Toxic people love gossiping.

Do you have “occasional gossip buddies”? Hanging out with them can be fun, can’t it? But beware, those people will at some point gossip about you.

Gossiping is a test of self-control. It’s like ice cream. When confronted by it, it’s so easy to just pig out, even though you know it’s bad for you, and for people who care about you.

But toxic people don’t care about what’s bad for them, let alone for others. They’ll take pleasure in talking just about anything, especially behind people’s backs.

This is one of the reasons I don’t like groups of people sitting in some corner while talking in hushed voices. You’ll have an idea what sorts of things they’re talking about because once they talk louder (like really loud), their words reek of ego-tripping, power-tripping or the other sorts you can imagine. It won’t be surprising to learn that those hushed voices were gossip itself.

Toxic people love talking about other people instead of just minding their own business and looking to improve their work, their craft, or themselves. Attacking someone behind their back doesn’t do any good, except for the attacker that only seeks some form of power.

2. Toxic people recklessly cross boundaries.

Toxic people can’t simply take “no” for an answer. They like thinking you owe them something in exchange for a favor they did, somehow. (What was it, anyway?)

Do you need to be left alone for a while to think about stuff you are responsible for? Do you need to figure things out without being told what to do? Do you need to fail so you can learn a lesson?

Bad news: You can’t do that with toxic people.

They feel entitled to do anything they want, which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, except that it’s at the expense of your privacy, growth and wellbeing.

It’s great to share your life with someone else. After all, that’s what humankind is all about. But everything needs boundaries. I can’t even think of something that doesn’t.

Toxic people won’t respect that. “Carpe diem!” they might say…but including your boundaries, too.

3. Toxic people always play the victim.

Toxic people think the world—not just you—owes them everything. You’ll notice that in any situation, in any circumstances, it’s as if the world has connived to make them suffer. It’s just perfectly executed that the only ending to their story is to become the unluckiest loser.

Therefore they won’t take responsibility for their life. They’ll stay complacent: even though their life is a mess (which may not even be absolutely true), there will always be someone who’ll “save” them.

Of course, you are the one who’s supposed to save them. A person who you feel is someone you need to rescue—all the time—might be a toxic person.

Now I’m not saying you should not help someone at a low point in their life. Someone can be devastated by the worst misfortunes but they can still look for ways to carry on—with a grateful heart at that. But playing the victim, as if they’re really helpless, as if they can’t do anything at all, however small, is different.

The toxic person will make you feel you’re responsible for them. Otherwise you’ll feel awful if you “abandon” them. Beware.

4. And then they play the blame game.

What did you expect? Did you think you can always heed their cries for help and be able to help them successfully every damn time? Of course you’ve got other things to do, like…uhm…dealing with your own shit?

When toxic people don’t get the “help” they think they deserve, they’ll start blaming you. And that’s precisely the point. They subconsciously expect you to fail in any of your dealings with them, and when you do, it’s going to blow up. All of us are inclined to “see” and believe what we want to see and believe. Toxic people are not exempted: they want to see you fail, so they will see and believe you fail. And blame you for that.

5. Toxic people will impose stuff on you.

It’s like mind-reading, a mental distortion depressed people usually commit.

When toxic people want to tell you something, especially if it’s bothering them, they won’t directly tell you what it is. Instead, they’ll talk things based on assumptions. For example, they’ll ask you leading questions.

“Why are you mad at me?” “Why are you in a bad mood?” “I need help here. Why are you being lazy?”

They’ll make you think, “WTF?” when you were otherwise in an okay mood, you know, and definitely not being a lazy ass. Then you start guessing what they’re thinking, too. And then wonder what you did a while ago, or yesterday, or last week, that set them off. Soon you’ve gone toxic-berserk, too!

Toxic people want you to say what they want to say, in a way that’s just wrong and unhealthy. They want you to take them under your wing, to figure out what they haven’t yet. Of course every time you grant them their wish, they don’t learn.

6. Toxic people always seek attention.

Do you know someone who loves drama? That’s either the drama you see on TV or the theatrical manner of talking with other people in freaking real life (because they’ve learned it from TV)?

Toxic people wouldn’t want to craft a message and deliver it in a healthy way the other person should be receiving it (and as a consequence, understanding it). Everybody listens to how the message is told first before the message itself. Toxic people want the exaggeration because they think, somehow, no one’s going to listen to them otherwise.

Or maybe, just maybe, they simply enjoy the emotional ultra-highs. Screaming. Throwing stuff. Banging a part of their body their favorite drama actors are also banging. They think they should be heard with similar magnitudes.

But what if they’re not that borderline-violent kind? Well, attention-hogs can do so in a calm way, too. The “diplomatic” toxic people will mainly talk about themselves. It’s okay to talk about what happened on that very special day, but you have to listen to what the other person is saying and genuinely get interested in them because, hey, that’s what a pleasant conversation is!

So if you feel that after a lengthy talk in which there’s an intimacy going on—you still feel like you’re all alone, recall what you just talked about. If the other person was obviously talking about themselves without an iota of interest in what you had to say, then that should be a red flag.

These attention-seeking toxic people are much like narcissistic parents. Narcissistic parents will do anything to enhance their public image, get what they want, and have their wishes granted—at the expense of their children’s wellbeing. They’ll use anything or anyone just to have their way.

gossip girls

7. They are people of envy.

Why couldn’t they just be happy for you? Or for their neighbor or for chrissakes, their churchmate?

Toxic people don’t acknowledge the fundamental principle that happiness does not come from outside forces or external events they don’t have control over. They don’t face their own challenges, their own problems, their own reality—all unique the universe has set for them—and just be a better person.

No, the toxicity has gone deep it has corrupted them. Toxic people only wear the lenses of envy every time they see a familiar face make a huge step forward in life.

These toxic people will rather think about the probable and unscrupulous ways the more successful (and happier) people did to have that progress. The toxic people won’t run out of alibis and “possible” reasons why others are making it.

8. Toxic people are passive-aggressive.

Toxic people seem to have just given up on life they see everything as hopeless. Demeanor won’t mean a thing. This kind of toxic people is rooted in anger. Angry at the world. Don’t get near them or you’ll be sorry.

How about the condescending and all-knowing super-person? Have you met them? You’ll find one everywhere. They’ll treat you like an idiot when you’re only asking for clarification. Like, come on, dude, don’t you have better questions to ask? I’M BUSY HERE!

How about the one that thinks they’ve got it all figured out that your world in comparison seems falling apart. It’s like you’re about to die and you need them to save you. Don’t freak out, it’s just an easy-peasy problem, they’ll say. But goddamn, they won’t tell you how to solve it.

Anger is a difficult issue. It comes in many forms. But passive-aggressive behavior isn’t that hard to detect. Someone might be nice to you, but if they have unresolved issues with their anger, you’ll easily notice it.

9. Toxic people have lost their sense of self-respect and self-love.

Now. This might go against conventional toxic culture, but toxic people can also be those you won’t even hear talking. It’s not all about those aggressive, loud or obnoxious people.

As previously mentioned, toxic people have unresolved issues. A good way to treat unresolved issues is to look for healthy ways to cope—even without directly addressing those issues.

For example, one has been terribly bullied in high school. He “forgot” about the pains of being bullied not by directly dealing with them, but by striving and growing to become a successful business- and family man, for example. He found a healthy albeit indirect way of coping.

Toxic people, on the other hand, continue to dwell on the hurt. They live with them every day without any plans of moving on. They form relationships but of course, they share with other people an otherwise gloomy way of handling life.

Because they don’t respect themselves, they’re also prone to resorting to substances or vices or other self-destructing behaviors that only make matters worse.

10. Toxic people are very quick to judge and criticize.

You’ll quickly feel exhausted around this kind of people. No matter how well you’ve done or how successful you’ve become, they’ll always find fault and say you can still do better and be happier by doing this and that, as if they had VIP Access to your freaking brain.

Around these toxic people you always hold your punches of excitement and joy because sadly they’re party poopers that have a way with words that hurt. You always have to prove yourself—especially if they don’t understand what you do. It’s twisted, you know? When you do something “familiar” to them, they’ll talk as if they were the experts. Good luck showing them something they might not even understand in their lifetime.

These toxic people will never support you. In fact, they’ll do worse than that—they’ll make sure you’ll feel terrible about something that’s important to you. Doesn’t matter what it is. If it’s shit to them, then you’re the one that eats shit.

These people will make you doubt yourself and your work and the beauty of making sense.

11. Toxic people are arrogant.

Arrogant people tend to be low performers, more disagreeable, and have more cognitive problems than the average person. I’ve known people like this. If work means simply being a “people person” even though it’s obvious that they don’t know much about the work itself, then the game might be one of arrogance.

These people seem to say, “Hey! Listen to me! I have a sexy, husky voice and my vocabulary is great and I look and smell awesome! Everything I say is correct!”

They need their arrogance to feel that they’re right, and as a consequence they never apologize for any mistakes even though it’s as obvious as a humongous pimple that’s about to pop on a smooth face.

They won’t admit any sorts of “weakness” or fault. They won’t admit they need help. Maybe deep inside they realize they do need help, but whatever, they are superstars! They don’t need any of that!

12. Toxic people are jealous of other people…and other things.

Your other people and things, in particular.

Do you like someone (not necessarily in a romantic way) but notice they don’t have other friends and usually want your company alone? I’m not saying it’s a bad thing right off the bat but hey, it doesn’t hurt to be careful.

Now let’s say he’s your romantic partner. Does that mean you must move in with him and spend all your time with him except at work? Or no, how about you both work in the same company with your cubicles beside each other’s! And even better, why not have all your friends know each other so they’re all common friends now and whenever you hang out, the other partner must be present, too…it’s a must!

No matter the kind of relationship, it’s still necessary to surround yourself with other people that you know will help you grow. You’ll still need to be alone from time to time. You’ll still need to feel a whole other bunch of emotions. You’ll still need to live your life as you want.

When someone demands—even if subtly—your time, and notice you’re already spending it with them more than with yourself, then you know the drill.

Being jealous is another form of toxic behavior: they have to get what they want, at any cost.

13. Lastly, toxic people are liars.

And worse, you’re not so sure whether you should be calling them out because doing so will probably get you in trouble…and bring on the drama.

Toxic people lie. You don’t even need to catch them. They’ll present their lies on a silver platter. All shinning and shimmering, for everybody to see. Of course, since you know gossip is bad, you won’t go walking around in the neighborhood just to ask people whether Jane is a liar. But if you commit gossip just for now—for a good cause—don’t be surprised to learn that everybody knows she’s indeed a liar.

Remember this rule: Don’t believe what people say. Believe what they DO.

Apply that rule even with the people you trust the most. Shouldn’t be so bad if they’re legit anyway, eh?

If you haven’t noticed yet, all the previous points about toxic people involve some form of lying. After telling themselves lies (which they might have only learned and lived with—helplessly—for a long time), and finding out that these lies don’t help, they turn to other people with whom they could project those lies because, at the back of their mind, someone else might just tolerate them and help uphold their cute tiny world of make-believe.

Toxic people don’t want to face reality, even though there are countless avenues in the real world for genuine growth…and make it a little less toxic.

Toxic people will kill you.

They’ll suck the life out of you. You simply can’t be at your best self around these people. Jokes thrown here and there are fine. But when jokes become uncomfortable and you discern that someone might be acting like a jerk and up for some high-level soul-sucking shit already, be careful.

On the other hand, take a moment and have some quiet time with yourself, too. Maybe you’ve also been acting like a jerk. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable being with other people sometimes…and the feeling is mutual. You don’t need to talk about it. Let your instincts tell you what’s off with the company. Maybe you are the toxic one.

Either way, let’s just do our best and stay more mindful in each moment. Our experience doesn’t always need to be fast, just one worth living. Hopefully the next word of the year will be something rather worth celebrating for.

(Image Credits: @Matthew_T_Rader, Miguel Pires da Rosa)

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  1. baris alkan

    Can you tell me how you grouped toxic people? Why should I trust on your information you wrote above. I am a scientist and want to see your sources. Are all these texts your personal opinion ?

    • Ethan Bridges

      I wrote this post based mostly on experience 🙂

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