What are toxic people

Toxic People and How to Deal with Them I Psych Central

Does someone in your life continually leave you feeling confused, frustrated, or guilty? If so, you might be dealing with a toxic person. Here’s how to cope.

The word “toxic” is used to describe a myriad of health, social, and environmental issues. From toxic waste to toxic workplaces, this buzzword is used so often that in 2018, it was named Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year.

In human behavior, toxic is used to describe someone who causes distress in others through negative words and actions. However, it isn’t always easy to identify a toxic person, as their behaviors can be subtle.

For example, you may have a person in your life that repeatedly causes you confusion, anxiety, and stress, but you’re not sure why.

So, how do you know if someone is “toxic”? And how can you cope? Here are some tips on recognizing toxic behavior and how to cope with them.

The word toxic can mean different things to different people. Scientifically speaking, toxic is a label placed on substances that can cause harm, such as poisonous chemicals. However, it’s also a term used to define behavior that is unpleasant or malicious towards others.

Often the phrase “toxic person” is used to describe someone who is subtly or outwardly manipulative, self-centered, needy, or controlling.

These behaviors may manifest from underlying feelings of low self-esteem and mental health conditions such as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), childhood trauma, or other deeply rooted personal issues.

In addition, research suggests that some people who behave in toxic ways may have certain “dark core” personality traits. These traits manifest as a tendency to put their goals and interests above all others while justifying their behavior to avoid guilt or shame.

However, just because there may be a reason behind the toxic behavior doesn’t make it less impactful. And if you’re experiencing this from another person, it can be confusing, hurtful, and may even make you feel like you’re at fault.

There are several signs to look out for that may indicate you’re dealing with a person whose behaviors could be considered toxic.

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Recognizing a “toxic person” may be more about identifying how they make you feel rather than what they do or say.

If you’re interacting with a person with toxic behaviors, you may:

  • feel confused and unsure of yourself
  • leave the interaction feeling drained, angry, or full of anxiety
  • feel bad about yourself in some way
  • continually feel the need to help them
  • notice that your boundaries aren’t being respected or you’re being manipulated
  • experience guilt for saying “no” or feel they won’t take “no” for a final answer
  • feel like you’re “walking on eggshells” around them
  • frequently change your behavior to adapt

People who tend to have toxic behaviors might not be easy to spot. But aside from noting how they make you feel, there are a few signs to look for that indicate a person may be toxic.

These signs include the following:

  • Drama may follow them everywhere they go, and their life may seem to have the storyline of a TV soap opera.
  • They can be masters of manipulation, yet you might not notice this until you witness them doing it to someone else.
  • They might constantly judge others, including you.
  • Their neediness may be suffocating, yet when you need them, they disappear.
  • They may not see themselves as the problem — it may be everyone else’s fault.

Or, in the case of toxic positivity, they may be so positive about everything, they refuse to admit when challenges genuinely exist.

If you’ve determined that you’re dealing with toxic behaviors, there are ways you can lessen the impact these behaviors may have on your mental health and well-being.

Set boundaries even if it creates guilt

When dealing with toxic behavior, knowing where to draw the line is critical. The challenge is eliminating the guilt and exercising the self-determination needed to place appropriate boundaries and stick to them.

For example, if the toxicity comes from a parent, you may experience feelings of guilt if you establish boundaries with them — even if it’s in your best interest to do so.

Hesitation in setting boundaries may also stem from fear of how the person will react, especially if they typically use angry outbursts to manipulate the outcome of a situation.

However, maintaining clear limits as to what you will or won’t do is a necessary step towards moving on and healing from the toxicity you’ve experienced.

Even though this step may create guilt, it’s helpful to remember that no matter how much effort you put into the relationship, it’s may not be enough.

Avoid getting drawn into the drama

A common denominator in toxic behavior is drama, which can appear to infiltrate every aspect of their life. Even a trip to the grocery store can result in a situation where something negative happens to them — and it’s never their fault.

Still, it’s easy for others to get pulled into their drama because of curiosity. Research suggests that this curiosity may stem from a morbid fascination people can have with negative information.

Simply put, human nature may make us feel drawn to hearing about other people’s troubles. But when dealing with toxic behavior, this can quickly lead to over-involvement and difficulty separating yourself from their problems.

To avoid getting swept up in the chaos, consider ignoring your curiosity when necessary and communicating with them about their troubles on a need-to-know basis only.

Talk with them about it

Sometimes a person who exhibits toxic behavior might not be aware that what they’re doing or saying is harming you. If this is the case, consider having a heart-to-heart conversation about what you’re experiencing.

Still, some people may have an underlying personality disorder or unaddressed mental health condition that may make effective communication challenging. In that case, encouraging them to talk with a mental health professional about your concerns might be more beneficial.

Resist trying to fix things

The desire to help another person when they’re having difficulties can be overwhelming. This is especially true when you feel you have good advice that might help fix the situation.

However, attempting to help might turn into a frustrating cycle of listening and advising with no solution ever reached. To avoid this, it may help to remember the expression, “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” and try to remain as uninvolved as possible.

Limit your time around them

If the relationship is causing you a great deal of stress and harm, you might want to consider cutting ties and moving on.

However, this may not be possible if you share a workplace or co-parent with them. In that case, it’s OK to do your best to avoid contact, limiting yourself to dealing with them only when necessary.

Above all, ditch the blame

Remember: You are not at fault, no matter how hard the person tries to convince you otherwise.

The negative feelings like anger, guilt, or anxiety you may experience are not yours to bear. Instead, these feelings are owned by the person who is projecting them onto you to help them fulfill unmet needs.

If you’ve noticed these behaviors in people around you, you may be dealing with a “toxic person.”

Understanding why this person makes you feel the way you do can help you overcome toxicity and move on from it in a healthy way.

Still, if you’re not sure the person in question is behaving in a toxic way, seeking another opinion from a mental health professional might not be a bad idea. Talking with someone about the situation might help you find the clarity you need.

Once you’ve recognized that you may be dealing with toxic behaviors, consider setting healthy boundaries, identifying ways to lessen your time around them, and working towards healing from any harm their behavior has caused.

Toxic Person: Signs to Look For

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 02, 2020

In this Article

  • What Is a Toxic Person?
  • Signs of a Toxic Person
  • Dealing With Toxic People

What Is a Toxic Person?

If you know someone who’s difficult and causes a lot of conflict in your life, you may be dealing with a toxic person. These people can create lots of stress and unpleasantness for you and others, not to mention emotional or even physical pain. 

A toxic person is anyone whose behavior adds negativity and upset to your life. Many times, people who are toxic are dealing with their own stresses and traumas. To do this, they act in ways that don’t present them in the best light and usually upset others along the way.

Toxicity in people isn’t considered a mental disorder. But there could be underlying mental problems that cause someone to act in toxic ways, including a personality disorder.

Here are some warning signs to watch out for if you think you’re dealing with a toxic person:

  • You feel like you’re being manipulated into something you don’t want to do.
  • You’re constantly confused by the person’s behavior. 
  • You feel like you deserve an apology that never comes.
  • You always have to defend yourself to this person.
  • You never feel fully comfortable around them.
  • You continually feel bad about yourself in their presence.

If you’ve experienced these feelings around someone, they may be toxic. If you constantly have such emotions, you may want to change the relationship or stop the relationship entirely. 

Signs of a Toxic Person

Just like there are signs you’re around a toxic person because of how the person makes you feel, there are signs seen in the person themselves that highlight their toxicity.

The most common signs include:


Part of being human is having ups and downs, good times, and bad. But a toxic person is almost never consistent. Their behavior is erratic. They don’t follow through on their commitments or promises. You never know what they’re going to do next. Such inconsistency is very hard when you’re trying to be there for someone. They can be elated with you one minute, writing you off the next. 

They Always Need Your Attention

Have you noticed that the person always needs something from you? Whether it’s constant phone calls, texts, or showing up at your door, they always need emotional support. And they’re probably not being supportive to you in return. They take all that you have without giving much back. They have a heightened level of self-interest, a need to showcase their own greatness to receive affirmation. This can be associated with narcissistic personality disorder.

There Is Always Drama

Ever notice how drama seems to follow some people? It’s likely not a coincidence. Toxic people thrive in dramatic situations. They inflame emotions and create conflict. They love stirring the pot to see what happens. People are often toxic because they’re not interested in being stable and healthy in relationships.

They Don’t Respect Your Boundaries

Another sign of a toxic person is no boundaries. If you’ve been clear with someone time and again about your needs, and they just can’t help themselves but to disrespect you, they are toxic. Healthy relationships are based on trust and the ability to respect boundaries. Toxic people just can’t do that.

They Manipulate Others for What They Want

Do you feel taken advantage of? Manipulated? Toxic people love to manipulate those around them to get what they want. This means lying, bending the truth, exaggerating, or leaving out information so that you take a certain action or have a certain opinion of them. They’ll do whatever it takes, even if it means hurting people.

They Abuse Substances

Another toxic behavior is the abuse of substances, like drugs and alcohol. These behaviors become toxic when the person is continually harming other people, not to mention themselves.

Dealing With Toxic People

Now that you know the signs of a toxic person, both in the way you feel and how they act, you still may not know what to do about it. Here are a few strategies to try:

Confront Them

As soon as you notice toxic behaviors, confront the person. Call them out on any lies or inconsistencies. Tell them you don’t appreciate how they behave. This shows them that you’re paying attention — and you’re giving them a chance to explain themselves or apologize. 

Set Stricter Boundaries

If you must have a toxic person in your life, try to set stricter boundaries. For example, if someone is abusing substances and it causes them to harm you or others, let them know you won’t see them unless they’re sober. Make it clear you won’t tolerate their overly dramatic behavior or spreading rumors about people. Limit the time you spend with them until they can change.

Cut Them Out of Your Life

If the above strategies don’t work and cause even more pain, abuse, or dishonesty, it’s time to let the toxic person go. Sometimes there’s nothing to do but stand up for yourself and move on.

How to Recognize Toxic Behavior and Build Personal Boundaries

It happens that when meeting someone you experience internal discomfort, although outwardly nothing happens - just a conversation. This is a sure sign that you are dealing with a toxic person. How to build communication with him without emotional costs, we tell in the article.

Targets of toxic behavior

There is no precise definition of toxicity in psychology. Toxic people are people who, after communicating with them, leave an unpleasant emotional aftertaste. Sometimes it is felt even at the physiological level: the head hurts, the mood deteriorates, you want to sleep.

A toxic person acts unconsciously, and patterns of such behavior are formed in childhood.

Example 1. To achieve what he wants, the child throws a tantrum every time. Parents always go to him on concessions. The child transfers such a pattern of behavior into adulthood, and in order to achieve his own goal, he manipulates the emotions of another person.

Example 2. All requests are denied by the parents without explanation.

Just no, that's all. In adulthood, such a person understands that it makes no sense to convince, therefore, instead of arguments, he chooses unconscious manipulation.

The main goal of any toxic behavior is to unconsciously influence the emotions of other people and get what you want.

Recognizing a toxic person is not always possible the first time. Sometimes you justify your unkind attitude towards him by your own bad mood. You begin to feel that you are being overly demanding. So, without noticing it, you succumb to the influence of a toxic person.

Finding the line between the behavior of a toxic and a normal person is not easy. They are skillful manipulators and will always pick up the key to your emotions: they will put pressure on pity in time, make an appropriate joke or express concern.

The only distinguishing feature of toxic people is constancy. If an ordinary person can react differently to the same situation depending on their mood, then the behavior of a toxic person is always the same.

There are a number of other signs by which you recognize a toxic person.

10 signs of toxic people

Let's consider the behavioral features that can be used to identify a toxic person.

1. Constant drama

Toxic people are always bad. They like to complain about their problems and remind you that you or others are luckier than they are.

2. Inability to hear the interlocutor

Toxic people are always absorbed in taking care of themselves and their condition. They are not at all interested in listening to the interlocutor, and every time they try to interrupt you in order to start a conversation about themselves.

3. Aggressiveness

They are easily turned on by any criticism, even playful or adequate.

4. Negativism

Toxic people will reject to the last benefit of any good idea.

5. The desire to embellish everything

In conversations, such people like to exaggerate and omit some facts in order to seem like heroes.

6. Eternal criticism

They criticize you, the world, other people, give unsolicited advice and always know how to do better.

7. Stealing time

A toxic person is ready to talk to you about his problems for a long time or come to visit without warning. He doesn't value your time.

8. Love for gossip

Always happy to talk behind the back of those people with whom you just had a nice conversation.

9. Self-righteousness

No matter what the other person thinks or feels, the toxic person always has the last word. He knows what is best for others and considers his opinion the only correct one.

10. Total control

Toxic people want to be aware of all the news, they care about everything. It doesn’t matter if you want to keep in touch with them or not, they will always find a reason to talk and openly begin to manipulate you.

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How to deal with toxic people if you can't avoid communication?

If you look closely at your surroundings, you will surely find toxic people. Conversations with them cause a breakdown in strength and emotions, so you intuitively avoid meeting.

But what if your work colleague, close relative or friend is among toxic people? To maintain emotional balance when communicating with them, try to adhere to the following rules.

Stand up for your boundaries

Toxic people often target sensitive people who are embarrassed to say "no" in order not to offend. Throw away politeness and go on the offensive to protect personal time and space.

“Yes, I understand that you want to talk, but it's late and I want to sleep. Let's go tomorrow"

"I'm busy right now"

Manage the conversation

Toxic people love to talk about their problems and forget about time. If you are tired of the conversation, feel free to take the initiative in your own hands.

“I understand your problem, how are you going to solve it?”

Such a question puts your interlocutor in a stupor. After all, he wanted to complain, not solve the problem.

Don't open your soul

Toxic people skillfully ingratiate themselves. When they tell heartbreaking stories, you also want to share your experiences with them. Be careful, because any revelations will be used against you.

Set your own direction for the conversation

For example, don't let anyone gossip and turn the conversation in a constructive way.

“I’m not interested in discussing Sveta’s work, tell me what you plan to do on the weekend”

Control your emotional state

If your beloved friend constantly complains about life, do not react emotionally. No need to cry, feel sorry for her or worry, otherwise you will simply wallow in all her problems. Communicate constructively, but at the same time keep an emotional distance, react calmly and do not absorb negative information.

“Yes, I understand you. What are you planning to do?"

Do not try to solve a problem for another person

Toxic people often expect this and try to shift the responsibility onto your shoulders. In such a situation, just listen to the person and give him the opportunity to solve the problem on his own.

The main thing when dealing with toxic people is to learn to build boundaries and not get involved in their problems. If you are not good at this, try to communicate less with this person. With a colleague, reduce communication to solving work issues, with close relatives - minimize meetings. When communication cannot be avoided, try to turn off emotional reactions and remain calm.

Who are toxic people? How to limit yourself from toxic people? What to do if there is no way to end a relationship with a toxic person?

Who are toxic people? How to recognize toxic people? What to do if there is no way to end a relationship with a toxic person? Psychologist Anna Kushneruk explains.

We feel guilty all the time around toxic people for no real reason. We are always uncomfortable for ourselves, we kind of let these people down. They act like victims around us, but in reality they are always passive aggressors. Psychologist explains:

No one will directly harm you, they will just talk to you in such a way that you will have to continue listening to the person and not be able to say “no”.

READ ALSO: “Friendship is blind” on “1+1”: project psychologist Irina Kirichenko told how to deal with manipulation in relationships

Signs of a toxic person:

  • Everything is seen in black and white: a person is either very good or very bad
  • Annoyed
  • Steal energy
  • Everything is in control
  • Speaking loudly or softly
  • In large companies talk about intimate topics and gossip
  • Negative stories are a priority
  • Calling at inappropriate times
  • They say incorrect and tactless phrases.

Why do people become toxic?

A person who becomes toxic feels and sympathizes worse. For him, your emotions can be like going to the zoo. Anna Kushneruk says:

We are all from the environment that educates us. Everything goes without parents. But! It's definitely a character flaw. A person who grows up where he is not brought up to be human becomes toxic. He takes pleasure in parasitizing other people's emotions. However, normal parents can have toxic children if they do not make contact with him. Toxic children show emotions quickly. For example, if they are annoyed, they throw a cup. If parents, instead of offering to discuss the problem, say “What are you doing?” or vice versa “My sun is irritated, everything will be fine”, “Cry, don’t give a damn about anyone”, the child grows up emotionally unintelligent.

READ ALSO: Why the divorce rate has increased and how to find a compromise in a relationship? Psychologist Irina Kirichenko told

What to do if the wife or husband is a toxic person?

It should be remembered that there are not only negative situations in marriage. Psychologist remarks:

We all have our psycho-emotional shortcomings. But if you don’t get any positive emotions from this marriage, then perhaps you should leave. But if you are simply annoyed by some of the manifestations of your spouse, you need to use a paraphrase - using words to convey to the person what is happening now. Functional couples are those who feel that something is not right, but they are able to correct the situation through conversation.

How can I tell if I am a toxic person?

It should be recognized that each of us is a carrier of toxic signs. It is the toxic person who always has low emotional intelligence, it is difficult for him to understand whether he is happy or not. Anna Kushniruk explains:

You just need to analyze: “Am I being invited to communicate?”, “Is someone calling me?”, “Am I being invited somewhere where they can be close to me?”. If you get the answer that you are being shunned, then this should be a reason for you to wonder if you are a toxic person.

What if your head is toxic?

The psychologist said:

It must be admitted that people are different. You must understand why you are communicating with this person, why you are in this place. Use the stop sign with gestures. Thus, you will show your border with this person.

You can listen to more advice from a psychologist in this video:


#society #psychology of relationships #psychologist's advice

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