‘Toxic’ can seem like a strong word to use to describe an individual. That is, until you encounter a certain type of person who simply drains the energy and happiness out of those around them. Often, people with toxic qualities are blissfully unaware of the collateral damage their attitudes reap, and in many cases act in the way they do out of personal unhappiness.
However, this does not make them any easier to deal with. Often it can be quite some time before we realise that someone in our life – be it a friend or an acquaintance – is a toxic influence, and by this point it can be difficult to put a stop to the impact they can have. Not everyone has the innate perceptive skills of a clairvoyant, and whilst psychic readings can often be very helpful in helping you identify toxic influences on your life, there are some basic signs to look out for day-to-day. So here are some exclusive tips from psychology and relationship experts on how to identify and deal with toxic people.
The initial charm
So often the reason that we don’t recognise truly toxic people straight away is because of their uncanny knack for charm. Natalie Lue from Baggage Reclaim refers to these kinds of people as ‘choppers’. She explains that ‘choppers’ are “often initially very charming but then they slip in these insidious comments and contradictory behaviour that chop away at your self-esteem. Toxic influencers take down others to elevate themselves.” At first they may be overly friendly and complimentary, making them highly magnetic to new acquaintances – and very confusing for those who have known them a little longer.
As you become more familiar with a toxic person, you may notice that not a day goes by without some big drama happening for your new acquaintance. At first it may seem that this person simply has terrible luck, or is being treated badly by others. As for this, if you begin hearing from everyone you know and trust that the stories you’re being told are false, and that this drama is self-inflicted, it may be time to consider whether or not you are dealing with a toxic person. A sure-fire sign of this is when a person repeatedly wants your sympathy for different situations, but never wants your advice. If they have no desire to fix their problems, they may be the one at fault.
If they’re not causing a scene out of everyday life, you may notice that a toxic individual is likely to have a stubbornly negative outlook on life. According to Science of People, toxic individuals can “tend to suck the positivity out of you or bleed you emotionally dry. These are the kinds of people who always have something sad, negative or pessimistic to say. In conversations and relationships, they can never see the positive and tend to bring everyone down with them.” They continue, “If you’re with someone and they only have bad things to say whenever you see them, watch out, it might not get better.”
Science of People call a certain type of toxic influencer as “tanks”. They explain, “In a relationship, tanks are incredibly arrogant and see their personal opinions as facts. This is because they often think they are the smartest person in the room and so they see every conversation and person as a challenge that must be won over.” Whatever it is that gives these toxic individuals their unassailable sense of rightness, it is easy to spot an arrogant toxic person by the fact that they either have to have the last word, or will simply shout down anyone offering an opinion that differs from theirs. Here, arrogance is not so much associated with confidence as with a lack of respect for others.
Selfish behaviour is a classic sign of a toxic individual. These types of people are too busy thinking about themselves to spare a thought for the feelings or needs of others. If you ever get the feeling that someone you know simply doesn’t care how they make you feel – by cancelling plans repeatedly or saying things that they know upset you – this makes them straightforwardly selfish. In fact, selfish toxic people can often actively manipulate you to get their way – from making you attend events you don’t want to go to, or guilt-tripping you into lending them money, and never paying it back.
According to Science of People, one feature of a toxic person is that they can often be “conversational narcissists”. They explain, “Conversational narcissists LOVE to talk about themselves—or just hear themselves talk. They don’t ask you any questions, they don’t wait for your responses and they won’t shut up. In a relationship, these people will end up being completely self-centered and never be attentive to your needs.”
Baggage Reclaim’s Natalie agrees, saying that these toxic people are “very much about themselves although they often won’t admit to it, they can be extremely combative not just in conflict or a criticism situation but even where they just sense the potential for it.”
Natalie goes onto identify passive aggressiveness as a key characteristic of many toxic people. She explains: “They are passive aggressive and aggressive so they will try to get their needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions met by force.” This is something that defines toxic personalities from school bullies to power-tripping colleagues. Toxic people tend to be subtle in their aggression, making sly comments, laughing about you behind your back, or pointedly excluding you from a group. This subtle control makes the toxic individual feel powerful, whilst keeping them safe from the critique that more overt forms of violence would attract.
One of the most confusing qualities of a toxic individual can be deceptiveness. People who incessantly tell lies, bend words and make exaggerations are notoriously difficult to deal with, and can threaten your other relationships. Liars are exhausting, whether they are telling minor fibs or damaging lies. Their deceptiveness will make it impossible them, or even to relax in their presence.
Whilst toxic influences can go from being almost stiflingly attached to totally uninterested in an instant as their own needs dictate, whilst you are associated with them, they are often exceedingly controlling. For this type of toxic person, Science of People use the metaphor of the straight jacket: “The straight jacket is someone who wants to control everything and everyone around them. They want to be in charge of what you do, what you say and even what you think.”
If you notice that someone you know is punishing you – overtly or passively – for the things you say or do with no justifiable reason, or is explicitly telling you what to do with your own life, it’s likely that their influence on you is not a positive one.
How they make you feel
Natalie from Baggage Reclaim says that toxic influencers can also be spotted by the effects they have on those around them. “Toxic influencers are draining so your emotional, mental and physical energy will be impacted with it even feeling like a drained or bogged down feeling. You will also feel like less of who you are, and are likely to grapple with self-doubt, anxiety, and even the feeling that your head is being messed with”, she comments. “Toxic influencers also tend to trigger you in some way so you will be in some form of child role,” she continues, “you always know that you’re around a toxic influencer when it feels as if ever since you’ve been around them, it’s as if they have poisoned your life or your sense of self.”
How to deal with toxic people
Here are Danielle from Science of People‘s top tips for coping with toxic individuals:
1) Don’t try to change them
We often try to encourage Downers to be more positive, Passives to stand up for themselves, Tanks to calm down and Better Thans to be more humble. This never works! In fact, when you try to change someone they tend to resent you, dig in their heels, and get worse.
2) Do try to understand them
The way to disengage a difficult person is to try to understand where they are coming from. I try to find their value language. A value language is what someone values most. It is what drives their decisions.
3) Don’t let them be toxic
Toxic people can be draining. It’s in our nature to want to help them, to try to change them–but often, we’re left exhausted and they’re left unchanged and more difficult than ever.
If you have someone in your life who doesn’t respect your opinions, treats you poorly, makes you feel bad about yourself or you dread seeing, it’s time to re-evaluate the relationship and start saying no.
You deserve to have wonderful, supportive and loving people in your life. In fact, life is too short to spend time with people who don’t help you be your best self.