11 Seemingly Innocent Habits That Can Actually Make Someone A Toxic Person
For people who are struggling to maintain healthy relationships with their friends, family, and partners, it can help to look at any toxic personality traits and the little habits that may accompany them. By being more aware of everyday habits — like gossiping, being passive aggressive, or judging others — it'll be easier to turn things around for the better.
"We all have toxic habits," clinical psychologist Dr. Perpetua Neo tells Bustle. "Think of them as muscles. Sometimes we unknowingly feed them. And they become automatic behaviors. Past a certain time, they may become so deeply ingrained, they become us. Which makes us ... toxic people, unwilling or unable to see another's standpoint." And it's at this point that relationships can suffer.
But all is not lost. "Giving ourselves time and space to reflect on the not-so-desirable parts of ourselves helps circumvent that, and makes us better human beings," Neo says. "We also become better to ourselves. Being toxic is tiring on ourselves — we know that something is intrinsically wrong, but we're unwilling to face it. So we battle with ourselves, living in a state of dissonance and anxiety."
Sometimes, it just takes a little bit of awareness to turn toxic habits into more positive ones. Here are a few habits experts say can give off toxic vibes, as well as what to do about them.
1. Being Super Sarcastic
Sarcasm definitely has a time and a place, and a well-timed acerbic remark can be super funny. But "habitual sarcasm can be more problematic," licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Marie Fang tells Bustle, saying that nonstop sarcasm often comes off as bullying. "To make matters worse, the harsh statements are hidden within a humorous package, making it difficult to call out the potentially toxic nature of the comment." Being funny for the sake of making people laugh is completely OK, but being sarcastic to hide biting comments is not.
2. Getting Caught Up In Gossip
Everyone gossips occasionally, and that's OK. "We've all been there," licensed mental health counselor Erin Parisi, LMHC, CAP tells Bustle. "But really, gossip is almost always negative and spreads negativity as you bring other people in on it." So if it seems like it's turning into a habit, it's important to put a stop to it, ASAP.
While gossiping may be fun in the moment, it has a tendency to leave the gossiper's friends and family wondering when they'll be the next target. As Parisi says, "If you'll spread gossip about someone else, what's the likelihood that you spread gossip about me if you get the chance?" Since this is toxic, the sooner the habit can be broken, the better.
3. Pointing Out The Negative In Everything
We all have friends in our lives who give off positive vibes, and are thus super nice to be around. And we might also know people who radiate negativity wherever they go, often by complaining, putting others down, being jealous, or pointing out the downside to every occasion.
As relationship therapist Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, founder Relationup tells Bustle, this type of negative energy can be "off-putting to others." So for people who fall into that latter group, it's important for them to realize they're also radiating toxicity.
It is possible to turn things around, however, often by doing or saying the opposite when having a negative emotion. Feeling jealous? Then offer someone praise. Feeling the need to put someone down? Go ahead and build them up. Itching to point out the negative? Find a way to see the positive, instead.
4. Being Passive Aggressive
Passive aggressiveness is many people's go-to when they're upset. And yet, it's not the healthiest way of solving a problem. "While we think that directly confronting the problem at hand may sound aggressive and make us look like bad people (as opposed to playing [the role of] nice people-pleaser), passive aggression often morphs into manipulation," says Neo. "It becomes frustrating for all involved, especially when someone else is trying to name the issue-at-hand, and the passive-aggressive person feels insulted or offended."
It may seem easier on the surface to be passive aggressive, but it's much healthier to say a problem outright and out loud, so that everyone involved can pitch in to fix it, and then move on.
5. Judging Others
We're all judgmental to one degree or another, since "judging others is a natural way for us to determine if someone is or isn’t a threat," Dr. Sal Raichbach PsyD, LCSW, of Ambrosia Treatment Center, tells Bustle.
But some people fall into the rut of judging unnecessarily, and doing so 24/7. While it may not feel like a big deal to have a few judgmental thoughts — especially if you're keeping them to yourself — "this behavior only reinforces negative thoughts and leaves you feeling isolated when you’ve emotionally distanced yourself from other people," says Raichbach.
It can can affect interactions with others, and give off those aforementioned negative vibes. And that's why, for anyone who is feeling extra judgmental, it's important to do some soul searching, or speak with a therapist, to get to the bottom of the judgment ASAP.
6. Trying To Rescue Everyone
We all have that one person in our lives who likes to "rescue" everyone; someone who drops everything to help their friends and family, no matter what. And while that's a noble trait and a lovely thing to do on occasion, it often does more harm than good.
"[Rescuers] do everything for everyone and put themselves last," life coach Tiffany Toombs tells Bustle. "They save everyone from the trouble they’re in." And in the process, often forget about their own needs and their own well-being.
But there's a secondary problem that can occur, too. "The problem is — when they save everyone else, they’re actually taking away the lesson that person needs to build resilience, inner strength, and their problem solving capacity," Toombs says. If their partner, for example, needs to learn a life lesson, the rescuer is essentially preventing that from happening. And that can create a toxic ripple effect.
7. Having A Negative Internal Dialogue
We all have a tiny voice inside our heads that narrates our day and tells us what to think. This is what's known as "self-talk," and it can be positive and healthy, or totally negative and toxic.
With negative self-talk, there's a good chance it's "rooted to insecurities developed earlier in our lives," psychotherapist Kelly Bos, MSW, RSW tells Bustle. "The reason why we are hard on ourselves most commonly is to not repeat the past, however this brow beating makes us feel worse and less likely to make the changes we seek."
But it is possible to have a healthier internal dialogue, and avoid creating more toxicity in your life and in the lives of others. "To break this pattern ask yourself, 'Would I speak this way to a friend?' The answer is no," says Bos. "In fact we would lose friends if we spoke this harshly. We can still provide challenge and support to our friends using a kind and compassionate voice. Try this same voice for yourself."
8. Making Everything A Competition
Due to social media and 24/7 access to the goings on of other people's lives, it's easy to turn life into a giant competition. But that can get toxic, and fast. "Comparing yourself to others is a toxic habit that can seem innocent, but it often breeds jealousy and can cause resentment with those closest to a person," Rachel Gersten, a licensed mental health therapist, tells Bustle. "It can prevent someone from being happy for their loved one, which is obviously damaging to the relationship over time." And, it can make the person doing the comparing feel all sorts of terrible about themselves.
Comparison can have roots in low self-esteem, so apart from taking a break from scrolling through the likes of Instagram and Facebook — and making comparisons against everyone else's success —it can also help for someone to see a therapist, and get to the bottom of why they're feeling jealous.
9. Pointing Out Someone's Flaws
It's easy to get too comfortable with someone — be it a parent, a friend, a partner — and fall into the habit of pointing out their flaws. But even if this is meant as a joke, or as "constructive" criticism, it almost always creates a toxic environment.
So, "instead of focusing so much on others, take a moment to pause and reflect why their actions are so troublesome to you," relationship and sexuality expert Eliza G. Boquin, MA, LMFT tells Bustle. "What parts of you are being triggered?"
This relates to the passive aggression noted above. If a partner, for example, isn't meeting a need, it's much healthier to say so outright than it is to pick on them, and hope they'll change.
10. Commandeering Conversations
During a typical conversation, one person usually shares a story while the other listens, and then chimes in with their own anecdotes. But for some people, this balance isn't always 50/50.
"If a friend comes to you to talk about their stuff, and suddenly you are back to talking about yourself and the experiences that you have had that are similar or are 'worse,' you are missing the opportunity to offer compassion and to be a supportive friend, and your friend is missing that support," therapist Saba HarouniLurie, LMFT, ATR-BC tells Bustle.
For people with this tendency, listening skills can come in handy. By letting a friend talk, and keeping the conversation about them — especially if they're venting or upset — this toxic habit will all but vanish.
11. Telling Someone To "Cheer Up" When They're Sad
While it may seem sweet, and it may be said with the best of intentions, telling someone to "cheer up" when they're going through a tough time can actually be quite toxic.
"People who say this are usually trying to be supportive, but can actually do more harm than good," psychotherapist Brennan C. Mallonee, LMHC tells Bustle. "People need to feel heard when they talk about the things that matter to them." And telling them to "cheer up" or "get over it" dismisses that.
"A better way to respond when a friend is upset might be to say, 'I'm so sorry you feel that way.' Then ask what would be helpful," Mallonee says. "Maybe [they] would like a distraction, maybe [they] could use some help problem-solving, or maybe [they'd] just like to vent for a little bit." Once they feel heard, that's when it's OK to swoop in and offer a different perspective. Mallonee suggests saying something like, "You know, I actually don't think this situation is as bad as it looks at first. Here's why, and here's why I know you can handle it."
By simply being aware of toxic habits like these, it's possible to change them. As Mallonee says, someone who is more aware of possible toxic habits can work to improve them, and be a better friend, partner, or family member.