Everyone has a few negative qualities. And you know what? That's fine. We can't all be 100 percent reasonable, and kind, and thoughtful 100 percent of the time. But it's important to recognize the
signs someone is toxic, because that is when negative qualities may move past mistakes we might make every day.
And the best place to start is by knowing what constitutes toxic behavior. "For some people, having this knowledge is enough for behavioral change, [while] others may need to delve deeper into their consciousness and implement a more intensive fix, perhaps through therapy,"
therapist Talia Wagner, LMFT tells Bustle.
That's one way to notice toxicity, and get rid of it. Another way is by taking the temperature of the room, after you chat with others. "I encourage clients to discover what their 'whisper brand' is within their network,"
executive and life coach Regan Walsh tells Bustle. "Your whisper brand is what people say about [you once you leave the room] — good, bad, or indifferent."
Since we all want to be a positive force in the world, and
leave others better than we found them, this may be an interesting lens to peek through. (Was the interaction a good one? Did everyone have kind things to say? Was there a positive vibe?) That's not to say we should become too hung up on what others think, but considering your "whisper brand" can certainly be eye-opening — as well as super helpful when it comes to recognizing toxicity. Here are a few habits and behaviors that can make someone toxic to be around, as well as how to balance them out.
We're all entitled to the
occasional moment of negativity. But in general, having a "glass half empty" view of the world is seen as a toxic trait not only because it impacts the person who's being negative, but because it also drags down everyone around them.
Someone with this habit "will make sure to point out what's wrong first, instead of what's right or can be improved,"
certified life coach Dr. Alisha 'Ali' Griffith Au.D CCC-SLP, tells Bustle. "Eventually you begin to listen to them and their negativity seeps into you."
If this sounds familiar, know that even the most negative outlook can be improved with therapy, or by making a concerted
effort to think positively. It may not be easy at first, but it's a habit that can stick with practice.
Complaining is another behavior that's tinged with toxicity — especially when the person doing the complaining doesn't know when to call it quits. That's why, as Griffith says, someone inclined towards this toxic behavior should "bring consciousness to their negativity." By being aware of it, and making an effort to change, it'll be possible to break even the most engrained habit.
It may sound simplistic, but we often view others as toxic (read: rude) when they aren't
being present in the moment. For example, by "being the person who is glued to your phone when out for drinks or dinner with friends, you are making people feel like you’d rather be out to dinner with your social media network," Walsh says. And that doesn't feel good.
Not Caring About Other People's Time
When a person is constantly on their phone, and appears to be checked out, it can make them seem toxic. But so can other rude habits, such as constantly running late, or canceling on friends at the last minute. This person may make others feel like their time isn't valuable, Walsh says. "Time is the most precious thing any of us have today." So it's important to take it seriously.
For those who are wont to do any of the above, it can help to make small changes, such as leaving your phone in your bag or leaving ten minutes earlier, in order to be more cognizant of other people's time.
"A toxic person plays the 'woe is me' card," Lakiesha Russell, MS, LPC, a therapist at
The Evolving Chair, tells Bustle. Instead of owning a mistake, or admitting that they're wrong, they tend to grab at straws, and find any way to get out of the sticky situation they're in — without ever accepting responsibility.
And yet this almost always rubs others the wrong way. It's so much healthier to own a mistake, apologize when necessary, and see it through to the other side, than it is to make excuses, or sweep it under the rug and hope no one notices.
Interrupting & Overshadowing
While we all have stories to tell and things we want to share, it's important not to talk over someone, interrupt, or overshadow their story with one that's bigger and better. "By doing so, [toxic people] are giving the message that [the other person isn't] important enough and that their experiences are far more interesting,"
registered psychotherapist Juliann Rasanayagam, MA, RP tells Bustle.
This is where
active listening skills can come in handy, to prevent a toxic situation from occurring. "This would involve putting your thoughts to the side and giving [someone] your full attention," Rasanayagam says.
Glossing Over Someone's Accomplishments
When someone shares an accomplishment, it's always a good idea to give them a few minutes of undivided attention. So often — whether it's due to jealousy, or whatever else — it's easy to ignore our loved ones, or downplay their successes. (Or one-up them, as mentioned above.) But these are
all toxic behaviors.
"The focus of the conversation should be on them, not you," Rasanayagam says. "Use words of encouragement when you can," and situations like this will be more easily avoided.
When jumping to conclusions becomes someone's MO, "this causes people in their life to feel like they have to walk on eggshells and be hyper-aware of what they say/do, which ultimately ends in them not wanting to stay engaged with the toxic person after a while," Candice Thomas, an intuitive coach and author of
, tells Bustle. The Success Sense: Intuition for Entrepreneur and Career Success
It's important not to feel bad about these knee-jerk reactions, but instead remain aware of them, and take steps to improve them — such as by talking with loved ones or a therapist.
Nothing's more toxic than a gossip ring, or worse — someone who sits down with friends and immediately begins criticizing others. "This makes people around them stop sharing their wins with the toxic person or feeling dread when they let slip that they have good news," Thomas says. And it also makes it impossible for their friends to be open with them about negative things or private matters, since they never know who will find out. That's why, even though it may be fun to do so occasionally, gossiping is one of those behaviors that's better off avoided.
While it's natural to feel jealous occasionally — and it can even be a good thing, if you use it to motivate you — nothing good ever comes from full on, intense envy.
When someone let's
jealousy get the better of them, Thomas says they might "feel insecure," and may even lash out at loved ones, instead of sharing happily in their successes.
Jealousy is another toxic behaviors that can be improved on by seeing a therapist or talking with loved ones since, more often than not, there's an underlying reason for it.
We're all entitled to feeling a bit down and out, from time to time. But nothing zaps the energy from the room quite like a person who's constantly putting themselves down.
"Being around a person who constantly expresses their low self-worth drains other people to the point that they physically feel ill or tired and don’t want to be around the toxic person," Thomas says. "Sadly, this just feeds back into the negative loop that the toxic person has."
By simply being aware of this habit, however, it can be changed.
Someone can seem toxic when everything in their life is taken to the most extreme degree. "Their lives are always dramatic and there is always some kind of crisis going on,"
Dr. Judy Ho, clinical psychologist and panelist on Face The Truth, tells Bustle. "They seem to even revel in talking about the crisis, and tend to refuse any good advice you give them and argue against you, telling you all the ways in which it won’t work."
This is something we all do to a degree, but it's important to be aware if it's getting out of hand.
When someone is self-centered, it's almost impossible not to view them as toxic to be around. "They insist on making everything about themselves, and can’t demonstrate good listening skills," Dr. Ho says. "When someone shares something about them, they are likely to jump in and talk about how that applies to them, immediately shifting the conversation to themselves. If you try to point this out, they often become extremely angry and lash out against you verbally or passively-aggressively shut you out." Which, as you can imagine, isn't healthy for anyone.
Sometimes, all we want is a shoulder to cry on. But toxic folks have a hard time with this. "People who are toxic can’t offer empathy, although they demand attention and care from others," Dr. Ho says. "When you are going through something, they are all of a sudden not available or tell you that you are making too big of a deal."
This can stem from a variety of negative places, so it may be helpful to bring it to the attention of a therapist. While we aren't all the type of people to play the role of "therapist" for our friends, it's not healthy to completely lack empathy, either.
Some folks are judgmental. And it's those same folks that most people view as entirely toxic. "Toxic people sometimes like to put others ... down to make themselves feel better," Dr. Ho says. "They are extremely judgmental and because of their own insecurity, criticize others and make them feel small in order to make themselves feel better."
Again, this can come from a place of pain, so it's important not to throw judgment right back at the toxic person. Toxic moments like these can creep into everyday life, and they can happen to all of us. Even the most contentious person can seem difficult to get along with, if they gossip, or pass judgment, or jump to conclusions. But by being aware of
behaviors that come off as a toxic, we can all be a little bit better.