Toxic people are basically energy vampires. They latch on to you like a leech, and drain your energy until you feel depleted, confused, and exasperated. Unfortunately, toxic people look just like regular people so they can be hard to spot. If you suspect you might be involved with an toxic person, look for these habits of toxic people so you can begin to cleanse them from your life. Everyone can exhibit some of these habits from time to time, but a toxic person embodies them most of the time — and they are often completely unaware of the effect they have on others.
"Just being around toxic behavior, to say nothing of being its target, makes people sick," Christine Porath told Robin Schreiber in Psychology Today. "Chronic stress is linked to cardiovascular disease, insomnia, depressed immunity, and overeating. Toxic people not only harm others emotionally, they're a threat to health. And when toxic behavior takes hold in an environment, it turns everyone cynical."
When I think of toxic people, the first person who comes to mind is President Donald Trump. All you have to do is examine his Twitter feed to witness his belittling and abusive behavior. When I think of a non-toxic person, my go to is always Lauren Graham. As far as humans go, especially humans in Hollywood, Graham embodies humor, humility, forgiveness, and a spirit of lifting others up instead of holding them down. She never publicly maligns others, and if you examine her Twitter feed, you can see a clear difference.
If you're having trouble separating the Trumps from the Grahams in your life, here are nine habits of toxic people to watch out for.
1. They're Passive Aggressive
The word toxic is derived from the Latin word toxikon, which means "arrow poison," According to Psychology Today. "In a literal sense, the term means to kill (or poison) in a targeted way," Theo Veldsman, head of Industrial Psychology and People Management at the University of Johannesburg, said in Psychology Today.
Toxic people make themselves feel superior by trying to make others feel less than, and one way they do this is with passive aggressive slights. For example, they might give you a compliment that's actually an insult such as, "You look so great today! See what happens when you take the time to pay attention to your appearance?"
And, what's even worse is that the target of the slight often feels rattled and confused, and ends up thanking the person for the insult because they're not sure how to react.
2. Gaslighting Is Their 'Normal' Behavior
Toxic people who practice gaslighting believe that their reality is always correct, and they spend a lot of time trying to convince you that you're experience of something is incorrect, or that you're overreacting. In the long-term, gaslighting can make a person feel crazy, and even cause them to question their sanity.
"Gaslighting, psychologist Robin Stern, associate director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of The Gaslight Effect, said to Robin Schreiber in Psychology Today "is the systematic attempt by one person to erode another's reality — by telling them that what they are experiencing isn't so— and the gradual giving up on the part of the other person."
3. They Blame Others
A toxic person can never accept responsibility for anything they have done. Instead they shift the blame to others. If the toxic person is skilled at what they are doing, you might not even realize what's happening. "Another relatively subtle act, shifting blame to others, wounds targets as it puts them in a morally untenable spot," Schreiber wrote in Psychology Today.
In some instances, the toxic person may even shift the blame to you, and depending on how deep your relationship goes with the toxic person, you might take it on.
"We may even take the blame on ourselves," Schreiber wrote. For example, "'I'm being too needy,'" or "'She's right; I'm lucky to be in a relationship with her. Who else would put up with me?'" Psychologist Rhonda Freeman told Psychology Today that this dynamic may particularly entrap those who experienced emotional or physical abuse by a family member while growing up.
4. They're Always Right
A toxic person is never wrong. Perhaps they will even create "alternative facts" to try to convince you that their perspective is correct even when all evidence points to the contrary. Trying to make a toxic person see another point of view if often futile because to admit that they might be wrong strips them of their power.
"Their need to be right trumps common sense, truth and even normal social bounds," Talented Ladies Club reported. "They’ll pursue an issue until it’s conceded that they are in fact right. They’ll even happily take their fight to the legal system, incurring huge costs and a waste of time, often over very trivial matters — even suing neighbors over inches of land or the height of boundary hedges."
5. Welcome To The Drama Club
Even though it's been 40 years since Fleetwood Mac released it's mega-hit album Rumours, the band is still the uncontested epitome of rock 'n roll drama. While each band member likely had some toxic personality attributes back in their hey day (what with all the drugs, alcohol and adulation), when mixed together the group became a boiling pot of bed-hopping, backstabbing, toxic drama that not even the most skilled soap opera writer could dream up. Welcome to the drama club, my friendlies.
Toxic people love drama. They are the stars of their own movie and everyone else is an extra. And, if they are very skilled manipulators they might make you feel privileged to have a bit part, walk-on role in the film that is their life.
"Some toxic people are magnets for drama," The Science of People reported. "Something is always wrong. Always. And of course, once a problem is solved, another one emerges. And they only want your empathy, sympathy and support–but not your advice! You offer help and solutions, but they never seem to want to fix anything."
6. They Lack Empathy
Truly toxic people lack empathy, the ability to understand other people's feelings. " Blunted sensitivity to others' pain especially enables the more overtly hurtful behaviors like bullying and the aggressively manipulative ones like gaslighting," Schreiber wrote in Psychology Today.
If a toxic person can't empathize, this means they can't empathize with anyone, including you. Any relationship with a toxic person, whether it's work, friendship, or romance, is likely going to end with you getting your feelings trampled because the toxic person literally does not have the ability to understand them.
7. They're Liars
Because they're unwilling to admit they're wrong, toxic people tend to lie on the regular. Often, the only goal of a toxic person is to make themselves seem as amazing as possible, and this is achieved with half-truths, and outright lies.
What's interesting is that most of these lies can be proven wrong fairly quickly, but when presented with facts — like how many people actually attended a presidential inauguration — the toxic person will stick to their lie.
Lifehacker suggests this advice from Harvard psychologist Martha Stout to determine whether you're dealing with a toxic liar. "One lie, one broken promise, or a single neglected responsibility may be a misunderstanding instead. Two may involve a serious mistake. But three lies says you’re dealing with a liar, and deceit is the linchpin of conscienceless behavior."
8. They're Withholding
Toxic people tend to be withholding. They might withhold information you need to do your job, or make an informed decision, or they might withhold affection, money, or more in order to make themselves feel superior to others.
"Toxic people might withhold their acknowledgement or support of you because they perceive themselves to be superior to you in some way or feel threatened by you," Jim Hjort, LCSW wrote on Right Life Project. "Others may form cliques that leave you on the outside looking in, or abuse the intimacy you offer."
9. It's All About Them
For toxic people, it's their world and the rest of us are just living in it. Toxic people will always put their own interests, wants, and desires before anything else. And, they're not above spreading gossip and rumors to do it. They also love to tell you how great they are, like all of the freaking time. Basically, it's all "me, me, me."
"Toxic people genuinely have no concern for your feelings, and feel no need to take them into consideration. And worryingly, this often demonstrates itself in control. They care about how they feel, what they want to do, what their needs are, and will happily manipulate you to ensure they’re me," Talented Ladies Club explained.
"In a friendship, this could mean asking you to babysit their children even if it’s not convenient for you, expecting you to change your plans to meet them, or putting you down by criticizing your looks, personality, or mothering skills."
If you're involved with a friend, co-worker, or partner with more than half of these attributes, it's time to re-evaluate your relationships. This guide for how to handle toxic people can help you break free and regain control of your life. Because, you deserve better.