Signs of a toxic person

Signs of a toxic person

If we think about it, to label someone as “toxic” is quite aggressive, although we may feel that it is fully justified with certain individuals because we see signs of a toxic person in the way they behave when interacting with others.

On a technical level, we wouldn’t talk about “toxic people” because, as well as being a dismissive term (acceptable in colloquial language but not academic) it is also relative: we need to explain what we refer to. In psychological terms, we refer to the destructive effect that certain traits of someone’s personality, or their lack of interpersonal skills, have on their relationships, their well-being, and their environment. However, for simplicity and contextualization, we will use the colloquial expression in this article.

To see the signs of a toxic person we must observe how they relate and address others, their friendships, romantic relationships, or family. Moreover, people are complex: we don’t behave in the same way in different situations nor do all people bring out the same energy in us. This is why we can be toxic or destructive in some relationships, but manage relatively well in others. In extreme cases, all of the person’s relationships are affected by their toxic behavior. 

Signs of a toxic person

Toxic traits

A person can give off their toxicity in many ways. We can perceive this when interacting with them leads to the relationship ending problematically, makes us feel bad, or simply because that person is abusive and manipulative. 

There are many types of “toxic traits” in people and relationships. When we constantly feel uncomfortable in a relationship (misunderstood, pressured, abused, singled out, manipulated, demotivated…) we need to analyze what exactly it is that makes us feel bad when we are with that person. Is it what they say? How they say it? Do they really treat us badly or do we just not understand each other?

Some people come across as “toxic” because their constant pessimism overwhelms us and drags us down. It is difficult to communicate with them because they don’t listen and don’t take into account how the other person feels, they systematically prevent them from being self-assertive, only they are right and they end up being very invalidating. 

We should know that not all of our relationships always work well because we do not always function well in all of our relationships. Sometimes, for whatever reason, we can be toxic (to some extent) to our partner, for example, but have reasonably healthy friendships or family relationships. Or we can be relatively controlling and overbearing children or parents but connect perfectly well with our partner and not make the other person feel bad. The more radical the differences between our relationships, the more suspicious it is, but it is clear that this versatility exists. 

A relationship can become toxic even if just one of the people involved brings toxicity into the relationship. What is interesting is not so much whether the toxic person is one or both members of the relationship, but rather that it is the dynamic between them that becomes unhealthy. When examining the causes of this happening, it can become very clear that it is mainly due to the attitude of one of them

Signs of a toxic person

The first thing to do is to realize how the relationship makes us feel generally, not in a specific situation, because everyone can have a bad day. That is to say, examine how I feel when I am with that person habitually, or how that person makes me feel. 

I’ll later determine whether is it because that person is simply toxic or does it have to do with me, but first, check how the relationship is doing by checking on myself first. I can try and ask myself: when I’m with this person, do I feel significantly discouraged, frightened, annulled, uncomfortable, misunderstood, manipulated…? 

Next, we can ask ourselves the reason behind these feelings: is it because of the way the person behaves, or are they my thoughts, due to my fears or my lack of assertiveness? This is always very subjective and can often be a mixture of the two issues: relationships are complicated.  

In general, it is a matter of observing when a person is honest or not. When they are flexible, do they listen and give the other person space or do they try to monopolize the power in the relationship? How we are treated, if I am treated presumably well but in reality, it is pure paternalism to make themselves feel better and tie me down. Unless the person insults and mistreats, there are no perfect measurements to assess this beyond the first point: if I repeatedly tend to feel uncomfortable in the relationship, there is something wrong.  

Signs of a toxic person

How to deal with toxic people

It depends on their role in our life, and therefore, the level of dependency we have can be higher or lower. Is the relationship is just based on both of us or do we have a common ground? This heavily influences relationships too. 

If the person who is toxic to me is an individual friend, it is relatively easy to distance myself from them once I have become aware that they bring negativity to my life, unless I am a rather submissive or dependent person. In that case, it will be very difficult for me to let go. 

However, if the toxic person is my mother, my partner, or a member of my usual group of friends then it is not so easy to cut ties, but what we have to do is transform the relationship by keeping a safe distance and later see if we have to continue taking steps towards detaching ourselves from it.  

To do so, we must learn to differentiate ourselves from that person, take a real and symbolic distance, learn at a “theoretical” level what healthy relationships are like and the signs of a toxic person, and learn to set limits.

If the toxic relationship becomes too difficult to break then it is essential to seek help from a specialized psychologist who can accompany us in the process.

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