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“Am I toxic?”
Toxic is a word that’s thrown about a lot these days.
But how do you know if you are a toxic person?
What are some things that you might do that cause you to be a toxic influence in the lives of others?
That’s what we’re going to explore.
What Does It Mean To Be Toxic?
In the general sense of the word, something that is toxic is harmful to a person upon exposure.
There are varying levels of toxicity. Some things are instantly lethal. Others cause harm over time.
Regarding people, the definition doesn’t change much.
A toxic person is one who causes harm to others through their words and actions.
They leave others worse off than before they met or interacted with them.
Sometimes this harm is felt instantly. Other times, it builds slowly with time and repeated exposure.
With this in mind, how can you tell if you are the toxic person in your life?
Here are some of the signs you can look out for.
27 Signs You Are A Toxic Person
1. People feel worse about themselves having spent time with you.
While this one is not always easy to identify, it covers everything that follows.
When a person is left feeling unloved, unappreciated, or unworthy having spent time around you, there’s a good chance that you have exhibited toxic behaviors toward them.
Of course, you can’t know what is going on inside their head, but if you spot someone’s body language becoming visibly more closed off and negative, they are probably feeling rotten.
If their eyes drop and they seem embarrassed or ashamed by what you’ve said or done, you’ve inflicted some harm to their feelings.
You have hurt them.
2. People avoid you or disappear out of your life for good.
Perhaps the clearest sign that you are toxic is the way other people avoid coming into contact with you.
Do your friends always seem to have other plans or make excuses for why they can’t meet up with you?
Do they never initiate contact with you?
Do people seem to exit your life not long after they entered it?
Do your work colleagues try to avoid involving you in social events?
Do people find ways to cut short conversations with you?
When people enjoy another person’s company, they actively find ways to spend time with them, but the opposite seems true for you.
This is evidence that you are causing some form of harm to them.
3. You are highly critical and think you are superior to others.
You find it difficult to accept other people as they are and will regularly criticize or judge others for what you see as their faults.
You use shame as a weapon to make others feel bad and yourself feel better.
You insist that people should have done something another way.
You belittle their choices, you poke fun at their accomplishments, and you seek to make them believe that you are the ‘better’ person.
Because you sure as hell believe that you are superior to everyone else.
What’s more, you try to “fix” other people and their flaws with your not-so-helpful and unsolicited suggestions about how they should do things and how they should live their lives.
4. You are controlling or emotionally manipulative.
You seek to make others your pawns and have them do as you wish.
This ties into your superiority complex and your belief that you know what is best in any given circumstance, for you and for them.
You boss people around, micromanage situations, and use various forms of emotional blackmail to ensure you get your own way.
Subtlety is not your forte. You can be very blunt and rude to the point where it shocks other people.
Alternatively, you may feign upset and use tears as a way to guilt people into doing what you want.
5. You never apologize or admit wrongdoing.
Sorry is not a word that often passes your lips.
After all, you know best.
Even when it is obvious to all around who is at fault, you strongly defend your position and refuse to apologize.
Instead, you make excuses for why something happened the way it did or for how you behaved.
Which leads to…
6. You seek to blame others for everything.
Since you do no wrong, when something doesn’t go to plan in your life, you instantly look to shift the blame onto other people.
Nothing bad is ever your responsibility, but the result of mistakes made by other people…
…or simply by virtue of life being unfair and working against you.
Some of those you blame will take it very seriously and begin to doubt themselves.
If you repeat this again and again – if you make somebody your defacto whipping boy/girl – you foster a very negative self-belief in their mind.
7. You take advantage of other people’s kindness.
The world is full of kindness, but you see this as an opportunity to make personal gains.
You take every available bit of help you can get without offering much in return.
You don’t even show much appreciation for the people who have shown you such kindness.
In a world of give and take, you do very little giving and a lot of taking.
This one-sidedness stems from a mindset of scarcity and the belief that you need to hoard resources – people’s generosity in this case.
But what happens to these people who keep giving? What happens when you take too much?
First they hurt. Then they run.
This comes back to point #2 and how people seem to disappear from your life.
If you will take advantage of them, they will soon come to their senses.
8. You humiliate people to gain the favor of the crowd.
Have you ever made fun of someone in order to make others laugh and like you more?
Have you done it while that person was in the room?
While good friends can handle a bit of friendly banter, if you make a habit of putting others down in front of a group, it’s no longer banter, it’s toxic.
And this is all the more apparent to others if your friendly ‘banter’ is in fact a personal attack on an innocent victim.
That person will be left feeling horrible about themselves, which, as we have discussed, is the hallmark of a toxic behavior.
9. You hold a grudge.
When a person does something that upsets you, there’s no way you’re letting them off the hook.
Even if they apologize, you’ll hold their wrongdoing over their head for years to come.
And you’ll make it known to them that you have not forgiven nor forgotten.
It doesn’t matter how close you are to this person or how much you claim to care about them.
Maybe you’ll refuse invitations from them as a point of principle, give them the silent treatment, or perhaps you’ll bring up the incident with them over and over to remind them of how they are a bad person.
One way or another, you’ll make them pay for what they did to you by causing them harm.
10. You make things personal.
Disagreements are a normal and expected part of life, but things get very personal very quickly when you’re involved.
You are not afraid to attack your opponent in the conflict and single out specific things about them that you believe will hurt them emotionally.
You may bring up their past, take aim at their character, ridicule the way they look or speak, become racist, homophobic, or abusive in some other way.
Of course, when all is said and done, you blame them for making them behave the way you did.
11. You don’t celebrate the success of others.
When something goes right for other people, when they achieve or succeed at a goal they were aiming for, you don’t celebrate with them.
You do not utter any congratulations or show that you are pleased for them.
You might even downplay their win as insignificant or claim that they got lucky in some way. Or you may ‘one-up’ their successes to make what they achieved seem insignificant.
In doing so, you rob that person of many of the positive feelings they may be having about the event itself.
And this hurts them.
It’s reached the point where people don’t even tell you about their successes anymore.
12. You are jealous of others.
A big part of not celebrating another’s success is the jealousy you feel toward them. You can’t be happy for them because they have something you don’t.
Maybe you are jealousy of their looks. You think they lucked out in their face or body or some other part of them. The way you feel borders on resentment, even though they haven’t done anything to you.
Or perhaps you envy how outgoing they are or how many friends they seem to have. Or how happy their relationship seems to be.
You often find yourself saying to others, “I wish I could be/do/have that.” You may mean it as a compliment of sorts, but it is more likely to make the other person feel awkward and like you begrudge them that thing.
13. You threaten repercussions if people don’t fall in line.
You make it clear to people that if they cross you, they’ll pay for it.
Often times, these are specific threats that you know will have the desired effect and make a person act how you want.
These typically aren’t physical threats (though they can be), but rather threats to someone’s mental or emotional well-being.
Or they may be threats to cause the person some great inconvenience if they go against your wishes.
Perhaps you use sex (the withholding of) as a weapon. Maybe you threaten to end a relationship. Or you might even use the threat of self-harm to manipulate someone into doing what you want.
14. You never compromise.
This ties in with #4 and your controlling behavior.
When your needs and wishes are stacked against those of other people, you are not willing to compromise.
You must get your own way or you will kick up such a fuss as to make the lives of the other person(s) miserable.
Whether it’s deciding which restaurant to dine at, how to decorate your home, or where to send your kids to school, you have to have the final say.
And if somebody else suffers as a result, you don’t really care.
15. You cannot be trusted to keep a secret.
Being open and honest with someone close to us is an essential part of a healthy relationship, whether romantic, friendship, or otherwise.
But nobody wants to open up to you because you do not keep the secrets of others.
Instead, you flippantly reveal these secrets at times when you think they can be leveraged to help you in some way.
Whether that’s winning the favor of third parties by gossiping about someone behind their back or using them as part of a smear campaign if someone crosses you.
If someone divulges anything of consequence to you, they will almost certainly pay the price through your treachery and betrayal.
16. You make snarky, passive-aggressive comments.
Not a day goes by without you taking little digs at people thinly disguised as neutral comments.
You say things such as:
“That was really good for someone of your ability.” – which is merely a backhanded compliment.
“Why are you getting so upset?” – which is implied criticism of your handling of a situation.
And then there’s the never helpful “Fine” in response to someone asking how you are.
These sorts of comments are designed to put the other person on the back foot. They cast doubt in their minds.
That’s a little toxic, isn’t it?
17. You use peer pressure to make people do things they don’t want to do.
You aren’t afraid of calling on the pack mentality of a social group to put pressure on one member to do something they’d rather not do.
You are the ringleader who initiates things and goads the unwilling participant into going against their wishes.
Whether it’s getting a person to drink more than they normally would or convincing someone to take a risk that could have serious consequences, you are willing to push them as hard as required.
This makes the other person feel weak, whether or not they end up complying.
18. Your moods are volatile.
This last one is slightly less clear cut in that some people experience mood swings for understandable reasons.
The difference is that you use your unpredictable moods to keep a person on the back foot.
Since they do not know which version of you they will be dealing with, a person is forced to walk on eggshells in fear of triggering you.
And when they do something to displease you, this poor person is likely to face both barrels.
This comes back to the control and power you wish to exert over others.
19. You create drama.
Whether it’s because you’re bored or because you want some attention, you are a big source of drama in your life and the lives of others.
Drama is emotionally charged. It draws people into conflict, it gives you ample opportunity to gossip, and it allows you to give your opinion on some thing or another (because you love the sound of your own voice, and you always think you’re right).
But whilst you may get some sort of enjoyment out of drama (or you think you do, at least), it exhausts most people. When you drag others into a storm of your making, they are likely to want to pull away from you to preserve their inner peace.
20. You’re overly competitive.
Everything is a competition to you. And you must be the winner or you get upset and moody.
Whilst a little rivalry between friends can be healthy if it is enjoyed by everyone, you take things to a new level and turn even the most trivial thing into a contest.
Unless all your friends are hyper-competitive types too, you are likely to be alienating people who just want to enjoy themselves rather than being pitted against you and others.
When everything turns into a competition, it can drain other people of their energy.
21. People call you out on your behavior.
If it has reached a point where someone in your life has called you out on your behavior, you can be sure that you’ve crossed a line.
Most people prefer a non-confrontational approach and will often let offensive behavior slide, opting instead to put physical and emotional distance between you and them.
For someone to have taken enough offence to have raised the issue with you directly – possibly in front of others – you must have done something to really annoy or upset them.
And we’re not talking about a one-off occurrence. Friends can call out bad behavior, move on from it, and remain good friends. In your case, multiple people in your life have spoken out about your behavior.
This might be friends, family members, or colleagues. In the context of work, a colleague may have reported your behavior to a superior rather than confront you directly.
22. You play the victim.
Woe is you. You seem to think that you suffer more than others, that you have it harder.
And you don’t shy away from telling or showing people that this is the case. You’re forever bemoaning your luck or how other people treat you. You never stop to recognize all of the things you have to be grateful for.
This victim mentality makes you defensive, it makes you lash out at the world for all the wrongdoings done upon you, and it can lead you to treat yourself poorly just to prove to others how tough things are for you.
You may also throw your hands up in the air and wave the white flag rather than take the action that is needed to make a negative situation better.
This behavior pushes people away because they don’t want to hear you complain all the time whilst not doing anything to help yourself. You’re just a bit of a downer to be around.
23. You’re never there to support others.
When you need help, other people damn sure better be there for you. But flip the situation around, and you disappear whenever someone needs your support.
You’re very much a fair weather friend. You are there when things are easy and the other person doesn’t require any sort of time or emotional investment from you, but the moment they go through a rough patch, you go AWOL.
You can’t be relied upon. You don’t want to listen to other people’s problems. You will just take a few steps back and wait for that person to come through whatever they are facing.
It doesn’t matter if they are grieving a loved one, breaking up with their partner, or being made redundant, you don’t want to know.
24. You don’t consider other people’s feelings.
If you want to do something, you’re going to do it, not matter how someone else might feel about it.
You don’t see why you should take someone else’s feelings into consideration when taking actions or making decisions, even when the results of those actions or decisions will clearly have an impact on other people.
Maybe you wouldn’t think twice about sleeping with your friend’s ex without consulting your friend, because they’re fair game now, right?
Or perhaps you take a job in a new city without discussing it with your partner, because you just assume they’ll move with you regardless of the upheaval it will cause. Of course, if they resist, you’ll say they don’t love you or support you, or that they’re holding you back.
Basically, you are selfish when it comes to how you act and the way those actions affect others.
25. You lie and gaslight people.
You don’t think twice about spinning lies to get your own way. Whether that’s manipulating people into doing or thinking a certain thing, or hiding your activities from someone who trusts you, you are deceitful.
You make people doubt themselves by insisting that your version of events is correct and they are misremembering something.
People aren’t fools, however, and you have a bit of a reputation of being untrustworthy. Most people take everything you say with a pinch of salt, knowing full well that you embellish the truth to manipulate others and paint yourself in a better light.
26. Your favorite topic of conversation is YOU!
You are so self-centered that all you ever seem to talk about is you and your life and your problems. You rarely ever stop to ask how the other person is, or what’s going on in their life.
You are a conversational narcissist. That is, you dominate the conversation and ensure that you get to express everything that’s on your mind, even if that leaves no time for the other person to get a word in.
Either you’re not aware that you’re doing it, or you simply don’t want to listen to them talk because you find anything other than your own voice boring.
This can manifest as you not knowing a lot about the lives of your friends, family, or colleagues. They may have really big things going on, but you are none the wiser.
27. You drag others down to your level.
If you are a pessimistic person who sees the bad in everything, you make sure to bring positive people down to your level.
You complain about everything, you focus on what could go wrong (a real excitement killer), and you are ready with a “I told you so,” the moment something doesn’t go to plan.
It’s hard for even the cheeriest of people to retain their smile in your company. You’re forever grouchy, you pour scorn on their happiness, and you belittle them for believing in the good of others.
Your view is: if you can’t be happy and positive, why should anyone else be? This drives people away from you because you’re just not much fun to be around.
How To Stop Being Toxic
If you can relate to and accept any of the points above, you have already taken the first and hardest step…
…you have acknowledged that you exhibit toxic behaviors from time to time.
Don’t underestimate this.
Many people who you might describe as toxic are oblivious to their own behavior.
They do not realize the harm that they are causing to others.
And remember that this harm is what defines something as toxic.
To move forward and reduce, then eliminate these undesirable actions, there are several things you can do.
1. Understand that ‘YOU’ are not toxic.
While we have discussed many ways in which a person’s words and actions can be toxic and harmful to others, it is important to stress that a person is not, themselves, toxic.
No individual can cause harm to another individual merely by existing.
What you have to work on is your behavior.
It is what you do and say that can be labelled as toxic. So by addressing these things, you can stop being toxic.
No, it won’t always be easy, especially when behaviors are deeply ingrained in your unconscious, but with concerted effort and the help of trained counselors or therapists, it is possible.
2. Recognize which toxic behaviors you exhibit.
It’s easy to dismiss many of the points above and deny that you may sometimes, unwittingly perhaps, be guilty of them.
If you ever wish to address your toxic behaviors, you must know what they are.
You need to be able to identify when you have caused another person harm and how you have done so.
Writing in a journal can help you to keep track of your interactions throughout the day, particularly those where conflict arose and where there was potential for you to hurt another person.
If you spot a pattern of similar behaviors and arguments cropping up time and again, you’ll know that these are things you need to work on.
3. Consult a professional.
If you exhibit some or even many of the signs on this list, there’s a good chance that those behaviors are the result of some event in your past, or your general upbringing.
People don’t tend to become toxic all by themselves. It can take years for behaviors to form and become ingrained in your personality.
But no behavioral trait is permanent if you don’t want it to be. You are able to change, but you will probably find that change easier and quicker if you engage the services of a trained counselor.
They will be able to get to the root cause of your behavior and unpack the past in a way that is safe and productive in terms of addressing that behavior. They will also be able to help you find healthier ways to interact with others, treat others, and communicate yourself to others.
If you would like to speak to a counselor who will work with you via video or phone or online chat, click here to connect with one.
4. Understand that life is not a zero-sum game.
If you look again at the points above, you’ll notice that many of them have roots in the belief that in order for you to win, someone else must lose.
This is known as a zero-sum game. It is the idea that there are only so many resources on offer, and to increase your share, another person’s share must be reduced.
So you criticize, you control, you blame, you take advantage, you make threats…
…all to ensure that your slice of the overall pie of life either grows or is not shrunk by the actions of others.
But life is not a zero-sum game.
In fact, it is almost the complete opposite.
Life is about synergy and working together to maximize each person’s share of an ever-growing pie.
Those people who are most satisfied, and most happy with how their lives are going, are those who contribute to the lives of others in a positive way.
They know that the best way to ‘win’ at life is by helping others win too.
Sure, this may not always be true in the cut-throat world of business, but in a wider, more important context, it can be seen and felt by those who live this way.
So whenever you find yourself believing that you somehow gain by harming others, stop and remember that in the world of emotional well-being and relationships, 2 + 2 = 5.
5. Always ask whether you’re harming another.
The most critical part of addressing any toxic behavior is to first consider what effect your actions are having on others.
If there is any risk of harm, it is a sign that this behavior should not be continued.
This means stopping to think before you speak or act.
It means taking the feelings of other people into consideration whenever you do something.
It involves a level of empathy to really understand the consequences of your behavior on those around you.
Always ask: will what I’m about to do cause harm to anyone?
This is by no means an easy task. Many times we act without thinking.
But even if you have to think of the consequences in hindsight at first, you will soon make a habit of considering the other people in your life before acting.
6. Get to know yourself.
Some people may exhibit toxic behaviors because that is what they think they should be doing.
They see other people doing it and believe that this is the right way to act.
Or they simply fall into a pattern of behavior because they can’t see an alternative.
Often, this different path is hidden because they don’t know themselves and what they stand for.
When you don’t know what your true values are, it is easy to act in ways that betray them.
But if you start on a journey of self-discovery, you will realize what matters to you and you will be able to live your life accordingly.
It might take years to truly find out what you believe in deep down, but you will get there and this process will often involve tackling toxic behaviors head on.
Be kind to yourself in the meantime. You will undoubtedly continue to hurt others as you learn what is and isn’t the right thing to do in any given circumstances.
Don’t punish yourself for these slip ups, but see them as valuable learning opportunities.
Think you might be toxic and want specific ways to stop? Speak to a counselor today who can walk you through the process. Simply click here to connect with one of the experienced counselors on BetterHelp.com.
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