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Toxic people: 6 symptoms & 3 tips to deal with them properly

Almost all of us know someone whose behavior makes us want to avoid them. In this article you will learn how to recognize toxic people and how best to deal with them.

They lie and manipulate, keep others down, and rob us of a lot of energy, whether in the workplace or among friends. Toxic people are exhausting in different ways and no one likes to deal with them.

What toxic means

What toxic means

The word toxic probably originated in ancient Greek. In Antiquity, "tò tóxon" meant something like "the bow" that Greek fighters used as a weapon. "Toxikòn phármakon" was then the poison in which the warriors dipped the arrowheads.

From this derives the term "toxic", which is much used by us today. It means as much as "poisonous" or "harmful". The word is often used in medicine or the natural sciences when referring to substances that are harmful to humans.

However, in recent years, especially with the increased emergence of social media, the term "toxic people" became more and more established. Previously referred to as "poison dwarf" or "witch", exhausting and energy-sapping people are now called toxic.

What toxic people are

Nowadays, the judgment "toxic" is quickly made among people. In general, it is often basically any negative character trait that is judged to be toxic in certain situations – but that would actually make every one of us a toxic person.

After all, no one is perfect and there are always people who will find you stressful, although others will not. Nevertheless, there are certain people whose behavior and character very many people judge as exhausting.

They steal energy, manipulate and lie, often behave selfishly, deceitfully and antisocially. Not infrequently, mental illness or personality disorders are behind this behavior.

Toxic Relationships

Toxic Relationships

In the case of a toxic relationship, the word toxic means the same as toxic people. This kind of relationship robs you of strength and makes you experience more sad and unhappy moments than beautiful ones.

Often the toxicity is due to one of the partners or even both. The characteristics can be quite different, but usually it has to do with emotional dependence.

One of the partners engages in gaslighting, weakening the other person’s self-esteem and manipulatively telling them that they couldn’t live without each other. Also jealousy and control issues are common problems in toxic relationships.

It is especially hard for the victim in this relationship to break free from this dependency and leave their partner.

Recognizing Toxic People: Symptoms and Traits

Defining toxic people is not easy, as many traits and behaviors are perceived differently. Maybe a co-worker bothers you terribly, but the rest of the co-workers see it quite differently.

You will recognize a toxic person in your environment by the fact that you feel drained and uncomfortable after or during  an encounter with him. Although this sensation may be different for many people, there are still some symptoms and characteristics that most people consider toxic.

Manipulative and Suppressive

Manipulative and Suppressive

Toxic people are often manipulative. They like to push themselves into the victim role. For example, once you are angry with them, they know how to turn the tables on you. Quickly, you now feel guilty, while your counterpart portrays himself as the victim.

Whether at work or in a friendship, toxic people want to keep you down. Many cleverly manipulate the self-esteem of their counterpart, present themselves as great and you are the person who is behaving wrongly. Especially in love relationships, this form of oppression and false blaming is very unhealthy.

Forms of this kind of psychological manipulation are also called gaslighting.

Intolerant and Ignorant

The problem with many toxic people is that they don’t perceive themselves that way at all. In their worldview, they are infallible and do exactly the right thing. That’s why they very often react sensitively to criticism and don’t even want to accept it.

Instead, they will feel attacked at the slightest form of criticism and start arguments. In doing so, they quickly move away from factual arguments and even become insulting and hurtful towards you at times.


Selfish people

A classic characteristic of toxic people is selfishness. They think only of themselves, want to be the best, and do not shy away from deceit and deceitfulness. This trait is especially prominent at work.

Do you perhaps have a colleague who completely lacks teamwork or who likes to take credit and glory of a joint project for themselves alone?

Without consideration and empathy

Many toxic people are characterized by not being the best at empathizing with others. For example, they often don’t show much consideration for the feelings of their counterparts. For example, they point out every little weakness they discover in you.

Honesty is not a toxic quality. However, if their only goal is to keep others down and insecure, this can be very energy draining and unhealthy. For example, they may point out physical insecurities to you, smile at them, or even do so in the presence of others.

In their eyes, they may really just want to be honest, however they lack empathy to understand that they are humiliating and hurting you with their statements.


Toxic people often tell lies

It is human nature to lie and therefore, in principle, it should not be considered toxic in the first place. After all, there are many different ways and reasons why we lie. However, there are also people for whom lying takes on chronic proportions.

Some lie their way to the top in their job and invent stories to make themselves look better. In doing so, they show no consideration for others.

But there are also the drama magnets. No matter what problems you have, theirs are always worse than yours. They exaggerate and lie about their own illnesses or other problems to get attention.

This doesn’t always have to be harmful to you as well, but it can become very exhausting in the long run.


Narcissists are a particularly difficult type of person. On the one hand, they are charming and self-confident and therefore often successful in their careers. On the other hand, they are also characterized by egotism, arrogance, envy and hidden lack of self-esteem.

Thus, they manipulate other people, keep them down and cannot handle criticism at all or only very badly. Basically, they combine many of the previously described toxic characteristics, which makes them hard to get along with and exhausting people.

Difference between toxic men and women

Difference between toxic men and women

You can apply many negative traits and behaviors of toxic people to both genders.

Still, there are traits and types of toxicity that, for the most part, only show up in one of the sexes and usually find their origins in childhood and education.

It’s important that you don’t generalize. Not every "male" behavior is toxic, and not every woman who once says something negative behind her colleague’s back is immediately a toxic person. Be careful and thoughtful with your judgment of other people.

Toxic Men

Especially in the social media, the term "Toxic Masculinity" circulated increasingly in recent years. What is meant by this is a certain type of behavior that boys are taught in their childhood. In adulthood, and especially in relationships, it often leads to difficulties and toxicity.

Boys are often taught to behave as "masculine" as possible. Pink clothes are too feminine, only women show feelings, and a real man behaves in a dominant and combative manner. Not infrequently, violence is also legitimized.

At the same time, the image of the "weak woman" is subconsciously conveyed, who represents the opposite of a "real man. This can quickly create a rather conservative image in interpersonal relationships, in which the man is the boss and the woman must subordinate herself to him.

Such men are also often called "machos" and are characterized by considering themselves the greatest. Especially at the present time, when women are becoming more and more independent and emancipated, this "macho behavior" often meets with negative reactions and can quickly become toxic.

Toxic women

Toxic women

For women, toxicity runs in a different direction. Young girls are often given the image of having to be perfect. Women are supposed to be pretty, have children, and preferably have a successful career and a perfect marriage;

The problem is, first and foremost, that they often compare themselves with other women and a competition quickly arises as to who succeeds best in these "tasks". Thus, women also tend to quickly react begrudgingly and enviously towards other women.

Especially at work, but also among friends, there are women who like to gossip about others, spread envy and jealousy and see each other as competition. Also a toxic behavior, which you should avoid if possible;

Am I Toxic?

Maybe you are reading this article because you have a suspicion about yourself that you are toxic. Or maybe some of the previously listed characteristics have awakened this suspicion in you in the first place. First of all, a small all-clear: Just because you may have lied before, or have been inconsistent in one point, it does not mean that you are poisoning your entire environment;

In toxic people, these negative behaviors are often very pronounced and sometimes even extend to mental disorders. How toxic you see yourself or others often depends on your environment;

If you notice that close friends or even family are distancing themselves from you, you should first talk to them. If you yourself have already recognized your weaknesses and possibly toxic behavior patterns, this is in any case already a very good step in the right direction;

Perhaps your loved ones will also support you in improving. If you are struggling a lot with yourself, there is no shame in seeking professional help.

The right way to deal with toxic people

No matter in what way a person is toxic, they all have in common that they are very stressful for those around them. Especially when it comes to colleagues, family members or your partner, they can drag you down tremendously. Therefore, it is important that you do not simply accept their behavior, but do something about it.


Communication is important

Unfortunately, probably a futile endeavor in many cases, yet you should try to address the issues. Maybe your counterpart will actually reflect on his behavior and you can resolve the disagreement.

Since many toxic people are characterized by their inability to criticize, this conversation can be very difficult and fruitless. Nevertheless, you should make this attempt so that you can say for yourself that you tried this reasonable way.

Get out of their way

Of course, the most obvious coping rule with toxic people is to just stay out of their way. Especially if they are "friends" or acquaintances, you are doing yourself some good by cutting negative and power-sapping people out of your life

Unfortunately, this is not always possible. At work, you may still be able to talk to your boss and make sure you don’t have to work with the toxic employee. However, even that is not always possible, so in this case you may have to resort to another method of dealing properly.

Ingnore them and confront them

Ignore toxic people and confront them

This  tip is probably easier said than done. But if you can’t avoid the toxic person and any kind of communication attempts fall on deaf ears, you should try to ignore them and not let them approach you at all.

Keep in mind that they are in the wrong when they blame you again. Let begrudging and envious comments bounce off you, and question their statements if you know they lie often;

The best way you’ll be able to implement these tips is to strengthen your own self-esteem. Toxic people are very fond of lunging at people with whom they know they can succeed with their behavior.

However, if they fall on deaf ears and realize that they can’t get anywhere with you, they will probably let go of you quickly. Otherwise, you should show them clear limits and consequences.

Toxic behavior can be contagious. Many victims want to get back at toxic people by the same means. But by doing so, you are not much better than them and may make things worse. So whatever you do about the toxic person, make sure you stay true to yourself.

Sayings and quotes about toxic people

Whether it’s short sentences that sum up the behavior of toxic people or tips on how to behave properly, there are many sayings about this topic. We have some of them for you here.

  1. I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet. (Mahatma Gandhi)
  2. Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others' approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her. (Lao Tzu)
  3. I don’t want everyone to like me; I should think less of myself if some people did. (Henry James)
  4. Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too can become great. (Mark Twain)
  5. While you can’t control someone’s negative behavior, you can control how long you participate in it. (Anonymous)
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