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6 symptoms of toxic people & 3 tips on how to deal with them properly

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

They lie and manipulate, make others feel small and drain our energy: whether we encounter them in the workplace or among friends, toxic people have different ways of exhausting us and no one likes to deal with them.

What does toxic mean?

What does toxic mean?

The word toxic likely stems from ancient Greek. In ancient times, "tò tóxon" referred to a "bow", a weapon used by Greek fighters, and "toxikòn phármakon" to the poison the warriors coated their arrowheads in.

From this derives "toxic", a term which finds frequent use today. It means "poisonous" or "harmful" and is often used in the field of medicine or natural sciences when referring to substances that are harmful to humans.

In recent years, however, especially with the rise of social media, the term "toxic" has been increasingly used to refer to people. Exhausting, energy-sapping people, perhaps previously referred to as "scoundrels" or "witches", are now known as "toxic".

What defines a toxic person?

Nowadays, people are all too quick to judge others as "toxic". It is often the case that practically any negative character trait is deemed toxic in certain situations – but that would actually make every one of us a toxic person.

When it comes down to it, no one is perfect and there are always people who will find some things you do taxing, whilst others will not. Nevertheless, there are certain people with behaviors and character traits that very many people deem to be exhausting.

They drain your energy, manipulate and lie, and often behave selfishly, deceitfully and anti-socially. It is not uncommon for mental illnesses or personality disorders to be behind this behavior.

Toxic relationships

Toxic relationships

When it comes to toxic relationships, the word "toxic" means the same as it does when referring to toxic people. This kind of relationship robs you of strength and makes you experience more sad moments than happy ones.

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

One of the partners may engage in gaslighting, weakening the other’s self-esteem and manipulating them, telling them that they couldn’t live without each other. Jealousy and control issues, too, are common problems in toxic relationships.

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

Recognizing toxic people: symptoms and traits

Defining toxic people is not easy, as many traits and behaviors can be perceived quite differently. Maybe there’s one co-worker who really bothers you, but the rest of your co-workers see things quite differently.

You can recognize that you’ve come across a toxic person by the fact that you feel drained and uncomfortable after or during  an encounter with them. Although different people are sensitive to different things, there are still some symptoms and characteristics that are considered toxic by most.

Manipulative and oppressive

Manipulative and oppressive

Toxic people are often manipulative. They like to play the victim, for example if you’re angry with them, they know how to turn the tables on you. It’s then you who’ll feel guilty in the blink of an eye, while your counterpart portrays themselves as the victim.

Whether at work or within a friendship, toxic people want to put and keep you down. Many are clever at manipulating your self-esteem, presenting themselves as a great person whilst you are the person who is in the wrong. Especially when it comes to romantic relationships, this form of oppression and such false accusations are extremely unhealthy.

These types of psychological manipulation are also known as gaslighting.

Unwilling to learn and ignorant

The problem with many toxic people is that they don’t perceive themselves as toxic at all. In their mind, they can do no wrong, rather, they do exactly the right thing. This is why they are often highly sensitively to criticism and don’t want to take any of it on board.

Instead, they feel attacked at the slightest hint of criticism and start an argument. In doing so, they move quickly away from the facts and can even become insulting and hurtful towards you at times.

Egoistic

Egoistic

A classic characteristic of toxic people is egotism. They think only of themselves, want to be the best, and do not shy away from deceit and falsehoods. This trait is especially prominent in the workplace.

Do you perhaps have a colleague who completely lacks the ability to work in a team or who likes to take all the credit and glory from the work done on a joint project for themselves alone?

Lack of consideration and empathy

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

Honesty is not a quality that’s inherently toxic. However, if a person’s only goal is to put others down and make them feel insecure, this can be very energy-consuming and unhealthy. For example, they may point out your physical insecurities, sneer at them, and even do so in the presence of others.

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

Lying

Toxic people often tell lies

It is human nature to lie and so, in principle, it should not be considered toxic at all. After all, there are many different ways of lying and various reasons why we lie. However, there are also people whose lying takes on chronic proportions.

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

There are also some people who love drama so 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 necessarily always have to be harmful to you, but it can become very exhausting in the long run.

Narcissism

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 a hidden lack of self-esteem.

As such, they manipulate others, put them down and are unable to handle any kind of criticism, or only do so very badly. Basically, they combine many of the toxic characteristics described above, making them exhausting to deal with and hard to get along with.

The difference between toxic men and women

The difference between toxic men and women

Many of the negative traits and behaviors linked with toxicity apply to both genders. Nevertheless, there are certain characteristics and types of toxicity that mainly show up in one gender only and can usually be traced back to childhood and upbringing.

It’s important not to generalize. Not all "masculine" behavior is toxic, and not every woman who, at one point or another, says something negative behind her colleague’s back is instantly a toxic person. Tread cautiously and think before judging other people.

Toxic men

In recent years, the term "Toxic Masculinity" has been increasingly circulated, especially on social media. It refers to a certain type of behavior that boys are taught in childhood. During adulthood, and particularly when it comes to relationships, it often leads to difficulties and even toxicity.

Boys are often taught to behave in as "masculine" a way as possible. Pink clothes are too feminine, only women can show their feelings, and a real man is dominant and aggressive. It’s not uncommon that violence is also legitimized.

At the same time, there is a subliminal message being relayed that women are "weak" and represent the opposite of a "real man". This can quickly create a rather conservative atmosphere in interpersonal relationships, whereby the man is the boss and the woman must accept a subordinate role.

These kinds of men are often known as "machos" and are characterized by considering themselves to be the greatest. Especially in this day and age, when women are becoming increasingly independent and emancipated, this "macho behavior" is often met with negative reactions and can quickly become toxic.

Toxic women

Toxic women

When it comes to women, toxicity goes in a different direction. The image often portrayed to young girls is that they have to be perfect. Women are supposed to be pretty, have children, and preferably also have a successful career and perfect marriage to boot.

The problem, first and foremost, is that they often compare themselves to other women and quickly become competitive as to who can do something best. As such, women also tend to become quickly resentful and envious 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. These are also types of toxic behavior which should be avoided if possible.

Am I toxic?

Maybe you are reading this article because you suspect that you might be toxic. Or perhaps some of the characteristics listed above have made you start suspecting this. First of all, relax: just because you may have lied before, or lacked judgement at one point or another, does not mean that you are poisonous to everyone around you.

When it comes to toxic people, these negative behaviors are often very pronounced and sometimes even extend to include mental disorders. How toxic you see yourself or others often depends on the environment you’re in.

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

Perhaps your loved ones will even support you with your self-improvement. If you are struggling, there is no shame in seeking professional help.

The right way of dealing with toxic people

No matter what toxic traits a person has, the thing they all have in common is that they are very exhausting 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.

Communicate

Communication is key

Unfortunately, this is probably a futile endeavor in many cases, and yet you should still try to address the issues. Maybe your counterpart will actually reflect on their behavior and you will be able to resolve your disagreement.

Since many toxic people are characterized by their inability to take criticism, having such a conversation can be very difficult and fruitless. Nevertheless, you should make this attempt so you can say for yourself that you tried to solve things reasonably.

Stay out of their way

Of course, the most obvious way of coping with toxic people is to simply stay out of their way. Especially when it comes to "friends" or acquaintances, you’ll do yourself some good by cutting negative, power-sapping people out of your life

Unfortunately, this is not always possible. In the workplace, you may be able to talk to your boss and make sure that you don’t have to work with the toxic member of staff. However, even that is not always possible, so if this is case, you may have to resort to another way of dealing with them properly.

Ignore them and stand up to them

Ignore toxic people and stand up to them

This tip is probably easier said than done, but if you can’t avoid toxic people and any kind of attempt at communication falls on deaf ears, you should try to ignore them and not let them get close to you at all.

Bear in mind that they are in the wrong when they try to blame you, let resentful, envious comments bounce off you, and question the things they say if you know they lie often.

The best way of implementing these tips is by strengthening your own self-esteem. Toxic people are very fond of pouncing on people when they know they can succeed in treating them this way.

However, if their comments fall on deaf ears and they realize that they can’t get anywhere with you, they will probably be quick to give up. Failing that, you should set clear boundaries and consequences.

Toxic behavior can be contagious. Many victims want to get back at toxic people by acting the same way. Doing so, however, would mean that you are not much better than them and it may make things worse. So whatever you decide to do about a toxic person, make sure you stay true to yourself.

Sayings and quotes about toxic people

Whether it’s short phrases that sum up toxic behavior or tips on how to behave properly, there are many sayings that revolve around this topic. We’ve rounded some of them up 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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