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Signs of a Toxic Person

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 02, 2020

What Is a Toxic Person?

If you know someone who’s difficult and causes a lot of conflict in your life, you may be dealing with a toxic person. These people can create lots of stress and unpleasantness for you and others, not to mention emotional or even physical pain. 

A toxic person is anyone whose behavior adds negativity and upset to your life. Many times, people who are toxic are dealing with their own stresses and traumas. To do this, they act in ways that don’t present them in the best light and usually upset others along the way.

Toxicity in people isn’t considered a mental disorder. But there could be underlying mental problems that cause someone to act in toxic ways, including a personality disorder.

Here are some warning signs to watch out for if you think you’re dealing with a toxic person:

  • You feel like you’re being manipulated into something you don’t want to do.
  • You’re constantly confused by the person’s behavior. 
  • You feel like you deserve an apology that never comes.
  • You always have to defend yourself to this person.
  • You never feel fully comfortable around them.
  • You continually feel bad about yourself in their presence.

If you’ve experienced these feelings around someone, they may be toxic. If you constantly have such emotions, you may want to change the relationship or stop the relationship entirely. 

Signs of a Toxic Person

Just like there are signs you’re around a toxic person because of how the person makes you feel, there are signs seen in the person themselves that highlight their toxicity.

The most common signs include:

Inconsistency

Part of being human is having ups and downs, good times, and bad. But a toxic person is almost never consistent. Their behavior is erratic. They don’t follow through on their commitments or promises. You never know what they’re going to do next. Such inconsistency is very hard when you’re trying to be there for someone. They can be elated with you one minute, writing you off the next. 

They Always Need Your Attention

Have you noticed that the person always needs something from you? Whether it’s constant phone calls, texts, or showing up at your door, they always need emotional support. And they’re probably not being supportive to you in return. They take all that you have without giving much back. They have a heightened level of self-interest, a need to showcase their own greatness to receive affirmation. This can be associated with narcissistic personality disorder.

There Is Always Drama

Ever notice how drama seems to follow some people? It’s likely not a coincidence. Toxic people thrive in dramatic situations. They inflame emotions and create conflict. They love stirring the pot to see what happens. People are often toxic because they’re not interested in being stable and healthy in relationships.

They Don’t Respect Your Boundaries

Another sign of a toxic person is no boundaries. If you’ve been clear with someone time and again about your needs, and they just can’t help themselves but to disrespect you, they are toxic. Healthy relationships are based on trust and the ability to respect boundaries. Toxic people just can’t do that.

They Manipulate Others for What They Want

Do you feel taken advantage of? Manipulated? Toxic people love to manipulate those around them to get what they want. This means lying, bending the truth, exaggerating, or leaving out information so that you take a certain action or have a certain opinion of them. They’ll do whatever it takes, even if it means hurting people.

They Abuse Substances

Another toxic behavior is the abuse of substances, like drugs and alcohol. These behaviors become toxic when the person is continually harming other people, not to mention themselves.

Dealing With Toxic People

Now that you know the signs of a toxic person, both in the way you feel and how they act, you still may not know what to do about it. Here are a few strategies to try:

Confront Them

As soon as you notice toxic behaviors, confront the person. Call them out on any lies or inconsistencies. Tell them you don’t appreciate how they behave. This shows them that you’re paying attention — and you’re giving them a chance to explain themselves or apologize. 

Set Stricter Boundaries

If you must have a toxic person in your life, try to set stricter boundaries. For example, if someone is abusing substances and it causes them to harm you or others, let them know you won’t see them unless they’re sober. Make it clear you won’t tolerate their overly dramatic behavior or spreading rumors about people. Limit the time you spend with them until they can change.

Cut Them Out of Your Life

If the above strategies don’t work and cause even more pain, abuse, or dishonesty, it’s time to let the toxic person go. Sometimes there’s nothing to do but stand up for yourself and move on.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

American Psychiatric Association: “DSM-IV and DSM-5 Criteria for the Personality Disorders.”

Huffington Post: “5 Ways To Cut Someone Out of Your Life.”

Mayo Clinic: “Personality disorders.”

PsychCentral: “What’s a Toxic Person & How Do You Deal With One?”

Psychology Today: “4 Ways to Set and Keep Your Personal Boundaries.”

Psychology Today: “8 Things the Most Toxic People in Your Life Have in Common.”

Psychology Today: “8 Strategies for Dealing With the Toxic People in Your Life.”

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