Toxic people traits can be very hard to identify, particularly with the rise anonymity on the internet. When is somebody just kind of a bad influence, and when are they truly toxic?
When is somebody just in a bad mood, or not dealing with stress well, or just toxic? Is there any way to truly recognize toxic people traits? Psychologists have been trying to find the answers to these questions for a long time.
What complicates the issue is that people who have identifiable personality disorders such as BPD and Narcissistic Personality Disorder can exhibit some of the toxic people traits. This does not mean that they are toxic people themselves. But how then do we differentiate between toxic people traits and people who might exhibit some toxic behaviours?
Toxic people come in many forms. Some people are utterly toxic to absolutely everyone and shouldn’t be allowed to take care of a houseplant, much less anybody else. Others will only target certain groups, and be perfectly fine with others.
Both types of group are terrible to deal with, but the second is worse overall and makes worse use of toxic people traits. The second group is even more difficult to defend against.
Behavioral Signs of a Toxic Person
1. They blame you
The most egregious trait is the blame game. Have you heard what the internet is calling the narcissist’s mantra?
That didn’t happen.
And if it did, it wasn’t that bad.
And if it was, that’s not a big deal.
And if it is, that’s not my fault.
And if it was, I didn’t mean it.
And if I did…
You deserved it.
This quite neatly sums up the toxic people trait of blame. It’s never their fault – it’s always yours, or their kid’s, or society’s fault.
People who are toxic seem completely unable to accept their portion of blame at any level. Taking responsibility for their own actions is beyond anybody who exhibits toxic people traits, to the point of them coming up with the most outrageous lies to cover for their own behaviour.
If you are in any way near to or close to a toxic person, you will be the person they blame for everything that goes wrong, even, and most especially, if it was their own stupidity that caused it.
2. They are always passive-aggressive
It’s a rare toxic person who is outwardly aggressive – that would put them at risk of discovery. More often, they will make hints and jabs at the people around them. Enough to hurt, but also something that leaves them with plausible deniability (note: plausible deniability is also a favourite toxic people trait).
Being passive-aggressive is a toxic person trait because it is easy to convince people that they are imagining things.
3. They love to criticise people
One of the more noticeable toxic people traits is criticism. They love to criticise the people around them, for real or perceived slights. Like passive aggression, this is a way for toxic people to vent their spleen without being too obvious about it.
Toxic people will criticise everything and anything around them. It doesn’t even need to be a real thing, just something that a toxic person can get their hooks into. Everything is fair game, from looks to personalities to dress sense.
4. People love to manipulate others
Manipulation is a favoured tactic of many toxic people. It is a way of getting what they want without having to do any work or (ding ding ding!) without having to take any responsibility for their actions.
The worst form of manipulation is when someone is acting to divide people up so that they can target them individually. If and when you ever meet this type of toxic people trait, remember that they try and separate people so that they can target individuals. Keep your guard up, and always try and stay together.
Manipulation comes in many forms – guilt, denial, gas-lighting – but they are all equally malicious.
5. They are all Debbie-downers
Negativity does seem to be the ‘in’ thing these days, doesn’t it? But toxic people take it to a new level entirely. Being constantly negative about everybody and everything is another way that toxic people manipulate and control the world around them.
If you can denigrate somebody’s achievements, take away their victories, then you can damage their self-esteem. It is very easy to be toxic around people with no self-esteem.
Negativity comes in many forms – the person at your work who snidely mentions the divorce rate when one of your numbers is engaged; the person who brings in fat-free snacks when someone starts gaining weight. The list goes on.
Negativity is a difficult toxic people trait to handle, but remember this: the person who brings up the divorce rate when looking at engagement rings? They are most likely not having the best time themselves.
6. Emotional blackmail
Another way toxic people try and have their way all the time is to try and guilt people into doing what they want. This is most commonly seen with parents and significant others. See the mother who tries to guilt her children with the thought of all the work and sacrifice they put into raising their children, or the boyfriend who wants his girlfriend to stay in with him rather than go out with friends.
Emotional blackmail is a tool most commonly employed by people who already know the chinks in your armour, rather than by people you don’t know very well.
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