Manipulation and dishonesty can be common toxic traits. Here’s how to identify and deal with them in the people in your life.

You’ve probably heard the word “toxic” used to describe people and their actions. But what does it actually mean?

A person with toxic traits may behave in a way that’s hurtful and damaging to those around them. Their actions, words, and energy might affect others negatively — whether they realize it or not.

At some point in your life, you may encounter a person with these types of traits. Maybe it’s a co-worker, significant other, sibling, or even a parent.

The closer your relationship is with this person, the harder it can be to identify just how unhealthy their behavior and actions really are.

Knowing the reasons behind these behaviors, the signs to look out for, and what to do once you’ve identified them can help you learn to deal with it.

There are many factors that can cause toxic behavior.


The so-called Dark Triad of personality refers to three categories of humans’ worst traits — narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy — that some people may exhibit.

Research suggests that these negative traits are at least partially genetic, passed from parent to child. Other studies have shown that personality traits overall are moderately heritable.

So, people with parents who have toxic traits may be more likely to have those characteristics, too.


But it’s not just genes that contribute to personality. Environmental factors can play a role, too.

One study found that being overprotected, pampered, or praised excessively in childhood can be associated with more narcissistic personality traits and feelings of entitlement.

On the other hand, some people with toxic traits may behave poorly because of past trauma, a dysfunctional family life, or substance use. A person’s inability to process stress and grief can sometimes transform into toxicity towards others.

Mental health conditions

Not all people with these traits have mental health conditions, but for some, conditions like personality disorders, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be the underlying cause of their behavior.

Symptoms like sudden bursts of anger, need for praise, irritability, and grandiosity may indicate a mental health condition. In these cases, treatment from a mental health professional may be the best option.

Positive reinforcement

This likely isn’t a root cause of toxic behavior, but it could be one reason why it perpetuates.

We’ve all seen it: a cruel, self-centered, and manipulative person gaining success professionally and financially.

Research suggests that even though they’re not actually better at their jobs, employees with toxic traits might be more likely to receive higher salaries and be promoted into leadership positions.

This may be because they’re able to portray themselves as hard workers, manipulate and exploit others, or cheat their way into getting what they want.

If you want to learn how to deal with toxic behaviors from the people in your life, you’ll have to first try to identify it, which can be tricky.

People that behave in toxic ways are often skilled at hiding their destructive behavior until you’re already in committed or long-term relationships with them. This could be true for a boss, friend, or significant other.

Over time, their toxic qualities might become more clear. But there are some telltale signs you can be on the look out for early in the relationship.

A person with toxic traits may be:

  • judgmental
  • needy
  • mean
  • dishonest
  • denialist
  • narcissistic
  • controlling
  • calculating
  • verbally or physically abusive
  • emotionally inconsistent

So, what do these traits look like in real life? They can take on many forms, but here are some common ones.

Lying and dramatizing

Dishonesty is a core characteristic of many people with toxic behaviors. They might lie to you or overreact to a situation if it’s in their best interest.

Belittling or criticizing

People who display toxic behaviors might be doing it to try to bring others down. This may be done to make them feel better about themselves, to get more attention, or other reasons.

They may judge your looks, actions, and decisions, regardless of how much it hurts you. They may rarely self-reflect on their own behavior, but eagerly wait for a chance to criticize others.

Asking for pity or sympathy

It often takes a while to identify this as a sign of toxicity, since your instinct might be to empathize with someone expressing their problems. But an unwarranted, consistent victim mentality is common in people who crave your pity and attention.

If there’s no real problem, they might manufacture one just to elicit sympathy and support.

However, your compassion goes unappreciated and unreciprocated, with the person downplaying or entirely ignoring your problems.

Failing to take responsibility

People with toxic traits can sometimes refuse to admit when they’ve said or done something wrong. They may not take responsibility for their own actions or feel the need to apologize.

They may find a way to shift the blame to you or try to defend their offensive behavior.

This is often true in abusive relationships, where the person who is abusive might accuse the survivor of goading them or doing something to warrant the abuse.

Isolating you from other people

The person may want all your attention to be devoted to them. That means finding ways to isolate you from other loved ones and controlling who you see.

For example, romantic partners who behave in toxic ways might stir up drama between you and your friends to damage the relationships, or make you feel guilty for hanging out with them.

Gaslighting and manipulation

People who have toxic traits can be master manipulators. Research from 2014 indicates that the Dark Triad traits dominant are associated with emotional manipulation of romantic partners.

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation in which one person tries to convince another that their beliefs, memories, and thoughts are false or imagined.

For example, a parent might try to convince their child that the abuse and trauma they experienced in childhood never actually happened or that they’re blowing it out of proportion.

Even with the examples outlined above, it can be hard to assess whether or not someone is truly “toxic.”

So, one of the best ways to figure it out is by reflecting on how you feel after interacting with them and evaluating their impact on your self-image.

This person is likely behaving in a toxic way if you:

  • are constantly walking on egg shells around them
  • feel emotionally drained after being with them
  • value their opinion over your own
  • frequently feel confused about their reactions and how to proceed after interacting with them
  • find yourself making excuses for their behavior
  • have lost your confidence and sense of self

Having any type of relationship with a person who exhibits toxic traits can have some damaging affects on your well-being. This is especially true if this person has been in your life for years.

The manipulation, judgment, and isolation you might be experiencing at the hands of this person can lead to:

  • a lack of self-worth
  • damaged relationships with others
  • a loss of enjoyment in things you once loved
  • development of a mental health condition

There are steps you can take to learn how to deal with this behavior.

It’s easy to tell someone, “Just stop talking to them” or “Cut them out of your life immediately.”

But that’s not always easy, especially if the person is a family member or significant other.

Here are some ways you can deal with toxic behavior. You can try to:

  • set and enforce clear boundaries
  • discuss the negative behavior you’ve noticed following the behavior
  • focus on personal healing and self-care
  • identify and explore your role in their actions
  • maintain healthy and supportive relationships with others

However, if the toxic behavior persists and continues to have a damaging impact on your well-being, it may be time to consider ending the relationship.

It’s not always easy to point out toxic traits in someone in your life, especially if it’s a romantic partner or spouse. But knowing the signs can help you learn how to deal with their behavior.

If you need professional help and support, you can check out these resources:

If you want to reach out to a mental health professional for help, check out our page to find the right resources for you.

If you’re in an abusive relationship and need help immediately, you can reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.