While most of us have seen fictional representations of psychopaths, sociopaths and people who are evil, these aren’t the kinds of friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members we regularly interact with. Yet, we may be likely to encounter or occasionally deal with people who are best classified as toxic.
As the word implies, there’s nothing good about toxic people. Even though most toxic people aren’t criminals, they could have underlying personality disorders, including narcissistic personality disorder, bipolar disorder, or other mental health condition.
Or they could just be mean, self-centered, manipulative, egotistical, selfish and calculating.
Since it’s important to know how to recognize toxic people so you can protect yourself and learn how to deal with them, here are some traits to be on the lookout for.
- Toxic people may or may not be there when you need them. You cannot rely on them, even if they are. In the unlikely event they do show up for you, you’ll never hear the end of it. Instead, you’ll hear an endless rendition of how they saved you when you couldn’t help yourself. You’ll be forever in their debt. That’s how they’ll make you feel. Furthermore, while they may help in a crisis, forget anything but superficial support if you’re in emotional need. Toxic people can’t offer you comfort. Everything always must be about them.
- They lack empathy. Don’t expect someone who’s toxic to ever fully comprehend what you’re going through, especially if it’s emotional pain. They’re simply incapable of empathy or sympathy. While they may mouth the words, saying what you want to hear, their expression is enough to tell you they don’t mean what they say.
- They’re not your friend. Friends don’t make it all about themselves. That’s not being a friend, it’s being a user. And toxic people are accomplished users, to the extent that the one being used never realizes what’s going on. Even if they do, they don’t want to believe it, making excuses to absolve their not-friend of any culpability.
- With toxic people, it’s all about control and manipulation. Much like psychopaths, toxic people are expert in how to control and manipulate others. They always know the words and actions that will send shock waves through you, set you on edge, put you into a tailspin of doubt, confusion, anxiety and worry. You’ll wonder what you did wrong, and make yourself ill trying to figure out how to please them. But you never can please a toxic person, who always wants more, demands more, until you’re totally drained. In addition, their ability to manipulate makes you feel like you owe them something. Also, toxic people may take something or hurt you in some way and say they did it for you. This is especially true in workplace situations. Remember, you don’t owe anybody anything, particularly toxic people.
- They’ll use you to get what they want, without a thought about how you’re affected. Smiling to your face, yet devising cunning ways to convince or coerce you into doing what they want is the toxic individual’s stock in trade. Once they get what they want, however, don’t think that they’ll spend a second concerning themselves with how you might be affected. That will never happen.
- You’re constantly forced to prove yourself. With impossibly lofty standards for others like you to live up to, the toxic person puts you in a never-ending state of trying to prove yourself. Once again, no matter what you do, you’ll never achieve the level the toxic person has set as the bar. If you come close, he or she will move the bar higher, making it impossible to ever succeed.
- Toxic people refuse to apologize. Saying “I’m sorry” is anathema to toxic people. How could they apologize when they think they’re perfect? Furthermore, they’d never admit to failure, let alone causing harm to others. Their self-centered world view won’t permit it. Guess who loses out? Anyone who allows themselves to be sucked into the cold, emotionless world of the toxic individual. In addition, if you confront a toxic person about something they did wrong, they’ll lie, twist the situation or make up different details. You’ll begin to wonder if you were the one who was wrong. Never argue with toxic people. Just move on.
- They never own their feelings. What’s behind their inscrutable eyes is forever a mystery. You’ll never get a toxic person to admit what they’re feeling. They may tell you what they believe you want to hear, but it won’t be the complete truth, only the faintest approximation. Even then, you probably can’t believe what they say. What you will find, however, is that they’ll project their feelings to you. This puts you in the position of having to defend or justify yourself.
- You never know which version of themselves you’re with. Dealing with toxic people is like peering into a kaleidoscope. The picture always changes. Is he or she the charming conversationalist today or the know-it-all who demands everyone’s attention? With a chameleon’s ability to serve up different guises of themselves, toxic people are adept at sizing up a situation and presenting whatever face they deem appropriate to accomplish their goals.
- Whatever your success, toxic people always dismiss it or try to downplay it. Got a promotion? Too bad it wasn’t as good as your co-worker’s. Received recognition for a paper or some other acknowledgement of your talent or ability? That was inconsequential, netting you nothing. About that raise? It hardly counts. It doesn’t matter what success you achieve, you’ll never hear praise from toxic people. Instead, they’ll minimize it, compare it negatively to someone else’s achievements — including their own — and make you feel like maybe you didn’t accomplish all that much after all.
- If you’re waiting to hear from them, they’ll leave you hanging, then disappear. Toxic people demand to be served, yet they’re quick to be absent when you want or expect anything from them. Try to get in touch with them and they won’t answer their phone, respond to texts or emails, don’t come to the door — if you even dare to invade their personal space. This all fits with the total package of the toxic person. Anything and everything they do must be on their terms.