You have likely heard someone referred to as “toxic” before, but what exactly does that mean? What are some toxic traits to look out for in others, and do you exhibit some of them yourselves?
Doesn’t everyone, at one point or another, behave in a way we wish we didn’t? Does that mean that everyone has toxic traits? Some of these answers might surprise you, but let’s start with the five signs to watch out for when it comes to unhealthy behavior.
Increasing negativity and pessimism
Negativity and pessimism are some more harmful behaviors associated with toxic people. This is the person who always has something negative to say about the good things you have happening. They are the ones who point out everything that might go wrong, and not in a helpful way.
The way they do it is constant and insidious. It sucks any amount of hope and joy you have right out of you. They are continually looking for a way to take the wind out of your sails. Do you have people like this in your life? Likely, you walk away from every interaction with them feeling emotionally drained.
The next question is, are you the one sabotaging yourself with this harmful way of thinking? Is your first thought why something won’t work, and therefore it isn’t even worth trying?
Try reframing your thoughts. Instead of asking, “what could go wrong” ask yourself, “what could go right?” If you are always thinking about what you have to lose, start asking what you might gain!
Frances McIntosh from Intentional Coaching LLC advocates having a literal conversation with your negative thoughts to offset them:
“Let your internal voice say, ‘I’m recognizing a negative thought; it’s a story I’m telling myself, and it’s not true.'” It might seem like a strange thing to do at first, and it will certainly take some practice. You didn’t start having these thoughts overnight, and the solution will take some work and habit before you can retrain your brain.
Make a list if it helps to see it on paper, but you are the only person who can set yourself up for success as early as the thought appears. If you are a negative person, you might want to take stock of how your energy affects your friends. If someone around you is negative all the time, then think about you feel when you leave an interaction with them.
Lying and engaging in manipulation
When we interact with others, we like to give them the benefit of the doubt. I know I almost always assume someone is telling me the truth. Toxic people, who make a habit of lying and using manipulation tactics, look for trusting souls that can be easily convinced.
Is there someone in your life that you frequently catch in little white lies? Do you ask yourself why they can’t tell you the truth about something small? If they are lying about something small, then what else are they lying about?
These things will erode trust in any relationship. They can also lead to gaslighting and other types of dishonest behavior. Have you been inventing fibs to get out of a previous commitment? Are you lying to someone because the small lie is just “easier” than the truth?
If you have started going down this path, you might want to ask yourself why you feel the need to lie.
Figuring out your motives will help you decide if you are slipping down the toxic behavior slope. Do you feel insecure in the relationship, or physically or emotionally unsafe? If you have been lying and are looking for a way to make it right, the Lifestyle Staff at India.com offers these tips:
- Don’t wait too long to confess
- Don’t assign blame
- Gain the other party’s trust back and make it right
Always looking for drama
There are liars, manipulators, Negative Nancies, and Pessimistic Pauls, but then there are the Drama Llamas! People seek drama for several reasons, the first of which is how it makes them feel.
According to Rabbi Aryeh Weinstein, “It makes us feel busy, responsible and involved. It also helps us feel ourselves in a very concrete and emotional way. Our heart is pumping, we’re impassioned, and a sense of self-righteousness may overtake us. We feel like we’re responding in a powerful way.”
People like to feel powerful, but you have to have other people in play to have power. It is no fun being a drama queen if no one is impacted or there to watch their drama unfold. When you think about your friend group, does there always seem to be someone who has to stir the pot?
Do you think you might be the drama bringer? Are you doing it because you feel good? Does your pot stirring seem to be targeted at someone specifically? It might be time to remind yourself or your friends that people don’t want to get sucked into the drama regularly.
Using emotional blackmail or guilt against someone
This one is probably the cruelest of the toxic traits. It isn’t a poor outlook; it isn’t a harmless white lie, and it’s not a quest to get some endorphins; it is hurtful.
Crystal Raypole says that “Sarcasm, relationship ‘tests,’ undeserved blame, implied threats, and the fear, obligation, and guilt they generate in you are hallmarks of emotional blackmail. Giving in can seem like the best way to maintain peace, but complying often leads to further manipulation.”
Please don’t do this to other people, and if you have found yourself leaning toward this behavior, it isn’t too late to rein it back in! If someone is treating you this way in any of your relationships, then it might be time to have a serious conversation about the future.
If you feel you need help, please don’t hesitate to involve a therapist or other mental health professional.
Inconsistent and mean behavior
With toxic people, this is the trait that always sucks you back in. Sometimes this person is the kindest, most considerate, charismatic, and all-around wonderful person. You feel blessed to know them and are amazed at how lucky you are!
However, then there are those moments you hear them talk about someone else, and their comments are hateful and mean spirited. They belittle others, and you wonder what they say about you when they are with others. Or you get together with them, and they seem to question the things you do or try to get you off-kilter.
This type of toxicity is unsettling because you never know which version of someone you will get. It leaves you feeling like you are walking on eggshells, or waiting for something to set them off. If you recognized some of this behavior in yourself, then it is time to put a stop to it. It is just mean!
We do all exhibit some of these behaviors occasionally
The truth is that no one looks at the positive side of things all the time. There are moments where negativity or even realism creep into our outlooks. That type of doubt and hesitation can keep us safe, help make smart decisions, and think things through.
If we are honest with ourselves, then we already know we lie sometimes. Maybe we call in sick to work when we aren’t, or perhaps we tell our friends we have to work when we don’t because we don’t feel like hanging out.
The drama feels good sometimes. We can even create it by accident sometimes! We can even engage in emotional blackmail in a way that seems innocent enough. We all have bad days, where we aren’t our usual happy selves; frankly, we can even be mean.
The issue of whether or not these behaviors are toxic comes down to two things. How do you feel when you spend time with people who are behaving this way? If you leave feeling stress, anxiety, or drained, then that’s a good indicator that you might not want to spend as much time with them.
The next thing to ask yourself is, how often are you exhibiting these behaviors? Are they a random “one-off,” or are they becoming a cornerstone of your personality. If you feel like you are doing them more than you should, then your friends probably agree with you, and you might want to reach out and check in with them.
Being the best version of ourselves takes work and accountability. It also takes some difficult conversations and a little introspection. However, the fact that you are here, asking the questions, means you care and are not a toxic being that others will soon be fleeing from and avoiding.
All any of us can do is to be better than the person we were yesterday, show others we care, and look out for each other.