Mental HealthDealing with a Toxic Person

Dealing with a Toxic Person


Most of us have experienced the feeling of being with a toxic person, or we might say that we are in a “toxic” relationship. Something that is toxic is consistently poisonous, so no matter how hard we might want to change the circumstances, the situation still turns out about the same. You know? A snake is always a snake, even when you put a cute bow on it.

It Feels Like You’re both Drowning

You know what it feels like to be with a person with a toxic personality — it seems like their problems are consuming, and they weigh you down like a brick. They find fault you or in others, and there isn’t a single, kind soul left. It feels like their needs are always most important and their problems feel oppressive and sometimes downright abusive. And the sad thing is that on some level, it’s all driven by fear. You’re both in the water, trying to keep your head above, but the person next to you is desperate, and s/he’ll pull you under to stay alive. Sad, right?

Unfortunately, we end up enduring a lot of pain at the hands of a toxic person, because we chose them or we’re stuck with them, in one way or another. A toxic person is someone “in” our lives, rather than someone we just “avoided” because the red flags were just waving too hard for us to let them in.

The reason that we don’t avoid toxic people is that they are often someone close to us and the patterns become more frustrating and oppressive, and our experiences are more painful over time. It feels like they won’t stop until they get their way or control the situation. They are both victims and persecutors, and they drain our energy.

But blaming the toxic person, entirely, might be a little unfair. Sometimes toxicity is relational, meaning that it’s between “two” people and you discover that you share some of the responsibility. How do you know if you’re with one with the problem and this is a defining characteristic of your personality type? Watch for these warning signs.

Can a Toxic Person Change?

A toxic person might not be able to change without some serious intervention because the traits that make up their destructive behavior are part of their personality or character. Their beliefs, temperament, and their reactions are relatively stable over a lifetime. Though you should not go around diagnosing anyone, there are people with personality disorders, and it’s hard for them to change because their behaviors are guided by closely held beliefs and attitudes that have served them over a lifetime.

How to Take Inventory of Your Relationships and Test them for Toxic Characteristics

From your perspective, a problem is no more than a pile of dirt. To them, it feels like the whole Rocky Mountains. Something small seems to be disastrous. When one problem works itself out, another one follows right behind it. They consistently play the victim card and the pity card, believing that everyone should think they had no wrong-doing in any of the matters. The only problem with this is that it leads to denial and keeps them from being accountable for anything they do, and your lack of boundaries just enables the situation.

A Toxic Person can be very Negative

Another trait is that they often gossip and speak negatively about people when they are not present. So-and-so was married to three guys—all losers, for instance. When people don’t have the courage to be upfront with another person, it shows poor character and poor self-esteem. It feels dishonest and diminishes your ability to trust them, and unfortunately, they’ll probably do it to you, too.

Toxic people can be very controlling. When they want something, they will exert a lot of pressure to get their way. Many of them have become master manipulators in order to get their way, tugging at the other person’s emotions to get them to comply. Guilt trips are a popular trick of a toxic person, as is physical and mental abuse. If you can, stand up to this person. Let them know how they are acting is not okay and they need to change. And, if you can, get away.

Also, realize that the majority of toxic people lack empathy. A toxic person may behave over-sensitively, believing that everything bad that could happen will happen to them. But, beware of the toxic people that aim their aggression outward to other people. Just because it happened to the toxic person does not mean that it is your fault. The toxic person is trying to use cruelty to win you over in an effort to see their viewpoint. Their lack of compassion or concern for others disregards them being able to see they are hurting you.

Finally, toxic people leave you feeling like a dog they left beside the road. Their sharp criticism will cut you as they bring up your past mistakes—over and over and over again. Their words and actions leave you feeling beaten down and bruised. They have no qualms about violating your boundaries and couldn’t care less about you having emotions. But you have to get back up and dust yourself off. Don’t let them ruin you; let them make you stronger as you show them they can’t break you. You will be the victor and that’s how it should be.

Am I a Toxic Person?

Ouch! Here’s the real kicker. You are probably contributing to the toxicity, the conflict and the problems in your relationship with someone else. Maybe it’s just a bad fit? That’s one way of looking at it. If you believe that people just fit neatly together with no effort on their own to contribute to their interpersonal interactions. Most of the time you are both perpetuating a pattern of negativity or toxicity. Another possibility is that you have different personality types. For example, you might feel the tension from an introvert that you are expecting to be an extrovert.

You could also suffer from an anxiety disorder and have trouble in certain social situations. Sometimes social anxiety can bring you down and change your outlook towards the world, instead of looking inward to see what you can do about it.

One of the first things that you can do if you feel that your relationship exhibits any of these toxic patterns is to look in the mirror and start to understand your role in the dynamic. Are there characteristics that are contributing to the pattern? Try to depersonalize the blame and get insights on the circumstances of the tension.

Take responsibility and give feedback. The word “toxic” is loaded with painful judgment, both for yourself and the person that you share a relationship with. Try to identify the behaviors and describe how they make you feel. Try to suggest things change so that you have a better relationship.

And finally? Know your bottom line. You’ve done your homework, and you’ve tried to depersonalize the judgment and you have opened up to the other person. If you can’t make progress, maybe the conflicts are too big to move forward?

Hi, I'm Samantha. I live in Seattle and I develop logistics management software. I'm also a fitness and health advocate and an assistant editor for the AP!

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