These 12 signs of toxic people will help you spot them a mile away, plus 3 tips from Dr Lillian Glass for dealing with toxic relationships before they take you down.
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One of my readers, Miranda, is struggling to cope with her angry, critical boyfriend. “It’s so hard to let go of him, even though I know we’ve been in a toxic relationship for three years,” she says on 10 Tips for Breaking Free From Toxic Relationships. “I feel worthless and like I can never trust another man. I feel like my soul has been ripped out. I love him so much. He’s one of the most toxic people I ever met yet the thought of never hugging him again makes me cry so much. I console myself that he has been through two toxic relationships before me. Due to his lifestyle and picky nature I wonder if he will ever stay with anyone. I must stop contacting him and see if he misses me. I need to focus on my kids. They’ve been through so much.It’s hard to say a final goodbye because it’s like an addiction that I can’t cure.”
One of the best tips for dealing with toxic people is to remember what Miranda said about her boyfriend. The reason he is drawn to toxic relationships – or that he creates them – is because of his past experiences, his current lifestyle, and his nature. When you recognize the signs of toxic people, remember that they are suffering. We are ALL broken people. We’re all hurt…and what do hurt people do? They turn around and hurt their partners, friends, family members, spouses, colleagues, and even people they don’t know.
It’s not always easy to recognize toxic people – which is part of the problem! Here are 12 signs of toxic people (10 common signs and 2 surprising ones), plus 3 tips for dealing with toxic relationships before they take you down.
Toxic people may not be able to relate to you – or anyone in their life – in healthy ways. Recognizing the signs of toxic people is only the first step. The next – and perhaps more important – step is to find loving, kind, gentle ways to deal with them.
10 Signs of Toxic People
Before you zip through this list, take a moment to think about the person you’re dealing with.
Consider these questions:
- What do you think makes them “toxic people”?
- How long have you been struggling to deal with their actions or words?
- Why are you staying in the relationship?
- Who are you becoming, simply by associating with toxic people?
- What do you already know about dealing with toxic relationships?
You know more about toxic relationships than you realize. And, the still small voice inside you is telling you the best way to deal with toxic people before they take you down. Tell me – I welcome your big and little thoughts in the comments section below.
The most common signs of toxic people
Before we jump into the surprising signs of toxic relationships, let’s briefly look at the most obvious signs that someone is hurting (and thus acting in toxic ways).
- Belittle, criticize, condemn, and judge others
- Make nasty comments, ridicule, mock, and bully people
- Are hostile and angry to “loved” ones
- Use passive-aggressive comments and behaviour instead of honest communication
- Cut into the character and personality of others (as opposed to voicing legitimate complaints and concerns about a relationship or person)
- Shut down, storm away in anger, or give the silent treatment in relationships
- Refuse to admit they’re wrong
- Are negative and depressing to be with
- Are physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally, financially abusive
- Lie, cheat, steal, and break all the 10 Commandments!
Those are the obvious signs of toxic people. The funny thing is that even though we know someone is toxic, unhealthy, and not good for us…sometimes we stay with them. Lots of us stay in toxic environments – whether it’s a marriage, a job, a family, or even a community.
If you’re struggling to break free from someone who is beyond toxic, read 5 Stages of Leaving an Abusive Relationship.
2 Surprising Signs of Toxic People?
Toxic relationships are caused by a variety of factors, including the “recipe for disaster”: the combination of two toxic people who aren’t aware that they are toxic!
How can you be toxic and not aware of it? Easy. You have low self-esteem and a fear of rejection. And get this: we ALL struggle with self-esteem sometimes (or all the time), and we ALL fear rejection almost all the time.
So does this mean we’re all toxic people in horribly toxic relationships? No. It’s when we let our low self-esteem and fear of rejection overcome us that our relationships spiral downwards.
The following signs of “toxic people” are my thoughts, which were inspired by new research from the University of Waterloo. Note that the study author did NOT say anything about “toxic people” in her research. I’m extrapolating, and you’ll see why below. Lillian Glass’ tips for dealing with toxic relationships specifically mention low self-esteem and insecurity, which is why I found this research study so interesting.
1. Low self-esteem
People with low self-esteem tend not to voice relationship complaints and are more likely stay in unhappy relationships.
“There is a perception that people with low self-esteem tend to be more negative and complain a lot more,” says Megan McCarthy, who is the study’s author and a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo. “While that may be the case in some social situations, our study suggests that in romantic relationships, the partner with low self-esteem resists addressing problems.”
So is low-self esteem a sign of a toxic person? This research does not prove this connection…but I think it is. I think all those signs of toxic people above are related to feelings of low self-worth, low self-esteem, and even self-loathing. I think the reason toxic people are mean is because they don’t feel good about themselves. They don’t feel loved.
2. Fear of rejection
“If your significant other is not engaging in open and honest conversation about the relationship,” says McCarthy, “it may not be that they don’t care, but rather that they feel insecure and are afraid of being hurt.”
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Toxic relationships might be caused by fear of rejection. Perhaps toxic people are critical, negative, rude, etc because they are building walls and pushing others away. And of course, I always go back to the “hurting people hurt” idea.
This research also found that people with a more negative self-concept often have doubts and anxieties about how much others care about them. This can drive them toward defensive, self-protective behaviour. People with low self-esteem also stay in unhappy relationships because they may believe that they cannot speak up without risking rejection from their partner or damage to their relationship. This results in even more unhappiness in the relationship.
“We may think that staying quiet, in a ‘forgive and forget’ kind of way, is constructive, and certainly it can be when we feel minor annoyances,” says McCarthy. “But when we have a serious issue in a relationship, failing to address those issues directly can actually be destructive.”
The connection between this research study and toxic people in general is not clear or absolute. These are just my thoughts on why toxic relationships develop. Perhaps this will give you some insight into the toxic people in your life? Let me know in the comments section below!
Have you ever wondered if YOU’RE the “toxic people” in the relationship? Read 5 Signs You’re a Toxic Friend.
Dealing With Toxic People Before They Take You Down
Toxic people don’t just make life difficult, they can negatively affect your physical and emotional health, harm your other relationships, and even affect your financial situation.
Learning how to deal with toxic people will strengthen your relationships and improve your mental and emotional health.
Choosing the right technique for dealing with toxic people depends on the type of person you’re dealing with. Some family members will respond well to direct confrontation, while others need the love and kindness technique.
The following three tips for coping with toxic people are from Toxic People: 10 Ways Of Dealing With People Who Make Your Life Miserable by Lillian Glass.
1. The Direct Confrontation Technique
If the toxic person is a psychological or emotional bully, he may need to be directly confronted. Bullies need victims, or they have nobody to bully! The more confident and calm you are when you confront someone who bullies, the more he or she will respect you and back down.
“…You may want to tell the person boldly how you feel about what he or she said or did,” writes Glass in Toxic People. “In directly confronting someone, it is essential that you project your voice so that you can be heard and speak in a well-modulated tone.”
Directly confronting a toxic person may simply mean saying, “I don’t like how you spoke to me at the dinner table. I felt criticized and undermined when you said I don’t know how to cut the roast properly.”
2. The “Give Them Hell and Yell” Technique
Knowing how to cope with toxic people may mean “giving as good as you get.” If he is loud, brash, and offensive, then the best way to respond may be loudly, brashly, and offensively.
“Sometimes you have to scream and yell, because this is the only way you can be heard,” writes Glass in Toxic People. She does not recommend regular use of this technique for dealing with toxic people – it’s actually a sign of an unhealthy person! But, sometimes coping with toxic people requires fighting fire with fire. The trick is to control your angry, frustrated, and hurt feelings. Carefully decide how you will respond – including when, where, and why.
If you’re looking for different ways to deal with toxic people, read How to Solve Relationship Problems Without Breaking Up.
3. The “Give Them Love and Kindness” Technique
If the root of all toxicity is jealousy due to insecurity and a lack of self-esteem (as both Glass and the research I cited suggests), then toxic people may need to be handled with love, compassion, and kindness.
No matter how nasty, unkind, or negative he is, it’s important to stay calm and collected. It’s easier to stay cool if you remember that the toxic person is in pain. He feels empty, unloved, and full of self-loathing – and that’s why he spreads toxicity around. Receiving love and kindness may soften his tone, loosen his body language, and change his words from harsh to pleasant. Let him know you’re on his side, and he may respond with softness and gentleness.
Resources for Dealing With Toxic People
The three tips for dealing with toxic people are from Toxic People: 10 Ways Of Dealing With People Who Make Your Life Miserable by Lillian Glass.
Her list of toxic people includes:
- The opportunistic user
- The control freak
- The meddler
- The arrogant know-it-all
- The me, myself, and I narcissist
- The instigator
- The emotional refrigerator
- The liar
In her book, Dr. Glass not only helps you identify the toxic people in your life, she also provides ten techniques for successfully dealing with them.
Remember that different types of toxic people respond to different techniques in different ways. For instance, some difficult people won’t be affected by love and kindness – but they do respond to direct confrontation. To learn how to cope with toxic family relationships, use a combination of gut instinct (the still small voice) and trial-and-error.
“To know when to go away and when to come closer is the key to any lasting relationship.” ~ Doménico Cieri Estrada.
While I can’t offer advice on dealing with toxic people or relationships, I do read every comment. I encourage you to respond to other readers’ comments if you feel led, and to share your experience of being in a toxic or abusive relationship. Writing often brings clarity and insight, and can help you process your feelings.
The research study on self-esteem and fear of rejection can be found on the University of Waterloo website at Intimate partners with low self-esteem stay in unhappy relationships.