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You’ve probably heard of the phrase toxic person, and are aware at least of the importance of not surrounding yourself with this type of person. Particularly, if you consider:

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” ~ Jim Rohn

And one of those five is either someone you’re living or work closely with and has a toxic personality.

So what is a toxic person?

The dictionary definition of toxic is a poisonous substance with the synonyms: dangerous, unsafe, harmful, destructive and even malignant (with connotations of evil, or hateful).

If we apply this to the term toxic person we might consider this to be a person who is dangerous, harmful or destructive to us as an individual.

The Urban Dictionary gives a rather nice definition of a Toxic Person as being:

“Used to describe a person who is tainted by a subconscious malevolence or psychosis that affects the lives of those who come into contact with them.”

But we’d probably put it less strongly than subconscious malevolence or psychosis and describe it as behaviour which drains you – the receiver of this toxic behaviour – of energy and life.

A person causing social tension or indeed unpleasantness, might be described as having a toxic personality, for example.

So is it a toxic person or toxic behaviour?

It is of course important to separate the behaviour from the person. It’s not the person in their entirety who is toxic, rather it is their behaviour which is toxic.

And it’s also worth pointing out, it is your response to their behaviour, i.e. the power you are giving that behaviour in your mind that determines whether or not they are toxic to you.

Not such a comfortable thought!

Perhaps of more comfort then is the fact that you always have the power to choose your thoughts and responses to that behaviour however difficult that may seem.  And it’s important to recognise that both the person displaying the behaviour and the person who might be on the receiving end – both play a part or a role in the toxic interactions.  So if you feel you are on the receiving end, it is equally necessary to consider your own personal role as well.

What are the signs you’re in a toxic relationship?

What are the indicators or signs of this toxicity?

Toxicity – a great word isn’t it?

“The degree to which a substance (or person in this case) can damage an organism (or in this instance another person) as well as the effect on the substructure” – Wikipedia

(Note, our additions are in brackets)

In that definition, the actual word refers to the effect on the whole organism, such as a person, as well as the substructure of the organism.

We even hear that effect on part of us in the language people sometimes use to describe toxic behaviour, saying things like:

“His behaviour does my head in!”

And we know that having a toxic person around can have quite an effect on a group of people. Within an organization, like the workplace, for example.

And maybe the toxicity of the individual relates to the amount of contact, or degree of proximity or closeness you have to that toxic person. Or the amount of credence, you give to that person’s behaviour.

It is quite incredible, how one person can affect so many others around them.

Why do toxic people behave in this way?

Often the person has been deeply hurt or is suffering themselves, and on some level are unable to take responsibility for that hurt and suffering and the subsequent problems that causes in their life. So they may typically project their behaviour onto others.

How do you know that you’re dealing with a toxic person or toxic relationship?

Here it’s useful to separate the behaviour of the toxic person from the behaviour you find yourself enacting when you’re dealing with it.

Toxic behaviour of the toxic person

Typically, the toxic person will exhibit some or all of the following characteristics.
They might:

  • Create drama in their lives and the lives of those around them. ‘You’ll never guess what’s happened to me again…!’
  • Be jealous and envious of others fortunes and complain about their own lot in life. ‘Well, you’re alright – things like that never happen to you.’
  • Try to manipulate or control others – ‘Don’t you find that so and so (whoever that might be) really gets on your nerves?’
  • Be very needy (it’s all about them!)
  • Use other people to meet their needs
  • Have very narcissistic parents who have fanned this behaviour, or indeed allowed it to go unchecked
  • Be extremely critical of themselves and others
  • May, in extremes, indulge in substance abuse or harm themselves in other ways
  • Not own their feelings – it’s someone else’s fault, or they will project their feelings and thoughts onto you. So, for example, if that person is angry they won’t take responsibility for the anger themselves rather they might accuse you of being angry with them. ‘What have I done to upset you today?’ – When you weren’t even aware of having done anything!
  • Be typically prone to exaggerate. You know the sort of phrases: ‘You always react in this way’. Or ‘You never side with me!’ And they’re often rather good at remembering the one occasion when you did react in that way or didn’t side with them as evidence that your behaviour is like that as a rule.

So, we’ve looked at the toxic behaviour of the so called ‘toxic person’

How might we describe your behaviour or feelings when dealing with a person’s toxic behaviour

This could be characterised in the following ways or behaviours:

  • Overly justifying and defending your own feelings when you’re in their company.
  • Trying to prove yourself to them or continually tying yourself in knots to please.
  • Wondering what you’ve done to upset them or why they’re ignoring you.
  • The toxic behaviour can colour your day and behaviour.
  • Feeling as if this relationship is one sided and you are the only one contributing to it.
  • Having to choose between them and something else “If you really cared about me, you wouldn’t go to that (whatever that is), but you’d stay and look after me.”
  • Whatever you do appears to be wrong with that person!
  • Every day is like another challenge, where you’re trying to modify your behaviour to suit their expectations or prove your worth.
  • You feel uncomfortable around that person – they restrict your ability to say what you want to say, to have a meaningful, mutual two-way conversation of respected views.
  • In your mind, you’re ‘walking on egg-shells’ so to speak when you’re in their company – always weighing carefully what you’re going to say.
  • You feel like you are being controlled, or are overly controlling yourself.

What impact do toxic people or toxic relationships have when you’re trying to make changes in your life?

Tell-tale signs include:

  • Feeling like you’re not ‘good enough’ as the other person can be constantly putting you down.
  • A lowering of your own self-esteem, which is not a good basis for self or personal development.
  • Feeling like the person who you’re living or working with is not working for your own best good.
  • You compromising your own ideals and goals, or that they are significantly secondary to the needs of this other person.
  • No longer recognising your true self, because you are tying yourself in knots to please someone else. You are in effect giving away your own power to that other person.
  • Sustaining that relationship long after that relationship has ceased to be of value or benefit to you – in an attempt to not be seen to have ‘given up’ on it.
  • Not being allowed to grow and change – or whenever you try to grow, you’re met with objections or indeed drama by that other person’s behaviour which takes you off course in your process of change.

Episode 85 of The Changeability Podcast

Hear Kathryn and Julian discuss how to recognise toxic people and relationships and their own experiences in the latest episode of The Changeability Podcast.

And next week…

We’ll discuss the tricky task of ‘How to deal with toxic people and relationships.’
But in the meantime let us know if you recognise these behaviours where you are. We’d love to read or hear your comments below.