Do you know a toxic person? Even if you don't now, at some point in your life you're bound to have come across a person who fits the description. Dealing with such an individual can be difficult and draining, to say the least. In fact, it may challenge what you know about yourself and push you to the limits. Here are some traits to familiarize yourself with, and to help you navigate these trying relationships:
Abigail Brenner M.D. is a psychiatrist in private practice. She received her B.A. from New York University and her medical degree from New York Medical College. After completing her internship and residency in psychiatry at New York University-Bellevue Medical Center, Dr. Brenner served as an attending physician at the NYU-Bellevue Adult Mental Hygiene Clinic and as an Assistant Clinical Professor at New York University Medical School.
Editor: Talha Khalid
Toxic people are manipulative. Their modus operandi is to get people to do what they want them to do. It’s all about them. They use other people to accomplish whatever their goal happens to be. Forget what you want; this is not about equality in a relationship—far from it.
They are judgmental. Keep your eyes and ears open for criticism—about you, what you've done, and what you didn’t do. It’s never about them, and they will lie if it serves them.
They take no responsibility for their own feelings. Rather, their feelings are projected onto you. If you try to point this out to them, they will likely vehemently defend their perspective, and take no responsibility for almost anything they do.
They don't apologize. They don’t see any reason to, because things are always someone else’s fault. In many instances, although they try to orchestrate relationships to serve their own ends, they try to gain sympathy and attention by claiming “victim” status.
They are inconsistent. It’s hard to know who you’re with at any given time because they are often not the same person. They may change their perspective, attitude, and behavior depending on what they feel they need to accomplish or what they want to have happen. (And they know how to be kind when they want something from you.
They make you prove yourself to them. Toxic people make you choose them over someone else, or something they want over something you want. Often, this turns into a “divide and conquer” dynamic in which the only choice is them, even to the point of requiring you to cut off other meaningful relationships to satisfy them.
They make you defend yourself. They have difficulty staying on point about certain issues, probably because they’re not interested in your point of view or trying to reach an amicable conclusion. Remember, they are supreme manipulators: Their tactics may include being vague and arbitrary, as well as diverting the focus of the discussion to how you’re discussing an issue—your tone, your words, etc. They focus on problems, not solutions.
- They are not caring, supportive, or interested in what’s important to you. In fact, the good things that happen to you move the attention away from them and thwart them from focusing on their own goals. Beware of people who find fault with you and make you wrong. Loyalty is foreign to them.
Toxic people often make you want to fix them and their problems. They want you to feel sorry for them, and responsible for what happens to them. Yet their problems are never really solved, for once you’ve helped them with one crisis, there’s inevitably another one. What they really want is your ongoing sympathy and support, and they will create one drama after another in order to get it. “Fixing” and “saving” them never works, especially since you probably care more about what happens to them than they do.
Toxic people are draining; encounters leave you emotionally wiped out. Time with them is about taking care of their business, which will leave you feeling frustrated and unfulfilled, if not angry. Don’t allow yourself to become depleted as a result of giving and giving and getting nothing in return. At first, you may feel for them and their plight but once you observe that every interaction is negatively charged you may want to limit your contact with them, or maybe even cut ties. Your time and energy are essential for your own life. Don’t be overly willing to give them away.
And beware especially the narcissistic toxic person. Their modus operandi includes gaining total control of a situation, and that means of you, too. They will demand your undivided attention and attempt to convince you that you need to join their camp. To their way of thinking they know better than you. They’re right; you’re wrong. And you need to do what they say. This kind of toxic person will think nothing of invading your space and may try to isolate you from others you are close to.
This post is meant as a general overview: Relationships are complex and it may not be easy to deal with toxic people until you have learned from previous interactions. I understand that many relationships, especially familial ones, are more difficult because it’s not so easy to close the door and say goodbye. But the bottom line is that if you feel bad about yourself as a result of a relationship with another person, it’s time to sit down and assess the issue. They may be unlikely to change, but you can. Weigh the pros (if there are any) and the cons, make a decision to limit your time with this person or end the relationship—and don’t look back.