8 Bad Behavior Habits to Avoid Like the Plague

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Here’s a tough question for you.

Are you likable?

Do people find it easy, energizing, and refreshing to be around you?

In my work as a coach, I’ve seen how people will unknowingly carry around the baggage of bad behaviors — behaviors that hold them back from loving relationships, career growth, and simple life happiness. They don’t realize they have infected themselves with habits that offend or even push people away.

Most of us do a few things to annoy people, especially in our close relationships. It’s impossible to be human and not drift into occasional bad moods, childish reactions, or selfishness.

But sometimes these behaviors become habitual. We adopt them as part of our daily interactions and personal operating systems. Perhaps we never learned emotionally mature behaviors or they weren’t modeled for us by our parents.

Sometimes the people around us let us “get away” with behaviors by not setting boundaries or consequences.

They inadvertently give their seal of approval to our actions. Therefore we keep doing them because we can. And often, our positive traits can create a smokescreen for bad behavior, so we give ourselves permission to act out in one area because we are so good most of the time.

The behaviors you consistently reflect to the world are the tangible measure of your character and maturity. Yes, sometimes our emotions do get the best of us. But there are many compelling reasons to drop consistent bad behavior habits and create positive new ones.

  • Bad behavior is a prelude to poor self-esteem and mood disorders. If your behaviors are pushing people away, causing problems at work, and making you unhappy, eventually it will take a toll on your emotions and feelings of self-worth.

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  • Bad behavior is frequently a symptom of a bigger issue. If we regularly act out in inappropriate or irritating ways, it’s often a call for further self-awareness. Something deeper (unresolved anger, pain, fear, etc.) may be behind those poor relational skills.
  • Bad behaviors negatively impact those you love most. Spouses, children, and close family members might be deeply hurt or embarrassed by your behavior habits. But they live with you and often must tolerate these actions. Children in particular don’t have the emotional skills to implement appropriate boundaries or express their frustrations about adult bad behavior.

The behaviors I’m referring to here aren’t the grossly horrendous actions that could get you arrested (abuse, cruelty, cheating, etc.). I’m talking about the small bad behaviors that are like a thousand tiny arrows hurled over months and years. They slowly drain the mutual respect, ease, and natural pleasure of relationships. They cause others to be hyper-vigilant and on edge, waiting for the anticipated conduct or lack of conduct.

As always, the first step toward change is awareness. I have certainly become aware of my own bad behaviors at times in my life. Perhaps you have too.

If you see yourself plagued by any of these now, I invite you to begin the work of turning your bad behavior habits into positive, relationship-building new habits.

Here are 8 of the most common bad behavior habits.

1. Guilt Tripping. The guilt tripper uses not-so-subtle strategies to let others know they aren’t happy about something. When things don’t go their way, the guilt-tripper will say or do things to try to make others feel bad about their choices or actions. Rather than speaking plainly about a desire or disappointment, or just letting it go, the guilt tripper wants others to suffer right along with him/her.

New behavior: Learn to accept that not everything will go your way. Other people are entitled to make choices that you may not like. Ask for what you want, express your needs kindly, and accept disappointments graciously.

2. Holier Than Thou. “Holier than thou” behavior manifests as the need to be right all the time, the need to have the last word, the need to feel more important or intelligent than others. This person feels they know best and must let others in on their superiority. This behavior is frequently a cover for insecurity.

New behavior: Recognize that humility combined with mature self-confidence is highly attractive. No one wants to feel “less than” or inferior, regardless of their background, income, or station in life. Every person has something valuable to contribute, so seek first to learn from others.

3. Temper Tantrums. Pouting, withdrawal, belligerence, and passive aggressive behaviors are all examples of an adult temper tantrum. We all get angry and hurt, but there are healthy, adult ways of expressing anger that don’t undermine relationships. When my kids were little and had temper tantrums, I would tell them to “use your words.” We all need to use our words rather than childish behaviors to express our feelings.

New behavior: Recognize anger and frustration when they arise and work to identify the source. Often it is much deeper than the issue at hand. Take a deep breath and talk calmly  about the feelings under the anger. Step back from interactions until you can control your feelings and speak calmly.

4. Manipulation. Many of the behaviors listed involve manipulation, but a manipulator pro will take it to new levels. They will use intelligence, wit, charm, or other skills to get people conform to their will. It may take months or years for those close to the manipulator to realize what’s happening. Sometimes the manipulator doesn’t consciously realize what they are doing  is wrong or underhanded. They simply see the behavior as a normal means to an end.

New behavior. This one is tricky because it involves a fairly sophisticated level of self-awareness. It begins by embracing an honest respect for those around you — acknowledging that most people have inner wisdom and should not be led down a path that isn’t right for them, even if they do so willingly at first.

5. Gossiping. This is one behavior that can easily become habitual. Having information about someone, especially salacious or negative information, feels powerful. We know something that inquiring minds want to know. But gossip creates so much hurt and erodes trust. It takes practice and commitment to throw water on the fire of gossip.

New behavior. Begin to view gossip for what it is — hurtful and unkind. Rather than engage in gossip, seek the good in the person or situation and be the arbiter of kindness and healing.

6. Jealousy. Jealousy can manifest in many of the behaviors listed, especially guilt tripping. It usually stems from feeling wounded, inferior, or insecure. Jealous behavior makes others feel uncomfortable and unnecessarily guilty or wrong. We all feel it from time to time, and it’s a call to examine and appreciate our own lives.

New behavior. When jealousy rears its ugly head, stop and take a moment to turn the feelings around. If you feel jealous of someone, take a moment to bless their bounty and to acknowledge your own. If you want to improve your circumstances, take action rather than feeding the jealousy or putting someone down.

7. Poor listening. The age of distraction has led to an erosion of good listening skills. We type on the computer and talk to our children without looking at them. We answer cell phones during an important conversation or meal. We text while socializing with real, live people. We look past the person we are speaking with to see if someone more important is nearby. We are disengaged from really hearing what others have to say to us.

New behavior: Start by removing distractions when you are speaking to someone. Turn off the cell phone or tv. Step away from the computer. Practice deep listening by making eye contact, reflecting back to the speaker what you heard, and acknowledging the feelings or ideas conveyed.

8. Bad manners. Is it just me or have manners gone with the wind? These very simple skills that most of us were taught as children are powerful relating tools. Saying please and thank you, not interrupting, assisting someone, making conversation, showing appreciation, having table manners, being on time — all of these reflect consideration for others and respect for one’s self.

New behavior: Most of us know what good manners are, but since society in general has become more and more relaxed about them, we might have forgotten to use them. Start by reminding yourself about good manners. Take notice of what you might be neglecting and make a conscious effort to implement the manners that are missing for you.

It can be really hard to look in the mirror and see the truth about the ways we may be behaving. Our first reaction is to deflect and defend — we have good reason for our actions, we can justify our behaviors. Personal growth, and ultimately happiness in life, involves making ourselves vulnerable, acknowledging our flaws, and changing the behavior.

What behavior habits would you like to adopt in your life? Please share them with us in the comments.


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Comments

  1. An excellent (and very needed!) article, Barrie!

    You are right on every single point. As a high school teacher, I am constantly reminding my kids about basic manners and human decency. It’s not just you! It seems such things are flying out the door. So much conversation is punctuated with vulgarity and courseness. I wonder if the irreverent way people communicate on sitcoms and reality shows has as big an influence as I suspect.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I noticed a couple on the list I could probably improve on myself!

    • Oops! That should say “coarseness” up there!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Ken,
      I’m sure the media plays a big role in the steady decline of manners, civility, and communication. I also think cellphones, social media, and texting have made it far easier to say things that you wouldn’t say in person and to distract you from authentic interaction. I’m sure you see the result of this every day with high school students. When you encounter a teenager with good communication skills and good manners, it is a breath of fresh air, isn’t it!There’s a really funny, slightly off-color blog, about “the problem with young people today” — check it out: http://crabbyoldfart.wordpress.com/

  2. Great piece!
    I can be too critical of those close to me. (I’m also very critical of myself.) Those faults just pop right out, whether with close friends or my spouse. When you’re not in a close relationship with someone it’s much easier to be benevolent. There’s no expectations or real interests or needs. But when really ‘in’ with someone all that stuff comes up and it’s hard for me to be more benevolent.
    Thanks for a very well-done piece on this topic.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Harriet,
      Isn’t it funny how we feel so free to “correct” the people closest to us? I have been guilty of that too. But then I try to remember how much I hate to be corrected myself! :)

  3. Rick Barlow says:

    Barrie, This one hurt. Much too close for comfort. So, thanks.

  4. I really needed this one as it helped me and i am sure it will help my loved ones to look into our relationships from different angle..Thanks a lot..for putting this up all together,..i would say a Gread Job..
    Many Thanks again..

    Peace..xxx

  5. At first I thought this one might not apply so much to me. Then I got to #1, Guilt Tripping. Whoops! Isn’t that what my young adult kids are always telling me I do? Guess I might need to take a closer look at my subconscious behaviors. And I thought it was just them. Thanks for the reminder to look within.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Sarah,
      It was my 19-year-old daughter that clued me in to this one as well! I would whine about her not calling very often. I should know from my own experience how much that doesn’t make you want to call someone! We all need those reminders from time to time. :)

  6. Barrie, as always, great job.
    I’ve been told about one of those problems by a colleague at work, and have been trying hard to correct that bad habit. It’s good to be reminded of it again. So much better when you talk nice about others.
    However, under which one of those headings would you put somebody always criticizing others but not being able to take it coming from others? I’d love to be able to send that to a couple of friends. ;-)
    Thanks for all the wonderful stuff you write, it has definitely helped me to work on becoming a better person. Still have a ways to go, though.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Chris,
      I guess criticism would fall under “holier than thou” behaviors. No one likes unsolicited criticism — even if it is intended constructively. Lead by example Chris — show your friends how to behave positively by being encouraging, supportive, and kind in spite of their critical behavior. Maybe they will learn from you. :)

  7. I need to print this out and look at it everyday. I’m sure that I behave in many of these ways more than occasionally; yet I get so annoyed with others when these behaviours manifest.
    Thanks

    Eva

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      You know Eva, I think that’s one reason we get annoyed at the behavior of others — because we might recognize it in ourselves. I think that is a really great message for everyone to pay attention to. Thank you for sharing that. :)

  8. Heidi Smith Luedtke says:

    What a useful and thought-provoking list, Barrie. I struggle with several of these when I’m not taking good care of myself and get too stressed out. Feeling overwhelmed brings out the worst in everyone, and it’s easy to get there without realizing it when the world is whizzing by at a million miles an hour. Thanks for the reminders.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Heidi,
      Stress can bring out the worst in everyone. But it’s usually a brief trigger for bad behaviors. Just don’t stress out 24/7! I hope you are taking care of yourself. :)

  9. Cathy | Treatment Talk says:

    Hi Barrie,

    These behaviors as you say can just become a bad habit that you don’t really recognize or you choose to ignore. Those close to someone displaying one or more of these behaviors may have just learned to tolerate it, but this kind of thing wears at you, and sooner or later you will feel as if you have had enough. It is important to take a look at ourselves on occasion and make positive changes. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      You are so right Cathy — if we don’t correct habitual bad behaviors, the people around us will eventually get fed up. And often those closest to us can’t or won’t tell us directly that our behaviors are offensive. That is exactly why we need to do a regular “self-check.”

  10. This was a slap on the cheek :) and one that was needed !
    Getting down to business, here’s what I’m going to start working on :
    1] stopping petty behavior with the people who care enough about me to tolerate my childishness
    2] stop gossiping and respect people for what they are
    3] Take more responsibility for myself, my lifestyle and my dreams
    4] try to energize people positively

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Oh dear Sindhu — I hope the slap didn’t hurt too much! :) Actually, it takes a very insightful person to see what they need to change and resolve to do what’s necessary. Good for you!

  11. Mark Owen-Ward says:

    This piece is so well observed and I’ve definitely been guilty of some of these behaviours in the past. Now I try and substitute love and play! Sometimes folk collude in the bad behaviour, for example I’ve ignored a ringing phone to prioritise attention to the person I’m physically present with only for them to say “Aren’t you going to get that?”. So now my phone is off or on silent most times! Some of these bad behaviours are so endemic and cultural that changing them can feel tough.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      That’s funny Mark — your good manners made someone else uncomfortable! Modern technology has created a new set of behavior problems that have yet to be fully addressed. We have so much input and so many distractions that we’ve lost some civility along the way. I agree with you — turn everything off when you are talking with someone.

  12. First of all I want to say I like this post really much. I totally agree with you about all the bad behaviors but especially the one about Gossiping and Jealousy I hate those and I sometime have them to but I try to avoid them.

    Greetings,

    Peter

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you Peter — I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I think we all deal with those two bad boys from time to time. It’s human nature. But awareness helps put us back on track.

  13. Hi Barrie,

    Beautiful post and so very true!

    I think all of us undergo the things you just mentioned above, in some form or the other, sometime or the other. I for myself, have experienced your first point of guilt tripping- and I know what I felt! We ourselves get to know within that what we are doing is not right, but yes to make the other person aware or realize what we are meaning, we behave like this.

    The reason maybe also because the other person refuses to realize what you are trying to tell them, even though you have tried many times, which leaves you with no other choice than to do things to get their attention and to make the other person realize how it feels.

    However, I made myself realize that it was doing no one any good- as it just causes more bitterness and unpleasantness. And yes, I now express my thoughts and desires and leave it at that. If the person understands and realizes well and good, and if not, I don’t let it affect me any longer- trying to follow the principle of ‘karma’. It makes me a much better person, and I feel good about myself now.

    Thanks for sharing :)

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      That’s an excellent point Harleena. It is really frustrating when you try to communicate directly and maturely, and the other person doesn’t respond positively — or at all! But you are right, the only thing you have control of is your own behavior. You must try to be the best person you can be in any given situation so that you respect yourself. Ultimately, that’s more important than how the other person reacts.

  14. Thanks Barrie…

    More great insights into some of our behaviors. And some of them sting a bit! Those of us with somewhat fragile “self-images” could really stand to spend some time looking inward, as opposed to being critical of those “others” out there :-)!

    All the best,

    Jon

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      You know Jon, sometimes it absolutely can be another person’s “fault” — they can be the clear cause of a problem or issue. But we always have a choice about how we behave and react. I think the more we live up to our ideal, the happier we can be. We don’t become victims of other people and how they behave and react.

  15. Absolutely Barrie!

    After a considerable number of years living in the fog of alcoholism, it finally occurred to me that not only was I attempting to deal with my own nasty gremlins, but by association, I was also dealing with those of the people I hung out with.

    Pretty obvious solution, huh?

    All the best,

    Jon

  16. very striking post, barrie. too few of us have considered asking ourselves “are we likable?”

    i don’t want to sound too spiritual, but we owe it to our Creator to be likable by our fellow men. we should always strive to reflect His character.

    again, barrie, you’re awesome! thanks!

  17. Hi! I am new here, but have quickly added you to my bookmarks!!

    I really enjoyed this post. Some of them really kinda hurt — too close to home. Now that I realize I possess some of the undesirable traits, I’ve no excuse but to address them.

    Thank you for sharing!

  18. The article was spot on about my mother in law, habit 1 through 4, question I have is that it seems that these are all behaviors that if observed long enough by a child and as they grow up they will act the same way as the individual whose behaviors were observed basically there whole and even now as a married man and 30 yrs old mom still acts like this and wants to control every aspect of her grown children’s life???

  19. Hai
    Am so glad that some people realy care for others by passing valuable information.. This is one of them and u helped me understand what kind of problems am suffering from..
    Thank you verymuch.. !

  20. I guess I’m pretty childish, especially when I’m angry/upset, I have to work on that..

  21. I have a question about some people who are very close to me. One (male) is a family member the other(female) is a good friend. We have them over on a regular basis but some of the behavior from them( both adults recently divorced and still in divorce procedure) she has been sitting on his lap, on one occasion straddling him, while their children were in the house along with other family members in the house, but not in the same room. I would like to bring up the inappropriateness of their actions and request they behave when others are around. Today he was also attempting to give her a wedgie! A grown man. Her 15 yo daughter was right in front of them both.
    I’m no saint by any means but REALLY?! I could really use some other opinions here.
    TIA!

  22. Kashif Ansari says:

    bad behavior is just a construct of civilization. in a much simpler and less mature culture there is always room for rough and rowdy behavior that lets loose some steam. when we protect our children from every healthy natural impulse there is bound to be a rebound effect and they will later on in life become extra aggressive to overcome that early training and constraints. boys and girls should be out enjoying nature, trekking, hunting, being scouts and practically learning everything from maths to art to cooking. what they don’t need is sitting in classrooms like dumb logs gaining pedantic information from even stupider teachers and then sitting at home doing homework and hours in front of the television. family bonding occurs when children and parents go on a picnic together or a father takes his son fishing and when a mother teaches her daughter how to bake bread or handle things like sewing or baking bread. there are ten thousand things families can do together but when you only have academic achievement as the be all and end all of life coupled with eating junk food what do you get? a big fat zero, that’s what. life becomes empty and meaningless. what is bad behavior but a small irritant along the road i say. much more important is survival and the art of living life to the fullest.

  23. I just found this wonderful blog and I’m excited.
    Excellent article.
    I agree with others when they say that unfortunately medias have a huge impact on the behavior of kids and teenagers.
    Furthermore, even adults sometimes use bad manners, unfortunately. In the workplace I personally have always found that many people did gossip about other colleagues. Really sad.
    We have so much to share as human beings, it’s a pity to waste our energies in those bad behaviors.
    Thank you for sharing this!
    Deborah

  24. what can i do to get a teacher away form me

  25. Sincerily U have spoken the truth about the consequencies of bad behaviors and the steps toward recognising and correcting

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