If you’re here, chances are you’re no stranger to toxic traits.
You might be picturing someone right now, remembering something they’ve said or done recently.
Toxic traits in a person generally show up whenever someone defies them, disagrees with them, or fails to show them the respect and humble obedience they believe they deserve.
Everyone but the toxic personality pays a heavier price to keep the peace.
But what traits make someone a toxic person?
- What is a toxic personality trait?
- 35 Toxic Personality Traits You Need to Know
- 1. Manipulative
- 2. Controlling
- 3. Negative
- 4. Judgmental
- 5. Gaslighting
- 6. Quick with the Insults
- 7. Passive-aggressive
- 8. Hot-tempered
- 9. Entitled
- 10. Self-important
- 11. Demanding
- 12. Prone to Exaggeration
- 13. Hyper-Competitive
- 14. Dysregulation
- 15. Ghosting
- 16. Lacking Empathy
- 17. Emotional Blackmail
- 18 Untrustworthy
- 19. Needy
- 20. Self-Victimization
- 21. Projection
- 22. Vindictive
- 23. Hostile
- 24. Impatient
- 25. Disrespectful
- 26 Avoidant
- 27. Cheating
- 28. Lying
- 29. Selfish
- 30. Unremorseful
- 31. Lives in the Past
- 32. Self-Deprecating
- 33. Forced Isolation
- 34. Dismissive
- 35. Jealous
- How to Deal with Someone Who Has a Toxic Personality
- How Toxic Traits Impact You and Others
- What are the characteristics of a toxic person?
- What are toxic relationship traits?
What is a toxic personality trait?
A toxic personality trait serves someone’s interests at the expense of other people.
The traits described below all give the toxic person an advantage over someone else.
If everyone were to display these toxic traits, civilization would be impossible.
Everyone would be out for themselves — not only with zero regard for others but also with an active intent to use others for their own ends.
35 Toxic Personality Traits You Need to Know
Look through the following toxic traits list and make a note of the ones that sound most familiar to you.
If you’re reading this, probably more than one will stand out.
Do you know anyone great at using guilt to get others to do what they want? Guilt is a favorite tool for the toxic person because you can never do enough to make up for the ways you’ve hurt, disappointed, or offended them. You will always be in their debt.
If they know your weaknesses, a toxic personality will always use them against you. Cross them in any way, and they’ll use that weakness to threaten you and get what they want.
The only way to avoid being manipulated by the toxic person is to avoid them. As long as you want them in your life, they’ll keep trying to mold you into something they can use.
Toxic personality types don’t like it when you make decisions without their input. They especially don’t like it when you know the decision they want you to make, and you choose differently.
If you look to others — friends, family, a therapist, coworkers — for insights into a problem, and you make a decision that wasn’t their idea, they’ll see that as reason enough to weaken or destroy those connections.
They want to be the only influence in your life that matters because anyone else might lead you away from them.
Count on a toxic person to see the negative in everything. Suppose you’re trying to stay positive and focus on what you’re grateful for. They’ll dismiss that as “toxic positivity” and tell you it’s better to acknowledge the negativity than to pretend it’s not there.
You’re not trying to pretend negativity doesn’t exist; you’re just choosing to focus on what you want rather than on what you don’t.
The toxic person won’t let you because they don’t want you to get what you want and to feel empowered by it. You’re most useful to them when you’re miserable.
A toxic personality is always judging others, even when they’re guilty of the same behavior for which they’re loudly shaming someone else. What they do is their business, and they don’t want you or anyone else poking around.
So, if they can distract everyone by openly judging someone else — even humiliating that person, if at all possible — they won’t hesitate.
The person being judged had it coming for being such a terrible person (who knew, right?).
Toxic people are quick to gaslight you to get themselves out of the hot seat. They’ll deny having done something even if you have undeniable proof.
They’ll keep denying, as passionately as anyone in the right might defend themselves, until you question your grasp of reality. Before you know it, you’re the one apologizing to restore peace in the relationship.
Once they can undermine your faith in your own perception and judgment, they can get away with anything.
6. Quick with the Insults
Toxic people are constantly using insults to tear others down. And as long as they succeed in making you feel bad, they get a cheap high from it. Because if they’re not happy, no one else is allowed to feel good about themselves.
If the boss asks anyone but them for ideas, the toxic person is quick to denigrate the contributions of others to prove they’re the ones who deserve the spotlight.
They’ve got insults at the ready for anyone who disagrees with them or doesn’t defer to their superior judgment.
Toxic personalities often use passive-aggressive behavior to make you doubt yourself or feel guilty about something. If they can see that it works on you, they’re more likely to keep it up.
They’ll use the silent treatment to punish you for something they said they were “fine” with. Sooner or later, you realize the word “fine” is a trap. The expression “It’s fine” means the exact opposite. And now, you need to make amends, but you’re still not sure why.
That’s just where the toxic person wants you — in need of their forgiveness.
A toxic personality is easily angered and quick to use anger as a weapon. Tell them you want to do something other than what they planned, and they’re instantly angry.
If they don’t attack you, they slam cupboards and doors, throw things, get loud, or make threats, using their voice or tone as a weapon. If you have children together, your first impulse may be to simply agree with them to calm them down.
Enabling the toxic person is not a long-term strategy. Confront them on their violent, abusive behavior when you get the chance to do so without putting yourself or your children in harm’s way. And get away from them as soon and as safely as possible.
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The toxic person act entitled to special treatment because they honestly see themselves as superior to others and deserving of more.
They’ll defend this belief however they can (confirmation bias), usually at your expense.
Deny them what they want, and they’ll go overboard, punishing you for it — with verbal abuse (or possibly physical), poisoning others against you, or using their access to your finances to get revenge.
Whatever you suffer, it’s your own doing. And if you dare insist you were right to deny them — that you have a right to say “no” to them — you’re only hurting yourself.
Watch how a toxic person treats others or behaves in a workplace. In their minds, the rules apply to everyone but them. No one’s ideas deserve as much attention as theirs.
So, they have zero compunction over shutting a coworker down rudely and dismissively — especially if the coworker happens to work under them.
The toxic person sees their worth as automatically higher than others. And they’re surprised (and offended) when people don’t see that, let alone when someone argues the contrary. If they can, they’ll destroy anyone who gets more attention than they do.
The toxic person expects you to sacrifice anything and everything to be at their disposal, even if all they want you to do is sit silently next to them.
Make plans with a family member or friend, and the toxic person will expect you to break those plans to please them.
Or they’ll go after the other person to sabotage your plans and if at all possible, poison your relationship with them. The fewer connections you have beside them, the more easily they can isolate and control you.
12. Prone to Exaggeration
Many toxic people are prone to exaggeration because, in reality, they’re combating crushing insecurity.
Positioning themselves as the “top dog” is paramount, so they lie and expand on the truth to ensure it happens (at least in their minds).
For them, prevaricating is a form of stress relief — as long as it temporarily places them on the situational throne.
Frustratingly, toxic individuals expect others to turn the other cheek if they’re caught in a lie. They may even try to shame or guilt you for pointing out their inconsistencies.
Toxic individuals are frequently hyper-competitive. Like narcissists, they have an instinctual urge to be the best and grow anxious when they’re not.
Resultantly, they’ll do everything in their power to win — even if that involves lying, cheating, or leaning into unethical tactics.
You may be thinking: There’s nothing wrong with a dollop of competition to keep you motivated. And you’re right! It can be rousing. But things grow toxic when healthy morphs into hyper.
Emotional dysregulation is pivotal when describing toxic traits. It represents an unregulated response far outside of the expected range of emotional reactions. It may also include mood disorders.
The inability to self-calm is an example of emotional dysregulation—for example, an impatient child who has not learned to wait their turn.
Other signs of dysregulation include severe depression and anxiety, high-risk behavior, or indications of self-harm.
Ghosting is suddenly ending a relationship and, without explanation, withdrawing all communication. It is a by-product of the digital communication age.
This type of estrangement is associated with adverse mental health consequences for the ghostee.
More so than a face-to-face breakup, it can be damaging and prevent closure. Ghosting is widely considered a passive-aggressive trait and a type of emotional abuse. A 2021 study found that ghosting is most common in narcissistic and psychopathic men.
16. Lacking Empathy
Empathy is the innate ability to understand a person’s situation and act on what is perceived. An empathic spouse may notice you are overworked and cook dinner or clean the house.
But if you are dealing with a toxic personality, there is a good chance that they exhibit genuine empathy.
A lack of empathy is often a symptom of more significant issues such as sociopathy or psychopathy. That explains why they can easily manipulate and hurt you without giving a damn about how you feel.
17. Emotional Blackmail
The toxic trait of emotional blackmail and abuse is pervasive and can have life-long adverse effects.
It is one of the more insidious traits because it subtly manipulates the myriad of feelings and obligations that individuals typically have to those in their inner circle.
Emotional blackmailers most often use guilt and shame to get what they want. A form of abuse, emotional manipulation is unacceptable at any level in any relationship.
Untrustworthiness may take a while to discover. Lying, cheating, and conniving behavior are all typical toxic traits.
Toxic personalities, including bosses, friends, or family members, are skilled at hiding their destructive behavior and often have a well-developed sense of justification for their actions.
The behavior is successful because those with this trait often deny or make excuses for the behavior. Unfortunately, living with a deceitful person creates a damaging environment that results in self-deprecation or negative self-esteem and the inability to trust.
Needy people are drawn to those who show care and compassion. Neediness is an attention-seeking behavior but also be related to low self-esteem. It plays out with the person having a long list of needs and demands, from attention, money, and quick favors, to significant emotional support.
Beneath this toxic trait are chronic selfishness and the inability to recognize personal boundaries. If left unmanaged, neediness can result in co-dependency and resentment by those around this person.
We all empathize with someone in a crisis. But if a person constantly plays the victim or claims center stage for pity or attention, they may have a toxic personality.
Unique or convoluted problems may even be fabricated or manipulated to elicit sympathy.
Another aspect of this trait is that your compassion and support will go unappreciated or forgotten once you offer it to the victim. And when it comes time for reciprocity, they will dismiss or ignore your problems.
Psychologists identify projection as placing the blame for recognized shortcomings and damaging behaviors onto someone, anyone else, but themselves.
While some people may not know that they project, this is usually a well-established tool in the toxic personality playbook.
Relationships need love and empathy to thrive. However, care and compassion are not part of a vindictive personality. Someone with a vindictive personality is methodical and spiteful and shows an unreasoning desire for revenge.
They hold grudges for years, planning revenge for perceived slights. An extreme form of vindictiveness is vindictive narcissism. Vindictive narcissists are often socially aggressive and take pleasure in inflicting pain on others.
Hostility is a highly toxic trait, as there is no justifiable reason for aggressiveness or abuse. Hostility ranges from aggressive body language and verbal criticism to physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional abuse.
With the former, actions such as exaggerated sighs, temper tantrums, throwing items, or eye-rolling can create a hostile environment. At its extreme, hostility becomes abuse. It is often used by individuals who want to manipulate and control others at home, school, social settings, or work.
Everyone becomes impatient at times, but when dealing with a toxic personality, impatience is elevated and distorted.
At its extreme, it displays temper or irritation when faced with delay, denial, or opposition. In other words, these are adult-sized temper tantrums.
A toxically impatient personality is intolerant and can be cruel to others. If you are faced with an impatient person, take a deep breath and excuse yourself from the environment. These impatient outbursts demand attention and sympathy to be effective.
Toxic traits can be overt, such as controlling or judgemental behavior. But they are often subtle actions that change your perception of yourself and the world.
This toxic trait can take the form of always being late, dominating conversations, or crossing personal boundaries.
Besides basic bad manners, chronic and uncontrolled rudeness are toxic traits. Unfortunately, many of these behaviors are excused or overlooked because they are also seen as a lack of good etiquette.
But a lack of respect or insubordination can get you fired from a job or in trouble in the military. It can also ruin relationships. Unlike criticism, disrespect coveys one does not care about others’ feelings or social rules enough to curb their behavior.
We all procrastinate, but avoiding people and situations is a relatively toxic trait, often signaling immaturity. It is defined as evading responsibility, relationships, or social interaction to evade questioning or criticism.
Maturity assumes a level of self-awareness, requiring you to admit your faults. However, integral to a toxic person’s ideology is the belief that they are not to blame and that their actions are always justified.
Living with someone who will not take responsibility for their actions or inaction can be difficult and frustrating, ultimately damaging a relationship.
Whether it is cheating in sports, games, academics, or romantic relationships, all forms are socially and morally unacceptable. Cheating involves being dishonest with the purpose of gaining some advantage.
Cheating creates distrust. And while many of the signs of cheating are subtle, they still damage a trusting, loving relationship. In fact, infidelity is regularly cited in a significant percentage of divorce cases.
Lying is a highly toxic habit, eroding the trust necessary in all relationships. Once it begins, it is difficult to stop. At its core, lying is self-defeating and self-destructive behavior. Many believe that there are grades of lying.
We even have terms to categorize the tale, such as “little white lie” or a “whopper.” Surprisingly, 81% lie during a job interview. And the number is higher when considering lying on resumes.
According to a recent nationwide relationship survey report by AARP, 75% of people in committed relationships admitted to lying to their significant other regularly.
Self-care and self-help are vital parts of a mature and healthy psyche. True selfishness, however, is the tendency to put personal needs first to the detriment of others.
A selfish personality will make choices that could harm others. And those who exhibit this behavior focus solely on their needs and desires, regardless of the consequences.
Apologizing for a mistake or misunderstanding shows compassion and personal accountability. But those lacking self-awareness and maturity cannot recognize and admit their mistakes.
Consequently, they double down and refuse to apologize. The phrase, ‘I’m sorry” is just not in their vocabulary.
Furthermore, unapologetic people don’t care that they have offended or harmed you because they are entrenched in the belief that they are right.
And if they do apologize, it is usually forced due to social conventions or calculated to benefit themselves.
31. Lives in the Past
This toxic trait can be highly self-destructive, as those who dwell in the past often carry unresolved shame and guilt. Or they view the past with such fondness and longing that they cannot cope with present responsibilities and relationships.
Maintaining a relationship with someone holding on to past events is challenging. And since they are rarely emotionally available, they leave their partners and loved ones feeling ignored and irrelevant.
Toxic self-deprecation is a way for self-centered and manipulative people to garner sympathy and attention. When used with humor, this person uses self-criticism to show humility and approachability as a tool to achieve a goal.
It can reveal the early stages of a victim mentality in which self-deprecation devolves into psychologically destructive behaviors to control another person.
33. Forced Isolation
Being showered with attention in a relationship is flattering at first. But over time, it becomes suffocating. Disengaging a partner from friends and family is a known tactic of controlling and abusive personalities and co-dependency.
Individuals who exhibit this toxic trait may find ways to isolate you from your friends, family, and coworkers. They may overschedule, start rumors, or instigate drama to damage relationships.
Another example of toxic isolationism is anger at your social independence – using guilt to keep you away from your support circle. And at its most extreme, a poisonous partner may forbid you to see select individuals.
If someone in your life is uncomfortable having separate friends and interests, this may signify a toxic relationship.
We have all been dismissed at some point. This unpleasant action, exacerbated by technology, is also attributed to toxic personalities. A person can tune you out by returning to a task, book, or TV show, veiled insults by an arrogant personality.
Recently, phubbing has been added to how a toxic character can ignore someone. This rude and dismissive behavior involves ignoring someone by turning your attention to a phone.
Dismissive behavior implies you are not worthy of someone’s time or energy. It can impact the recipient’s self-esteem and self-worth, revealing the dismissive person as arrogant and uncaring.
Jealousy is insidiously toxic. It combines hostility, abuse, and distrust to create a highly toxic environment. Jealousy usually develops in people with low self-esteem or intense insecurities.
What is worse, we often encounter jealousy from people within our inner circle. Hearing criticism and discouragement from those we are closest to amplifies the damage caused by this emotion.
How to Deal with Someone Who Has a Toxic Personality
We’ve reviewed common traits of toxic people. But what’s next? What should you do if you have a problematic person in your life? We’ve got answers.
1. Objectively Analyze the Situation
This is probably the most challenging step — which is why most people skip it. But before you label someone toxic, assess the situation as objectively as possible.
Consider if there’s a valid reason why the individual is behaving poorly. Also, turn the interrogation inward. Could you be distorting things thanks to a bad mood or unresolved issues of your own?
2. Try To Talk it Out
Do you genuinely appreciate things about the potentially toxic person? If they tweaked a few things, would you love to have them in your life? If so, suggest a sit-down. Tell them how you feel.
But be sensitive. Going in hot will get you nowhere. Approaching it from a place of genuine care and concern is the way to go. By doing so, you may pave inroads and help a friend onto the path of emotional recovery.
3. Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries is a fundamental part of maintaining good mental health. After all, you can’t be everything to everyone all the time.
So if a challenging person is weighing you down, consider what would make the situation more tolerable and erect a few protective boundaries.
4. Combat Toxicity With Compassion
Sometimes, we can’t “escape” a toxic person. They may be a family member, spouse, or colleague.
In these situations, it’s best to let compassion light the way. After all, we are what we think.
So if you can begin to see their toxicity as emotional pain that has nothing to do with you, their behavior won’t affect you as much because you’ll take it less personally.
Giving people the benefit of the doubt can be an invaluable skill when deployed appropriately. Plus, it saves you worry and minimizes related stress.
All that said, don’t try to fix other people. That’s not your job. If you want to be supportive, excellent. But remember, you’re not their therapist.
5. Nurture Healthy Relationships With Others
This is another pointer for people “stuck” with a toxic personality.
Maintaining supportive relationships with others can help tremendously. When we have people in our lives with whom we can vent and laugh, dealing with challenging folks becomes much easier.
6. Cut Them Out
Sometimes, things become unmanageable, and you have the power to disassociate.
This makes sense in extreme situations. Cutting all ties could save you years of headaches and anxiety.
However, remember this can be a drastic decision. So before you hoist people overboard, think long and hard about the consequences.
How Toxic Traits Impact You and Others
Toxic traits are everywhere and can cause significant and long-lasting emotional and psychological damage. One study found that roughly 50% of men and women have experienced toxic behavior.
Not surprisingly, whether at home or in a work environment, the closer you are to a person, the harder it is to recognize the unhealthy nature of their behavior.
Toxic personalities often exhibit the following.
- Inability to form healthy attachments
- Broken relationships – family and friends
- Short-term romantic relationships
- Criminal Behavior
And if you are associated with a toxic personality, you may suffer from numerous emotional and physical disorders.
- Avoidance, tension, and walking on eggshells.
- Emotional exhaustion.
- Worry, anxiety, loneliness, and depression.
- Lowered self-esteem.
- Feelings of confusion, anger, guilt, or shame.
Another way to recognize the effects of a toxic personality is the continuous need to make excuses for their behavior or, in the extreme, physical or verbal violence or abuse.
Long-term association with a toxic personality can significantly damage your well-being.
What are the characteristics of a toxic person?
The relationship traits listed above paint a vivid picture of the toxic person at their worst. But it’s fair to point out that toxic people aren’t always impossible to live with.
When they get what they want, they can seem friendly and even magnanimous. Their toxic traits only become more apparent when someone offends or defies them.
What are toxic relationship traits?
Toxic relationships are notably lopsided and abusive (at least verbally). The toxic person uses whatever they can to keep their partner under their control and destroy their self-confidence and self-esteem.
The enabler sacrifices everything to please or placate their toxic partner. No one benefits.
Now that you’ve gained a better understanding of toxic personality traits, which of these stood out for you? And what will you do differently?