10 Toxic Traits to Look Out For in People
By Jenni Jacobsen, LSW on August 6, 2021.
We’ve all probably heard of the term “toxic person.” This phrase refers to people with traits that can make them difficult to get along with. If you have a toxic person in your life, you may even find their behavior starts to have a negative impact on your mental health. We’ll discuss ten toxic traits to look out for and how to set boundaries, so these traits do not negatively affect you.
A dishonest person will have no trouble lying to you. They may talk badly about you behind your back and deny it, or they may lie to you to get their way or avoid taking accountability for their mistakes. Either way, this behavior creates toxicity in relationships.
When someone is manipulative, their goal is that you do what they want, regardless of whether it interferes with your needs and wants. A manipulative person will go to great lengths to bend you to their will, going so far as to lie or make you feel sorry for them so they get their way. This trait can be especially toxic: one study found that manipulative behavior was strongly linked to psychopathy, suggesting that people who display this trait may have severe mental and emotional deficits.
Someone who is self-absorbed might spend all your time together talking about themselves. They may never ask you about your life, or they may have no qualms about fixating on their own needs while ignoring everyone else’s. For example, they may insist that you always eat at their favorite restaurant or work around their schedule while never considering your schedule.
We’ve all met a controlling person before. People with this toxic trait come across as incredibly domineering. They want to dictate the behavior of those around them. In romantic relationships, the controlling personality may govern how their partner dresses, what they can and cannot do, and who they can spend time with. A study in the Journal of Emotional Abuse found that controlling behavior is linked to relationship conflict and may have roots in unresolved childhood trauma.
Passive-aggressive behavior may not seem toxic at face value, but it can create problems in relationships because it results in poor communication. As experts at the University of California, Berkeley explain, passive-aggressive behavior happens when people can’t express anger appropriately. Instead of telling someone they are angry or upset, a passive-aggressive person will bottle up their feelings but engage in behaviors that are suggestive of anger. These behaviors could include withholding sex from a partner, the silent treatment, or undue retaliation or hurtful comments around a different issue.
Everyone feels a little jealous from time to time, but excessive jealousy is another toxic trait to look out for. Someone who is overly jealous will likely bring down others regularly to make themselves feel better about their own shortcomings. A jealous friend, family member or partner may constantly undermine your achievements because of their own underlying insecurities.
A person who shows self-defeating behavior may come to you with complaints about their difficulties at work or school but continue to act in unhelpful ways, like procrastinating. Self-defeating behavior can become exhausting because eventually, you may grow tired of hearing that person complain about the same things while continuing to make the same mistakes.
You’ve probably heard before that someone who gossips with you will gossip about you, and this is precisely why gossiping is toxic behavior. They may share your secrets or spread information about others without knowing the entire truth. This behavior can lead to hurt feelings and make the targets of negative or untrue gossip self-conscious.
It probably goes unsaid that judgmental behavior is toxic: when your loved one is overly critical, it can make you feel as if everything you do is wrong. If you make a mistake, they will be overly harsh rather than giving you the benefit of the doubt. They may also have a “holier than thou” attitude, expecting others to live up to their high standards.
Rounding out the list of toxic traits is resentfulness. People who demonstrate this trait may hold onto anger over small slights. They may dwell on it for long periods of time instead of allowing themselves to move past their feelings. Someone who is resentful may have a hard time accepting even heartfelt apologies. They may hold a grudge and treat you with hostility that doesn’t match the level of the wrongdoing.
How Toxic People Can Impact Your Mental Health
Unfortunately, regular toxic interactions can have a serious negative impact on your mental health. Healthy relationships make us feel supported and improve our well-being, but unhealthy, toxic relationships can take their toll on our bodies. Close relationships with toxic people, such as a spouse or close friend, are particularly damaging and can lead to depression and even poor physical health.
Setting Boundaries with Toxic People
If you have a toxic person in your life, it is critical that you set boundaries, especially if this person is someone you interact with regularly. You may have to walk away from conversations and state that you’d be happy to return to the conversation when the other person is ready to respect you.
For instance, if your partner is controlling or domineering, you may have to refuse to engage with them until they’re ready to consider your needs. If a friend or loved one is judgmental or gossipy, you might consider excusing yourself from the conversation whenever they become critical or begin to share rumors about others. This sends the message that you will not accept this sort of behavior.
For those who have experienced mental health challenges as a result of toxic relationships or who would like to develop the skills to be more assertive and set boundaries with others, the Nobu app offers a series of mental health lessons and counseling from licensed mental health professionals. Download it on the App Store or Google Play store.
Edited by – Melissa Carmona
As the content manager at Advanced Recovery Systems, Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Melissa is a Florida State University graduate… Read more.
Written by – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has seven years of experience working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health… Read more.
Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips
Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.
- Brandt, Andrea. “How to Stop Passive Aggression from Ruining Your Relationship.” The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, April 12, 2017. Accessed July 24, 2021.
- Grieve, Rachel, and Mahar, Doug. “The emotional manipulation–psychopathy nexus: Relationships with emotional intelligence, alexithymia and ethical position.” Personality and Individual Differences, June 2010. Accessed July 24, 2021.
- Messman-Moore, Terri L., and Coates, Aubrey A. “The Impact of Childhood Psychological Abuse on Adult Interpersonal Conflict.” Journal of Emotional Abuse, 2007. Accessed July 24, 2021.
- Umberson, Debra, and Montez, Jennifer Karas. “Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 2010. Accessed July 25, 2021.