9 subtle signs someone is actually toxic, according to psychology

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Navigating through human relationships can sometimes feel like walking through a minefield, especially when dealing with potentially toxic individuals.

But how can you tell the difference between someone having a bad day and someone who is genuinely toxic? The answer lies in psychology.

Psychology offers some subtle signs that can help you distinguish a genuinely toxic person. And trust me, being aware of these signs can save you a lot of heartaches.

In this article, we’re going to delve into 9 subtle signs someone is actually toxic, according to psychology.

Because knowing these can be your first step in protecting yourself from harmful relationships.

1) Constant criticism

Ever found yourself in a situation where someone always has something negative to say about you? It’s like no matter what you do, it’s never good enough for them.

This, my dear reader, is a classic sign of a toxic person.

According to psychology, constant criticism is a manipulative tool used by toxic people to make you feel insecure and inadequate. Their goal? To undermine your self-confidence and make you depend on their validation.

It’s draining, it’s harmful, and it’s not something that you should put up with.

Remember this: Constructive criticism is necessary for growth, but when the critique becomes incessant and targeted towards your self-worth, it’s a clear red flag. It’s not about you, but about them and their insecurities.

Understanding this can be your first step towards safeguarding your peace from toxic people.

2) They never take responsibility

This one hits home for me. I once had a friend who was always playing the victim card. Whenever something went wrong, it was never her fault. In fact, she was always the ‘innocent’ victim of circumstances or other people’s actions.

According to psychology, this is a typical trait of toxic people. They tend to deflect blame onto others and never take responsibility for their actions. It’s always someone else’s fault, never theirs.

Looking back, I realize how exhausting it was to be around this friend. The constant blame game and refusal to take responsibility were clear signs of her toxic behavior. It took me a while to understand this, but once I did, I was able to distance myself and protect my mental well-being.

A word of advice? If you notice this pattern in someone’s behavior, take note. It’s a subtle sign that they could be toxic.

3) Emotional blackmail

Emotional blackmail is a manipulative strategy used by toxic people to control and use fear, guilt, or shame to get what they want. It often involves threats, ultimatums, and generally manipulating your feelings to ensure their interests are served.

Psychology reveals a fascinating piece of information about this. The term ’emotional blackmail’ was first coined by psychotherapist Susan Forward in the mid-90s. Forward described it as a powerful form of manipulation in which people close to us threaten (either directly or indirectly) to punish us if we don’t do what they want.

If you find yourself consistently feeling guilty or scared because of someone’s threats or ultimatums, it’s a clear sign you’re dealing with a toxic person.

A healthy relationship should never involve fear or guilt as a means of control.

4) Excessive jealousy

Now, a little bit of jealousy is normal in relationships. But when it crosses the line into possessiveness and mistrust without any solid reason, it’s time to raise the red flag.

Psychology points out that excessive jealousy is a classic trait of toxic individuals. They struggle with insecurity and have a hard time trusting others, resulting in possessive behavior and unnecessary suspicion.

This can manifest in many ways – from constant accusations of infidelity to resentment over your other relationships. It’s all about control and often leads to isolation as they attempt to cut off your connections with others.

Trust is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship, and without it, things can turn sour quickly.

If you’re dealing with someone excessively jealous, it might be a sign of toxicity you should not ignore.

5) They are dismissive of your feelings

We all have moments of emotional vulnerability, and it’s important to have someone who listens and empathizes with us during these times. However, if you find that someone constantly brushes off your feelings or tells you that you’re overreacting, it could be a sign of a toxic person.

Psychology suggests that toxic people often dismiss other people’s emotions as a way to assert dominance and control. They try to invalidate your feelings because acknowledging them would mean they have to face their own shortcomings.

This can be incredibly damaging to your self-esteem and emotional well-being over time.

Your feelings are valid, and anyone who routinely dismisses them is not respecting you or your emotional health.

6) They always demand your time

There’s a big difference between wanting someone’s company and demanding their time. The former is about mutual enjoyment and connection; the latter is about control and possession.

Toxic people often fall into this second category. They may insist on monopolizing your time, often making you feel guilty for spending time with others or doing things you enjoy without them.

This can be especially heartbreaking because it often comes disguised as affection or care. But in reality, it’s a form of control, a way for them to keep you under their thumb.

Everyone has the right to their own time and space. A healthy relationship respects boundaries and understands that everyone needs a balance of personal time and shared time. If someone is consistently overstepping these boundaries, it could be a sign of toxic behavior.

7) They belittle your achievements

Ever felt that thrill of accomplishment, only to have it deflated by someone’s negative comment or lack of enthusiasm? I’ve been there.

Psychology indicates that toxic people often belittle others’ achievements to boost their own self-esteem. Instead of celebrating with you, they might downplay your success or even turn it into something negative.

This trait stems from their own insecurities and self-doubt. By diminishing your accomplishments, they feel better about their own shortcomings.

Your achievements are worth celebrating, no matter how small or big they are. If someone consistently belittles them, it’s a sign they may be toxic and it might be time to reconsider the relationship.

8) They are always the center of attention

In a social setting, do you notice someone who always manages to shift the spotlight onto themselves, irrespective of the situation or topic? This could be a subtle sign of a toxic person.

According to psychology, toxic individuals often have an insatiable need for attention and validation. They feel the need to be the center of attention and will go to great lengths to ensure it, even if it means overshadowing others or turning the conversation back to themselves.

This behavior stems from their insecurity and need for constant validation. However, it can be exhausting and frustrating for those around them.

A healthy relationship involves give and take. If you find yourself constantly sidelined by someone’s need for attention, it might be a red flag of their toxic behavior.

9) They lack empathy

At the heart of all toxic behavior lies one common trait: a lack of empathy. This is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, and it’s a crucial component of any healthy relationship.

Toxic individuals, however, often struggle with this. They find it hard to put themselves in someone else’s shoes or show genuine concern for others’ feelings. This lack of empathy allows them to hurt others without feeling guilty, making it easier for them to engage in harmful behaviors.

Empathy is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence and human connection. Without it, it’s nearly impossible to build a healthy, mutual relationship. If someone consistently shows a lack of empathy, it’s a clear sign they may be toxic.

Wrapping it up: The power is with you

Recognizing toxic behavior in others is a complex process, deeply rooted in psychological understanding. But remember this: knowledge is power. Understanding these subtle signs empowers you to make informed decisions and protect your wellbeing.

These nine signs we’ve discussed are not exhaustive, nor are they definitive proof of a toxic person. But they are warning flags that you should pay attention to.

One of the most important things to remember is that toxic behavior is about the other person, not about you. It stems from their insecurities and internal struggles.

You have the right to surround yourself with positivity and respect. If someone’s behavior consistently brings you down, it’s okay to step back and reevaluate that relationship.

Ultimately, the key lies in understanding, recognizing and responding effectively to these subtle signs of toxicity. It’s about setting boundaries and taking care of your emotional health because you matter. Your feelings matter. And you deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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