9 ways to spot a toxic person, according to psychology

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Navigating through relationships can often feel like a journey through a maze, especially when it comes to identifying toxic individuals.

Toxic people can be like master illusionists, hiding their harmful tendencies under a cloak of charm and charisma.

From a psychological perspective, however, there are telltale signs that can help you spot them before their poison seeps into your life.

In this piece, we’ll be exploring nine ways to identify a toxic person, backed by psychological insights. All in an attempt to help you stay one step ahead and maintain a healthier social circle.

Let’s get started. 

1) They play the victim

We all encounter hardships in life. It’s part of being human. But toxic individuals have an uncanny ability to make every situation about themselves.

According to psychological insights, a common trait of toxic people is that they constantly play the victim. They manipulate situations and conversations to position themselves as the ‘poor me’ character.

This tactic enables them to evade accountability for their actions and behavior. It also allows them to manipulate others into feeling sorry for them, often leading to sympathy and support.

In essence, playing the victim is a strategy for gaining attention and adulation, while sidestepping personal responsibility.

When you encounter someone who always seems to be at the receiving end of life’s blows, with never a mention of their own missteps or wrongdoings, take a step back. You might just be dealing with a toxic individual.

2) They’re always blaming others

One thing I’ve noticed in my own encounters with toxic individuals is their tendency to constantly blame others. It’s almost as if they’re incapable of accepting responsibility for their actions.

I remember a former colleague named Adam. Adam was always quick to point fingers whenever something went wrong. If a project failed, it was because someone else didn’t pull their weight. If he missed a deadline, it was because he was given unrealistic timelines.

In psychological terms, this is known as externalizing blame. It’s a defense mechanism that toxic individuals use to protect their self-image and ego.

The problem is, it creates an environment where no one takes responsibility, and problems never get resolved.

When you notice someone who seems to always find a way to shift the blame onto others, it might be a sign of a toxic personality.

3) They’re energy vampires

Toxic individuals have a knack for draining the energy out of a room. They leave you feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and emotionally drained. It’s almost as if they suck out all the positivity and replace it with negativity.

Interestingly, this is not just a metaphor. According to psychology, emotional contagion is a real phenomenon where one person’s emotions and related behaviors directly trigger similar emotions and behaviors in other people.

When you’re interacting with a toxic individual who is constantly negative, complaining, or pessimistic, it can directly impact your own emotional state. You might start feeling more negative or stressed yourself.

This is why toxic individuals are often referred to as “energy vampires.” They suck the positivity out of you, leaving you feeling depleted. If you find yourself constantly worn out after interacting with someone, they might just be a toxic individual in your life.

4) They lack empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. It’s a fundamental aspect of successful, healthy relationships. But it’s a trait that toxic individuals often lack.

When interacting with a toxic person, you might notice that they struggle to relate to your feelings or experiences. They may dismiss your emotions, belittle your problems, or simply show indifference towards your circumstances.

This lack of empathy often stems from their self-centered nature. Toxic individuals are primarily focused on their own needs and wants, often at the expense of those around them.

If you find yourself dealing with someone who consistently disregards your emotions or struggles to show compassion and understanding, it might be a sign that you’re dealing with a toxic individual.

5) They’re manipulative

Another hallmark of toxic individuals is their tendency to manipulate others. Manipulation is a strategy they use to maintain control and get what they want.

These individuals often use guilt trips, emotional blackmail, or gaslighting (making you question your own reality) as tools to influence your behavior and decisions.

You might notice that you often feel pressured or coerced into doing things you wouldn’t normally do when you’re around them. You may also find yourself second-guessing your decisions or feeling guilty for no apparent reason.

This manipulative behavior can be subtle and hard to recognize. But once you become aware of it, it becomes a clear sign of toxicity. 

If you find yourself feeling manipulated or controlled by someone, it’s possible that you’re dealing with a toxic person.

6) They constantly criticize

We all have our flaws and imperfections, and constructive criticism can be a valuable tool for personal growth. But when it’s constant, unsolicited, and seems to come from a place of malice rather than concern, it can be damaging to our self-esteem.

Toxic individuals often have a habit of chronic criticism. They can find fault in almost anything you do, making you feel inadequate or unworthy. They may belittle your achievements, highlight your mistakes, or ridicule your aspirations.

The impact of this constant criticism can be profound. It can shake your confidence, hinder your growth, and make you question your worth.

If you find yourself constantly being put down by someone, feeling like nothing you do is good enough for them, it’s important to recognize that this may be more about them than about you. You might just be dealing with a toxic individual.

7) They’re never wrong

There are few things more frustrating than trying to reason with someone who refuses to admit they’re wrong. This is a trait I’ve often noticed in toxic individuals.

I recall a friend I used to have. No matter what the situation was, she would never admit her mistakes. Even when presented with clear evidence, she’d find a way to twist the narrative in her favor.

Psychology tells us that this inability to admit wrongness stems from a deep fear of vulnerability. Toxic individuals often see admitting fault as a sign of weakness, so they stick to their guns, even when they know they’re in the wrong.

This trait can make meaningful conversations and conflict resolution practically impossible. So if you’re dealing with someone who can never admit they’re wrong, you might be dealing with a toxic person.

8) They’re always the hero or the martyr

Toxic individuals often have an inflated sense of self-importance. This can manifest in them always positioning themselves as the hero or the martyr in every story.

The hero complex is when they portray themselves as the savior, the one who always steps in to fix things or save the day. On the other hand, playing the martyr is when they depict themselves as the one who always sacrifices for others, often seeking praise and recognition for their self-imposed suffering.

This constant need to be at the center of attention can be exhausting for those around them. It can also be a sign of narcissistic tendencies, which are common among toxic individuals.

If you notice someone who habitually needs to play the hero or the martyr, it’s a good chance you’re dealing with a toxic personality.

9) They’re dismissive of your boundaries

The respect for personal boundaries is a cornerstone of healthy relationships. Toxic individuals, however, often dismiss or violate these boundaries.

They may invade your personal space, disregard your feelings, or persistently demand your time and energy, even when you’ve made it clear that you’re uncomfortable or unavailable.

This dismissive attitude towards your boundaries is a blatant sign of disrespect. It shows a lack of consideration for your well-being and personal autonomy.

If someone consistently disregards your boundaries and makes you feel uncomfortable or disrespected, it’s a strong indicator that they’re a toxic individual in your life.

Final thoughts: It’s all about self-preservation

At the core of identifying and dealing with toxic individuals is the fundamental principle of self-preservation. It’s about safeguarding your mental and emotional well-being from those who might harm it.

Recognizing the traits of toxic individuals is the first step in this process. It equips you with the knowledge to set boundaries, seek help when necessary, and ultimately protect your peace.

Remember, interacting with a toxic person can be draining and damaging, but it’s important to know that you are not at fault. Their actions and attitudes are a reflection of their own inner turmoil, not a reflection of your worth.

It’s also important to remember that everyone has the capacity to change and grow. Toxicity is not always a life sentence. With self-awareness, professional help, and a dedicated effort, toxic individuals can transform their behavior.

As you navigate your relationships, keep these signs in mind, trust your instincts, and prioritize your well-being. After all, you have the right to surround yourself with people who respect and uplift you.

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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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