7 signs you’re dealing with a toxic person, according to psychology

Toxic people are everywhere, but what does toxicity actually mean?

Mainstream psychology steers clear of a single definition of toxicity because this is such a broadly used term.

Yet psychology defines a lot of behaviors as damaging to the self and others, and that’s exactly what most people understand as toxicity.

Toxic people manipulate others, drain their energy, bring them down, and chisel away at their self-esteem.

So, there are lots of behaviors that can define a toxic person, and only some are the result of well-defined psychological conditions like narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and psychopathy.

Let’s move on from definitions and look at actions, because it’s what people do that defines them as toxic to others.

To help you identify them, here are seven signs you’re dealing with a toxic person, according to psychology, and one you should consider cutting out of your life.

1) They’re passive-aggressive (or just aggressive).

Aggressive people are easy to spot because of how obvious their behavior is, but that doesn’t make them any less toxic.

These are people who will go out of their way to push, bully, and harm others. They’ll intentionally generate anger and frustration in others and try to spread a bad mood.

I’m sure you’ll recognize all of this as toxic behavior.

Is passive aggression any better?

When someone is passive-aggressive, they hold some deep frustration or anger and yet don’t express it directly. They’re either afraid to directly confront others or they’re just being extra sneaky.

When someone shouts at you or gets in your face, you can be darned sure it has happened.

But with passive-aggression, things may not be so obvious.

It’s difficult to prove who keeps throwing your shoes in the bushes because you’ve left them in the wrong place. Is a person ghosting you, or is their phone really messed up like they claim?

This behavior can have toxic consequences because it’s indirect, hard to prove, and confusing, so it’s nearly impossible to deal with directly and effectively.

2) They drain your energy.

There are lots of people out there who will drain your energy and make you feel like you’re putting more into them than you are into yourself.

Narcissists are particularly known for draining your energy because of all the demands they put on the people around them.

These are people who feel entitled to special treatment and who demand excessive admiration. Not just attention – they actually need to feel admired and praised.

These people always need things done their way and make demands on you constantly. They need to be at the center of attention at all times, and when they’re not, they get upset and require even more attention to satisfy them.

If you have this kind of toxic person in your life, you’ll notice that you have less and less physical and emotional energy as time goes on.

You’ll have less time to take care of your own needs because that toxic person is always demanding that you see to theirs.

3) They act like a victim.

In all of our lives, we experience being taken advantage of or hurt.

But there are lots of people out there who either greatly exaggerate these sorts of negative experiences or completely invent them.


They’re looking for attention and sympathy, or they’re being manipulative to try to gain some benefit. People can play the victim by exaggerating their injuries or by simply staying quiet so that they’re just assumed to have been hurt because they were part of a group of people who were victimized.

This behavior is obviously false and misleading. On top of that, it actually takes attention and resources away from the people who were actual victims.

Imagine you had two coworkers who were both accused of stealing from the office. If one plays the victim and recruits others to believe them and stick up for them against what they say are false allegations, it could mean that the other person would be dismissed even though they were innocent!

This behavior is toxic and clearly designed to manipulate your trust and play on your sympathies.

4) They judge you and others.

Life is challenging enough without people telling you that you’re not doing well enough at it.

But this is exactly what so many toxic people do.

Whether they’re doing it to you or other people around you, the results can be tremendously negative.

People who are very quick to judge must think they’re better than the people they’re judging so that they feel justified in doing it, right?

A lot of the time, that’s absolutely the case.

Sometimes, though, their judgments are based on jealousy, malice, and spite directed at people who seem to be more socially or professionally successful than themselves.

So if someone gets a promotion that they wanted, they might start to be vicious and judge them as having cheated, boot-licked, or even slept their way to the top.

Likewise, if you’re happy with your job, even though you don’t make a whole lot of money, they might judge you to be a loser or someone too lazy to chase after more rewards.

Judgment like this is generally spiteful and jealous rather than constructive, and it’s something you don’t need in your life.

5) They gang up on you.

 A lot of people have no qualms about getting others to do their dirty work.

This is especially true of narcissists who, like the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, will recruit an army of flying monkeys to do their bidding.

These people may or may not know that they’re being used. 

They could be recruited to help the toxic person because they’ve been manipulated into believing they were hurt by you. They might also be gunning for you themselves but wouldn’t dare to do anything about it on their own.

But when there’s a toxic ringleader ready to push them into action, they can feel like they have strength in numbers and must be right and justified in their actions.

You can suddenly find yourself ostracized, ignored, or even hated by a group of people for no good reason.

Of course, this doesn’t have to be directed at you. You might be one of the people they’re trying to recruit as a flying monkey to gang up on and hurt someone else.

Unfortunately, this is something that many toxic people excel at and a hazard to always be on the lookout for. 

6) They gaslight you.

Gaslighting is a form of abuse.

It’s based on actions that are designed to sow seeds of self-doubt and make a person ultimately doubt their own judgment and perception of reality.

This behavior can be incredibly damaging because it attacks a person’s trust in themself and depletes their self-esteem.

How is it done?

Gaslighters change history by re-telling stories in ways that promote themselves as good and their victims as bad or unreliable. They tell their victims that they remember things wrong or even accuse them of lying when they are actually manipulating reality themselves.


Their end goal is to control their victims by being the only one with the correct version of reality and history.

Gaslighting is very often used by people who also engage in physical and sexual abuse as a tool to quiet and disempower their victims.

Clearly, this is an extremely toxic behavior and a sign you should get away from that person as soon as possible.

7) They put you down.

People who attack your self-esteem are toxic.

While you might think that self-esteem is purely based on how you feel about yourself, it’s actually reinforced by how others perceive and treat you.

So when you feel like you’re a good and valuable person, but others keep telling you otherwise, it can definitely undermine your self-esteem.

Here’s how toxic people do just that.

They insult you directly, saying things like “You’re no good” and “Nobody likes you.”

They also compare you negatively to others to make you feel less than with phrases like “Even so-and-so can do it. Why can’t you?” or “You’ll never be as good as your brother.”

Why do people belittle others in the first place?

Generally, people who put others down do so because they feel insecure and have low self-esteem themselves. They feel threatened when they see others succeeding and behaving confidently, so they try to pull them down so that they don’t seem so bad in comparison.

This belittling can have long-lasting negative effects on people’s self-esteem, and that’s why it’s so important to keep away from toxic people who engage in this kind of behavior.

Final thoughts

Do these seven signs you’re dealing with a toxic person, according to psychology, seem familiar?

If so, you should immediately begin to reassess your relationship with any person you’ve identified as toxic.

These people will only add pain and hardship to your life, and it’s best to get as far away from them as possible.

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