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Why Toxic People Are So Harmful

Protect yourself by identifying toxic people early.

Key points

  • Toxic people can be self-centered, manipulative, abusive, and lacking in empathy.
  • Toxic people drain others' energy by constantly demanding attention, sympathy, or validation.
  • Toxic people tend to disrespect emotional and physical boundaries.
Photo by Engin Akyurt / Unsplash
Toxic people can erode our self-esteem.
Photo by Engin Akyurt / Unsplash

Some people seem to radiate positivity, while others leave us feeling emotionally drained and manipulated. Toxic people impact our mental and emotional well-being, leaving us exhausted and stressed. How do toxic people leave us feeling depleted and like a shell of our former selves? Learn what makes a person toxic and discover why and how they harm our well-being.

What Does It Mean to Be a Toxic Person?

Toxic people have harmful behaviors that can have lasting impacts on those around them. They are often self-centered, manipulative, abusive, and lacking in empathy. They may be referred to as narcissistic, selfish, or sociopathic. They may mask their negative traits by being charming or friendly. Toxic people may be family members, friends, coworkers, employers, neighbors, or leaders of organizations. Some common behaviors of toxic people include constant criticism, gaslighting, passive-aggressive behavior, and a need for power and control. If you call this behavior to their attention, they may criticize you for having an issue with their behavior. They will then falsely portray themselves as the victim and you as the perpetrator.

They Emotionally Drain You

Toxic people drain your energy by constantly demanding attention, sympathy, or validation. They play the victim role expertly. Their negativity and constant complaining can weigh heavily on you, leaving little room for positive interactions with them. Toxic people often manipulate others, including gaslighting their victims. This psychological abuse can leave you questioning your sanity, increasing anxiety and decreasing self-esteem. They don't care if you feel confused or hurt by their actions. Showing them that you are upset can increase their toxic behaviors. One way to counteract this is using the “gray rock” technique, where you respond to toxic people with no emotion. This technique helps eliminate the payoff they get from hurting others. You should consider going no-contact or low-contact with a toxic person. Block their email, phone number, and social media accounts. If you co-parent with a toxic person, consider communicating via a co-parenting app.

They Negatively Impact Your Mental and Physical Health

The harmful effects of toxic people extend beyond emotional exhaustion. The constant tension and anxiety you experience from a toxic person affects your mind and body. Constant criticism and belittlement can erode self-confidence, making you feel worthless, anxious, and depressed. Toxic people isolate their victims from friends and family, worsening your feelings of loneliness and social withdrawal. When you are in a relationship with a toxic person, they may discourage you from seeking medical attention or therapy because they don't want you to talk with someone to whom you may disclose relationship issues.

They Disrupt Boundaries and Relationships

Toxic people disrespect emotional and physical boundaries. They disregard your autonomy and personal space. Toxic people may stand too close to you and ignore you when you tell them to back up. They may stand closer to you to show you they don’t care about what you want. They may refuse to call you by your name, making up a nickname that you don’t like. They will insist on calling you this name. This behavior is a way to let you know that they have control and power in the relationship, including telling you that they know the best name for you. They may tell you they know more about your profession and how to run your life than you do. Having a toxic person ignore your boundaries can not only lead to a breakdown of trust in your relationship but can also cause you not to trust others in your life. You may find yourself constantly on edge, wondering when they will violate your boundaries again. This hypervigilance feels like a constant state of alert or fear. Any attempt to set boundaries with a toxic person will result in them working harder at dismantling them.

They Recruit Others

Toxic people often surround themselves with enablers or manipulate others into taking their side. They will use “flying monkeys” to check in on you to see if you have moved on from them. Flying monkeys may be family members or mutual friends who knowingly or unknowingly pass on messages from the toxic person. Toxic people also search anonymous forums to find support for behaviors.

A toxic person may tell you that other people think you are crazy. They will claim “everyone” knows you are a terrible person, creating the perception of an “invisible army” that the toxic person claims is against you. Toxic people will engage in this behavior both personally and professionally. Toxic people will exploit and undermine coworkers and employers, recruiting them to turn against you through threats, promises, or persuasion.

Understanding the harmful effects of toxic people is crucial for your well-being. Recognizing the signs and taking steps to distance yourself from toxic people and relationships can improve your emotional and physical health. Setting and enforcing healthy boundaries, seeking support from trusted friends or professionals, seeking the help of a mental health professional, and prioritizing self-care are essential in protecting yourself from the detrimental effects of toxic people. We can choose to surround ourselves with positive influences and create a happier and healthier life.

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