What Exactly Makes a Person Toxic?

two people having a conversation

Much has been written about “toxic people,” but what makes a person “toxic” in the first place? From their origins to their M.O.s, here’s what you need to know about determining whether someone in your life is toxic.

They’re Charming

Now, that’s not to say all charming people are toxic, but toxic people are often adept at endearing themselves to you right off the bat. According to Joseph H. Baskin, a psychiatrist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, “Regardless of the genesis of the bad behavior, they approach relationships with the same crooked method for maintaining a bond. They are usually gifted and have great ability to draw interest. Charming, seductive, highly skilled in their approach, they lure either romantic or platonic partners into their twisted world.”

They Drain Your Energy

Toxic people are often energy vampires, which is to say that your interactions with them suck the energy right out of you. They tend to be dramatic, needy and high-maintenance. If you suspect someone in your life is toxic, take stock of how you feel after being with them. Note that some people (hey, introverts) find many interactions draining—even if they adore the person or people they’re with. This is different. Instead of feeling like you need to be by yourself for a little while—which is totally normal—you feel defeated.

Your Conversations Are All About Them

So you’ve just had a 30-minute conversation with a person you suspect is a toxic influence on your life. What percent of your chat was about them? Did they ask any questions about your life or how you’re doing? Toxic people find ways to make everything about them and will likely accuse you of not caring about them if you try to shift the conversation to yourself.

Their “jokes” Always Go Too Far

Friends tease each other. It’s normal and all in good fun—until it’s not. If you notice that someone in your circle consistently takes things too far, he or she might be a toxic person. The occasional jab about your weird crush on David Letterman is one thing; a searing critique of who you are as a person is another.

They Love To Play The Victim

When confronted about their actions, a toxic person will turn things around and try to make you feel bad or silly for having been upset instead of ever owning up to their actions. According to Dr. Baskin, “They learned early on to manipulate others' (in this instance ‘other’ represents the object of the desired emotional interaction) emotions in order to avoid their own internal negative feelings.”

How To Deal With A Toxic Person

So you’ve determined that someone in your life fits some or most of the characteristics above—now what? Unfortunately, some toxic people can’t just be cut out of your life (ahem, your boss who continuously cuts you down and makes you feel worthless). Here are tips on leaving a toxic relationship, and here’s how to deal with toxic people you’re stuck with.

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sarah stiefvater
Sarah Stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...
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