9 Common Types of Toxic People You May Encounter And How To Deal With Them
If you’ve spent as much as five minutes on Twitter or, I don’t know, went to high school, you know that there are toxic people in the world. The question is: how do you deal with them?
“Whether it’s personally or professionally, we all need to find ways to gracefully handle toxic personalities,” says Leah Rockwell, LPC, founder of Rockwell Wellness Counseling based in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. She notes that the common advice to simply cut toxic people out of your life, while appealing, isn’t always practical. (Of course, if the relationship has become physically or mentally abusive, you should indeed part ways and consider seeking professional help). “Finding ways to cope and setting clear internal and external boundaries are key in working through these tough relationships,” Rockwell says.
The hardest part is that, in many cases, you may still care about the toxic people in your life. Maybe it’s your mother or a friend you’ve had for years. The good news? “It’s never too late to take charge and shift directions in a relationship,” says Rockwell. Below, you’ll find the 10 most common types of toxic people and how to manage your relationships with them.
1. The Judge
You’re super-excited to share that you’re moving in with your S.O. … only to find the news is met with a lackluster response and an eye roll. Or maybe you’re hyped to announce that you quit your job to pursue your dreams to open a vegan bakery, but you’re met with disapproval. Sound familiar?
“You can spot this person by their criticism,” says psychotherapist Rachel Dash-Dougherty, LCSW, who owns a private practice in Mystic, Connecticut. “Their own insecurity and inflated ego give away their toxicity.”
How to deal: “You may want to avoid sharing your dreams, plans, and goals with this person [or similarly negative kinds of people],” says Markesha Miller, PhD, a psychologist based in Columbia, South Carolina. At first, it might take some adjusting to as you hold back on discussing your plans and objectives for the future. But by keeping conversation light and in the present tense, you might save yourself from some unpleasantness.
Simply put: “Not everyone can handle your light, especially if they have not found their own,” says Miller.
2. The Negative Nancy or Nate
“This person struggles finding positivity in anything or anyone and often discourages others from finding it as well,” says Miller.
Some signals you’ve got The Negative Nancy or Nate on your hands:
- They struggle to see the silver-lining.
- They’re always looking for the worst in a given situation or person.
- They ramble on and on about problems, showing little or no interest in finding a solution or making a change in their lives.
How to deal: No surprise here, but having this kind of person in your life can be tough to handle. “[They] can be extremely detrimental to someone who may be going through a really tough time, dealing with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, or someone who struggles with their own self-confidence,” notes Miller.
Professionally, psychologists urge those who live with mental health issues “to make sure their company is safe and secure, with the intended goal of promoting positivity,” says Miller. “In other words, you would not want to pour water on someone who is already drowning: a figurative illusion of what someone who is in a bad space may get from interacting with this type of person,” she adds.
The bottom line is, if you have a lot of these types of people in your life, and it’s weighing on your mental health, cut them out of your life or a make the conscious effort to take over their negativity with a network of positive people in your social network, she suggests.
3. The Narcissist
You can be certain you’re dealing with a narcissist when it’s about them all. The. Time. But other key indicators include someone acting as if they’re an expert on everything, a quick fuse when you disagree with them, and a tendency to put others down to bolster their own image.
How to deal: “If you’re a good listener, take care of yourself by knowing when to tune out and detach,” says Rockwell. “Just because they need an audience does not mean that you have to be it. Politely disconnect and move on.”
If you feel that the relationship can be remedied, expressing your true feelings and gently sharing with this person how their actions impact you can prove helpful. “Especially with narcissists, it is vital that the friend is reminded that you are a person in a dynamic, two-sided friendship,” says Taylor Orlandoni, LMHC, a therapist based in New York City. “This is because those who suffer with personality disorders and toxic traits are less likely to consider that there is a person on the other side.” You need to remind them of your own thoughts, feelings, and reactions, and of the give-and-take aspect of an interpersonal relationship.
Orlandoni gives the example of grabbing drinks with this kind of person: You thought this was a date to catch up together, but your pal is busy chasing down potential suitors. Instead of staying quiet, speak up honestly and share your expectations for the evening and let them know how you feel so they can see that their actions yield negative reactions on your end. (This sitch is sooooo frustrating, we know.)
“For your own mental health, leaning into honesty with toxic friends and sharing their effect on you is incredibly freeing,” Orlandoni adds.
4. The Manipulator
This sort of person is always scheming to take advantage of you or steer your relationship in some way to benefit them, says Shannon Gunnip, LMHC, a psychotherapist based in New York and Rhode Island. “They may have little regard for your feelings, and they often lack remorse when they do emotionally wound you,” Gunnip says, addingthat The Manipulator often has poor impulse control and may lie, steal, or engage in other negative practices.
How to deal: To reset your relationship with them, show them that you are willing to enact consequences for their manipulative behavior. “For example, if this person ‘borrows’ money from you and fails to pay you back, do not lend them money the next time they ask,” says Gunnp. If they’re always nagging you for work leads, let them know you’ve reached your threshold for connecting them to trusted colleagues and it’s best they go elsewhere. (Here’s to you, college pal constantly begging for LinkedIn intros with zero reciprocation).
5. The Social Media Pretender
You know the type: The roommate you see sharing photos of themselves on Instagram wearing a “VOTE” shirt when you know they didn’t cast their own, or the coworker constantly touting their personal accomplishments on Facebook when you know it took a village to make their #LikeABoss posts come to fruition. Social media has allowed for the proliferation of this kind of person, and you likely can tick off a few people in your life who fit the bill.
“Friends who display toxic positivity on social but in reality are having a difficult time coping are ‘the pretenders,’ and are toxic because relentless noxious positivity online then translates to deeper unhappiness in real life,” says Orlandoni. And just your luck: All of this friend’s actual unhappiness or pessimism is rerouted to you, since they feel it’s safe to throw it all on your shoulders.
How to deal: To improve your relationship with this kind of person, let them know how jarring it is for you to see them pretending all the time on social media. You might even want to let them know that scholarly research shows this kind of behavior impacts the mental health of those around them who encounter this sort of toxic positivity, suggests Orandoni.
Another route: Mute them on social media, unfriend, or unfollow them, if that’s an option.
6. The Gossip
Who doesn’t know someone who seems to thrive on dissecting and dissing the happenings of others? (Or who hasn’t been that person at least on occasion? *Raises hand*.)
Of course, gossip can feel innocent, but chronic dishers of the dirt likely “demean others as a way of soothing their own insecurities and unhappiness,” Miller says.
How to deal: If you’re grappling with a constant gossiper in your life, you might find comfort in knowing that creating such circles of drama is often a means of escape, for example, from self-esteem problems, an unhealthy relationship, and so on, says Miller. As with other types of challenging personalities, you’ll want to set up boundaries to safeguard your wellbeing.
“If you don’t want to hear the gossip, say so, and control the conversation to something more positive,” says Miller. “You can still have a relationship with a gossiper; just know that you’re probably on the discussion agenda as well,” she adds. (Probs not the person to tell your deep dark secrets to).
7. The Attention-Seeker
This type of toxic person, as Gunnip describes, can never have enough of your time or attention. “The Attention-Seeker may also be overly agreeable or easily-swayed in order to stay on your good side, and will often mistake your relationship for being emotionally closer than it actually is,” Gunnip says.
How to deal: If you find yourself in this kind of sitch, Gunnip recommends not reacting when they try to impress you. “The more attention you give them, the more they will persist,” she says.
8. The One-Sided Friend
“Humans long for connection and inclusivity, so when we finally open ourselves up to make those connections with people who become our friends, it can feel like a real letdown when the relationship becomes one-sided,” says Colleen Woodward, LMSW, a psychotherapist at A Good Place Therapy & Consulting in New York City. With time, this kind of friendship can really chip away at your self-esteem, as Woodward cautions.
How to deal: That’s why communication is so important. “It’s difficult to be vulnerable, but remember that your friend is not a mind-reader and may have no idea that you’re feeling slighted,” she says.If you talk to your friend and that doesn’t work, it might be time to move on, but you can at least have some peace in knowing you did your part to salvage things.
9. The Drainer
Real talk: admitting that you’re lonely is no easy feat—and unfortunately, there’s social stigma involved, too. But when these feelings are pushed down for a long time, some people “have a tendency to toxically take from the friend or support in closest proximity, and drain emotional resources from the one friend they are clinging onto or close enough to admit feelings of loneliness to,” Orlandoni says. “This can be a huge burden for the friend on the other side.”
“This person, no matter how much you give them, constantly needs more of your time—or worse, your emotional energy,” adds Rockwell. A telltale sign you’ve entered this type of relationship is that you leave every conversation or interaction with this person feeling exhausted and emotionally depleted. In a group setting, you might literally feel that all energy drains from the room as soon as this person opens their mouth, as Rockwell points out.
How to deal: It’s important to set boundaries with these individuals. Gently remove their shame by saying things like, “I can hear that you wish I had more time during the week to see you, I wonder if our friend X from work might actually have more space for you this week—would you feel comfortable considering them a support?” advises Orlandoni. “Open the door for inviting in new friends and supports without making the drainer feel like they are well… a drain,” she adds. “Never say anything like ‘you are too much for me to deal with,’ or ‘not everyone has as much time as you do,’ but gently pry the option of other systems of support and their possibilities open if you care about this friend.”
Salvaging things may take time, just like cultivating that windowsill basil plant that your brown thumb previously annihilated, twice—but the positive changes in your relationship can be well worth the effort.
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