This is an excerpt from the new book, The Social Gladiator.
The biggest problem with recognizing a toxic relationship is that you learned to accept toxic behavior as “normal”.
The first job I ever had was working as a tech support agent. You know, helping people get their Internet working or set up their email client.
The job could be stressful from time to time, but the people that worked there were mostly positive and joyful. This was extremely important for a job where you need to be calm and supportive, especially if the customer is anxious or aggressive.
However, one of the senior guys at the department was terribly negative.
He would always come into work with a sulky face and would often complain about the calls he had with customers. If you wanted to ask him something, he would sigh loudly, take off his headphones, then slowly turn and stare at you without uttering a word. Whenever he did, you already felt like you were personally insulting him somehow and not just, I don’t know, doing your job by consulting a senior agent.
Every time he was in my shift, I cringed. I felt a knot in my stomach and my mood levels would immediately drop.
And I wasn’t the only one. During the shifts he was supervising, the collective morale was highly impacted and everybody felt like shit. After a while, despite being one of the oldest agents at the department, he was fired, one of the reasons being his general attitude and sulky behavior which affected the entire workplace.
This is a simple, but a clear example of how a toxic personality can influence the people around them. Now, imagine he wasn’t just a coworker, but your friend. You would spend more time with him, which would negatively impact you even more. Now, imagine that you have four other friends like this and all of you hang out together. Suddenly, you have a group of toxic people influencing you to be more negative, anxious, and unproductive.
How can you rise above this level if you keep spending time with such people?
There are several types of toxic personalities you need to be aware of. Some of them may be worse than others, but all of them are ultimately people you need to remove from your social circles.
The focal point of what makes each of these personalities toxic is a lack of responsibility in some shape or form.
1. LAZY TOXIC PERSONALITY
Lack of responsibility for their own life.
This is the someone who puts their personal comfort above everything else. They don’t have any specific aspirations or goals, and even if they do, they never do anything to achieve them.
These types of people don’t get anywhere in life because they don’t put any effort to do so. They don’t try to improve themselves because they don’t want to. They won’t stop living off of someone because they don’t want to. They won’t take on responsibility because they don’t want to. They are completely and utterly selfish.
Recognizing Toxic Behavior: They work meaningless jobs and do half-assed work when they do. Or they live off of their parents, friends, or partners, and are perfectly fine with it. They don’t feel any guilt for being someone else’s burden. In fact, in many cases, they expect other people to provide for them, even as adults.
They usually don’t take things seriously, and their hobbies often reflect this. Instead of taking real-life responsibility, they engage in activities that either simulate responsibilities (e.g. video games) or things that help them avoid responsibility (e.g. partying, drinking, getting high).
Why this toxic personality is dangerous: Spending time with these kinds of people will slowly infect your mindset. You will start to think: “Hey, look at them, their life is not so bad. Maybe I am working too hard. Maybe I expect too much. Yeah, let me take a hit off that. And pass the controller. Oooh, chips.”
You will never turn them into an ambitious and responsible individual. They might get there on their own, but you will not be able to influence them, no matter how hard you try. They will, however, influence you. If you are surrounded by people who don’t have any ambitious and are perfectly happy always staying in place and never growing up, you will slowly adopt that mindset as well. You have been warned.
2. DESTRUCTIVE TOXIC PERSONALITY
Lack of responsibility for their own emotions and life choices.
This is the type of personality most people refer to as “toxic” because they are often very influential in spreading their toxic ideas. Their loud demeanor often makes it very hard to ignore them.
Those with destructive personalities poison your perception and present the entire world in a negative light. Instead of looking inward and realizing their own mistakes and misjudgments, they blame everybody and everything else. They believe they are never responsible for the things that happen to them, they are simply poor victims and martyrs.
Recognizing Toxic Behavior: These types of people are prone to creating drama, arguing over petty issues, and voicing negative opinions without providing any solutions to actual problems.
They think they suffer more than others, they fight dirty, and often turn hostile if you disagree with them. They act on emotional reasoning and believe that their feelings are more important than everything else (like facts, logic, context, or other people’s feelings). They have no interest in learning or improving themselves. Any alternative view of the world is foreign to them so they will quickly reject it with a burning passion.
At the same time, they have a high sense of entitlement and expect you, and the rest of the world, to “owe them” something. They always expect you to be there for them in time of need, yet they will rarely reciprocate this. If you’re not there for them, they will attack you on a personal level and say things like “how can you abandon your family”, “this makes you a terrible friend”, and “you are selfish and don’t care about me”. They will constantly try to guilt trip you and, because you’re a nice person, you will usually give in. They are aware of your weaknesses and will use them to manipulate you in the worst possible way.
You can easily recognize this type by the things they say:
- “I just don’t have any luck”
- “Why do bad things always happen to me?”
- “There are no good people in the world.”
- “I can never be happy.”
- “All good men/women are taken.”
They feel they are owed success without working for it and they will feel that everybody and everything is the cause of the problem… except for them. Their ignorance and complete lack of self-awareness are what make them so dangerous.
Why this toxic personality is dangerous: Being around toxic personalities will make you feel lonely, anxious, and depressed. You will try to help them solve their problems and help them not to feel bad. This is futile.
No matter how good things get, they will always focus on something negative and they will always turn to you to solve their problems. Because you’re a “nice person”, you will take on the responsibility for their own emotions, even though there is absolutely no reason you should ever do that, for anyone. Someone else’s emotions are not your responsibility.
Any normal, self-respect-having person would never put up with this kind of crap. Start acting like that person. If you have been sucked into the drama of a destructive toxic personality, get out. Get out now!
3. LEECHING TOXIC PERSONALITY
Lack of responsibility for supporting themselves.
Leeches are types of worms who feed on blood. They stick to you, take your precious fluid, and don’t provide anything in return. The same way, people who act similarly, known as leechers or freeloaders, take a lot but provide little or nothing in return.
Unlike other toxic personalities, they are fully aware of what they’re doing. They do it on purpose. They are, for the most part, confidence artists; often charismatic and charming, which makes them likely to gain your trust in order to take advantage of you until they bleed you dry, financially and emotionally.
Recognizing Toxic Behavior: They are the type to constantly ask you to do something for them, like favors or errands, but they never appreciate it. After all, they always expect you to say yes, and if you don’t, they will try to make you feel guilty for doing so. They often ask to borrow money or other items, yet they rarely feel obligated to return any of these things.
You usually have to hound them to give you your stuff back or pay what they owe. At first, they will try to postpone it, then they will act like they’re doing you a favor if they give you anything at all. Over time, they will likely turn hostile and attack you for “having the audacity” for asking for your money or items back.
They will constantly invite you to “be a pal” and “don’t be so petty” and “what are friends for” — but only when it comes to you. When the tables are turned, they will never give in as much as you do.
Why this toxic personality is dangerous: People who leech off of you provide nothing beneficial to your life. They take and take until there’s nothing left, then they move on to the next victim. They make you feel guilty for no reason and put their own responsibilities on you.
Relationships like this are always one-sided. You are expected to always be there for them and provide for them with whatever they need, but they are not expected to do so for you. Leechers are poison and need to be completely eradicated from your life.
CAN TOXIC PEOPLE BE CHANGED?
If by reading this, you recognized a close person in your life is toxic, your first instinct is probably to think of reasons why they are the exception. Yeah, they fit the description to a T, but you’re not going to give up on them so easily. You can change them, influence them, save them.
They’re not bad people, they just need help. Right?
It is precisely for this reason that I want to highlight this important note: You cannot change them! Even if you want to. Even if you are willing to sacrifice yourself in order to do so. Even if they have good reasons for having a fucked-up personality. You cannot change them.
That’s not to say that they cannot change. Not at all. But they have to be willing to admit their flaws and take on responsibility for their life. And if they were already doing so, they wouldn’t fit any of the descriptions above. It is not bad to help someone wanting to change — after all, that’s what I do for a living — but you cannot change someone who doesn’t want to change. It doesn’t matter if they say they want to change, what matters is what they do.
Responsibility requires action. Helping someone often requires telling them what they don’t want to hear. It requires showing them that you will not stand for their bad behavior and letting them go if their toxic behavior continues. Words fall flat on toxic people; the only way to possibly have an influence on them is to lead by behavior. But it is up to them whether or not they will follow.
Each of us makes our own choices.
A drowning person who isn’t willing to accept your help will jump on your back and drag you down into the abyss with them. During crises on airplanes, parents need to put on their own oxygen mask before helping their children. Otherwise, they would pass out and be unable to help anyone. The same way, a toxic personality unwilling to work on themselves will not change. Instead, they will eventually drag you down to their level of misery. At that point, you won’t be able to help anyone; not them, not yourself.
Cutting off toxic people is the single best decision you can make in your life and be completely sure that you made the right choice.
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