Are You a Toxic Person? 10 Questions to Ask Yourself

A young woman sits on some logs at the beach.I post countless memes on my business page about letting toxic people go, setting boundaries with difficult people, and having a balance between attending to your relationships while also meeting your own needs. But what if you have qualities that are toxic? What if you are the person others need to set boundaries with? What if your impact on people is actually damaging, despite your good intentions?

We have all likely engaged in some of these behaviors from time to time, but if it feels like you do these a lot, it’s time to embrace a little self-awareness and consider finding a skilled therapist to help get to the root of some of these behaviors. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. Do you use shaming language?

If the word “should” appears often in your vocabulary, you might want to reconsider this. “You know what you should do…” is a sentence starter often riddled with shame and the idea that “you know better.” It is pejorative and creates a power dynamic that causes others to pull back and not trust you. Calling people names and trying to put them down or make them feel bad is also shaming. Even if your intention is to motivate people, this can be ineffective and paralyzing.

If you are a parent, and you use language like “bad boy,” “naughty girl,” or “wild child,” I want to gently encourage you to consider separating actions from personality characteristics and self-worth. Saying things like “That was a poor choice” or “I love you, I do not like that behavior” can help children (and adults for that matter) develop a sense that they can make a mistake and learn from it, rather than feeling they have to be perfect in order to get your love.

2. Do you tend to blame others for your problems?

If nothing is ever your fault, or you have difficulty taking responsibility or apologizing when you make a mistake, this may be something to reconsider or get support around. If there is a conflict, at least two parties usually play a role, and it is important that we practice taking accountability. Only apologizing is not always enough; make a plan to try to make it right and do something different in the future.

We may also have to accept the consequences of our actions if we broke someone’s trust. If we always blame others or the outside world for our problems, it prevents us from learning from our mistakes or stepping into an empowered position to make positive changes in our lives.

3. Do you try to “one-up” people who come to you with a struggle or good news?

If your friend, child, or family member comes to you with a problem, do you say something like, “Oh, you think that’s bad? Let me tell you what happened to me,” or “You’re not the only one with problems, you know,” or “Do you know how hard things are for me?” This is not creating trust and safety within your relationships, and people will soon learn that they cannot come to you with their struggle.

Similarly, if someone comes to you with a victory, and you turn the conversation to bragging about one of your (or your children’s) accomplishments, this is also not nourishing to the relationship. Jealousy eats us from the inside out. Perhaps turning that jealousy into inspiration for what you would like to accomplish might be a place to start.

4. Do you tend to take more than you give?

Do things have to be “your way or the highway?” Relationships are about reciprocity. The goal is to give and to receive love freely. If you tend to be the taker of favors, emotional energy, talking time, or even physical space, think about the impact of that. The people in your life are eventually going to feel like they are being taken advantage of and distance themselves from you.

If we always blame others or the outside world for our problems, it prevents us from learning from our mistakes or stepping into an empowered position to make positive changes in our lives.

Another side of this coin is that you give too much, but then resent people or hold favors over their head. Perhaps you say you are going to give something to someone but then use it against them when you are angry with them. This is not trust-building behavior and only serves to put you in a position of power, rather than in a position of love.

5. Do you say you don’t like drama, but your life is full of it?

Have you ever seen a store called something like “Elegant Clothes” or “Really Good Food,” and they are anything but? This can be the same with declarations of not wanting drama. Rehashing the same argument over and over again is a toxic form of drama.

Ignoring someone when you are mad at them can be a form of drama as well. Are you overly moody or irritable, perhaps making things worse than they really are? This can be a way of trying to compensate for your own insecurities or feelings of shame or not being good enough. Finding a good therapist can help you get to the root of the real pain and help you process it.

6. Do you gossip?

Part of creating drama is also talking about people behind their backs or telling other people’s vulnerable stories. Gossiping makes us feel like we are fitting in or better than other people, but ultimately leaves us feeling worse. I once saw a meme that said, “Pay attention to how your friends talk about others to you because that is exactly how they talk about you to others.”

If you are the one doing the gossiping, it won’t take long before people begin to question whether you talk about them that way as well, and again, damaged relationships may be the result.

7. Do you fish for attention on social media?

Do you seek attention, air dirty laundry, or post vague statements trying to get validation on your facebook page? An example might be “Can’t believe people suck so badly. The hits just keep coming. #heartbroken.” Or “That moment when you just know it’s going to be an awful day.”

People don’t have any idea what you’re talking about, and it’s a call for people to ask you what is going on or give you some general sympathy. It’s better to reach out to a friend or a therapist, figure out where the pain is, and deal with it head-on.

8. Do you complain a lot?

We all have hard days, but if you tend to focus on the negative or complain excessively, this also might have a negative impact on people. Do you only see the worst part of the story? Or is “Yeah, but…” a common answer for you? Do you feel like you nourish people, or do you suck their energy?

9. Do you dominate the conversation?

It may be that you are trying to manage your own anxieties or trying to please or entertain others by being overly verbose. Perhaps you have a difficult time listening to others, or maybe you are thinking about what you will say while they are talking. If you think what you have to say is more interesting or important, or if you interrupt a lot, this might also be a way of managing insecurities. Inappropriate gender-based or racial jokes are other ways of taking up space in a toxic way.

10. Are your friends disappearing?

Perhaps you learned the only way to get your needs met was to trick or manipulate people. Perhaps you do not treat people kindly or with respect. Do you demean others, call them names, or put them down? Perhaps you make overly judgmental statements, threats, or passive-aggressive remarks. Perhaps you engage often in one of the other behaviors listed above. If you find that many of your relationships have ended in tumultuous cut-off, there may be a wound that needs healing.

Many of these behaviors can be traced back to trauma or attachment injuries. These causes do not excuse the behavior, but finding the root issue may help inform healing.

We tend to become overpowering and toxic because we were once overpowered and mistreated. A skilled therapist will be able to help you find the injury and make changes in these behaviors. Keep in mind that even if you have been victimized, these behaviors are those of emotional perpetrators. Some of your past might not be your fault, but you are now the only person who can walk the path of healing. Even just having awareness of areas you can improve may be a starting point for change. Here’s to healing and having healthy and thriving relationships.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Erica Bonham, LPC, certified EMDR therapist, therapist in Arvada, Colorado

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Tortaboyyy.ig

    Tortaboyyy.ig

    November 17th, 2020 at 9:40 AM

    My Girlfriend does all of these but if I ever say I wanna leave and not come back she goes around telling everybody how bad of a person I am and that I never treated her like the “Queen” that she is when I try to get her what she wants. She met this guy who had more money than I did so she went with him and when her broke her heart she came to me. I told her that the money I had was all I had and that I had given you everything and are still ungrateful. I learned one thing that day. No matter how much I give to a girl she won’t ever be grateful until they realize their mistake. :(

  • Allison

    Allison

    November 23rd, 2020 at 4:58 PM

    I’m sorry you went through that. Hopefully it was a learning lesson. It hurts but you’ll see the red flags sooner next time if you end up with another girl like the last one.

  • Allyah

    Allyah

    December 8th, 2020 at 11:04 AM

    More often than not, I find myself struggling with my best friend/sister. We have issues more often than not– and we’re complete opposites. Overall, the issues always end up with me being blamed for being too emotional, not communicating, or being “weird”. And, honestly, I think it’s true. I think I might be toxic… but the thing is I don’t want to be– I strive to be the best person I can be, but I can never seem to do it right. She only wants to look out for me, and she confronts me on things so often I find myself feeling belittled, discouraged, and overwhelmed– I find myself not even knowing where to start! I know that I have toxic tendencies, but I’m also a good person. I think. I find myself always causing the issues I try so hard to avoid! It’s frustrating, repeating the same mistakes over and over. Another thing is, she tells me what I do wrong– but doesn’t help me fix it. She often says things like this: “Do you even care? Because you apologize a lot, but nothing changes.”, “We just talked about it, but that doesn’t mean anything’s resolved.”, “I know what happened. I’m not going to tell you. You need to figure that out.”. With things like these, is it wrong for me to be confused and feel hopeless after an argument? Is this normal?

  • ToxicGirl

    ToxicGirl

    December 31st, 2020 at 3:58 AM

    hi I’m a toxic female im only a couple things on this list mostly one thing on here im not i just i just don’t want to be toxic to my boyfriend i wanna stop hurting him he’ll never leave me and its just like i wish i was a better person i wish i was i wasn’t so toxic he was my rock my everything and i just broke up with him thinking maybe if i set him free he’ll find someone new i think maybe i made it worse i don’t know what im doing i just want this stop

  • Sherlyn

    Sherlyn

    March 25th, 2021 at 5:20 PM

    Ok, I’ve cut off all my friends from my life, one said it was toxic and another said it was fake. Is it? I told them straight up, that I was going to cut them off because I wanted to be alone, I’m not in a good place in my life right now. So I decided to isolate myself. Is it really toxic and fake?

  • Swetha

    Swetha

    April 15th, 2021 at 10:16 PM

    Hi, I think I’m a toxic person. I don’t know what’s wrong with me exactly, but everyone I meet hates me, or thinks I’m a creep. My parents, I wish I could treat them better, but we’re at the point of not talking. I really regret what I do every day. It’s easy to act like it doesn’t matter, but on the inside it hurts to admit it. I come off as cold, manipulative, hateful, and someone who will never be loved by society and never love back. I defy from the rest of society. And worst of all, I may try to think that I’m just meant to be that way, because this had been going on since I was a very young child. But deep inside, I think and know it;s my fault. But when I try to show love to my parents, they think I’m being negative to annoy, worry, or threaten them. Whenever we try to have one of those talks to understand each other, I think it won’t work since they’re not willing to hear me out, and neither am I. I’m just naturally negative. Does that make me a bad person? And if so, how do I mend a relationship with my parents who’ve been hurt over and over, by me?

  • Skylar GoodTherapy

    Skylar GoodTherapy

    April 16th, 2021 at 7:43 AM

    Dear Swetha, Thank you for sharing. I can imagine wondering if you are bad and how to fix things with your parents would be difficult. If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, you can start finding therapists in your area by entering your city or ZIP code into the search field on this page: https://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html. Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. You may click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. If you need help finding a therapist, you are welcome to call us. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Mountain Time, and our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext 3.
    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy Team

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