15 Toxic Personality Traits & How They Impact Your Relationships
by Lisa Sparrow
Toxic personality traits can be best described as unhealthy thought and behavioral patterns that negatively affect you and those around you.
Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who exhibits these traits is a toxic person. While such people derive satisfaction from harming others—often for their own benefit—you don’t actually need to be a toxic person to act toxic.
In fact, you or someone you know may be acting this way without you even realizing it!
So, in this article, we’ll explore 15 common toxic traits in women and men, discuss their effect on interpersonal relationships, and give you tips for managing toxic characteristics.
15 Toxic Personality Traits You Should Never Ignore
While some toxic traits are easy to spot, others are rather subtle and can be easily missed, especially if you have little experience dealing with toxic people.
On that note, let’s explore 15 toxic personality traits to watch out for:
Contrary to popular belief, dishonesty encompasses more than straight-up lies. Someone dishonest may also:
- Exaggerate the truth (e.g., embellish their professional achievements to land a job)
- Tell half-truths (for instance, leave out certain parts of a story that would make them look bad)
- Withhold information from others
When the truth comes out, all these behaviors can break people’s trust in you.
While it’d be hard to find someone who has never told a white lie or two, dishonest people lie and otherwise mislead others regularly, often for personal gain. Sometimes, they can even be classified as pathological or compulsive liars.
Rather than providing constructive feedback, hypercritical people tend to pass judgment on others and constantly point out their flaws—whether they’re real or not. In other words, their criticism is destructive and ungrounded. As such, it doesn’t help people improve—instead, it makes them feel devalued, hurt, and insecure.
For example, someone with this toxic personality trait may say you have terrible taste in movies based on one movie alone—even if they haven’t seen it. Oftentimes, such people resort to personal attacks (e.g., “You can’t do anything right!”) and put others down to feel better about themselves.
Manipulation is a tell-tale sign of a toxic person. Not only that, but it also constitutes emotional abuse and can lead to trust issues, anxiety, people-pleasing behaviors, poor self-esteem, as well as damage your self-confidence.
Manipulative people may use a variety of tactics to gain control of others, including:
- Guilt-tripping, i.e., making you feel guilty to influence your actions (e.g., “If you really loved me, you wouldn’t spend so much time with your friends.”)
- Silent treatment, or refusing to communicate with you as a way to punish you or alter your behavior
- Gaslighting, or instilling self-doubt and confusion by making you question your reality (“Everyone knows you’re crazy,” “It never happened!”, etc.)
#4. Lack of Empathy
People who lack empathy for others have trouble understanding other people’s feelings and attending to their emotional needs. They may also struggle to understand how their words and actions affect other people and dismiss their emotions.
For example, if your boss lacks empathy, he or she may tell you to “just suck it up” rather than looking for solutions when you tell them that your workload is too heavy.
Research suggests that women are more likely to empathize with other people’s pain than men. However, while a lack of empathy may be a more common toxic personality trait in males, anyone can struggle to identify with other people’s feelings—regardless of their gender, age, personality type, and other individual factors.
#5. Playing the Victim
Playing the victim is a toxic personality trait that can take on many different forms, such as:
- Blaming others for your situation
- Trying to one-up other people’s pain, suffering, and trauma
- Holding grudges against someone who wronged you
- Thinking that others are out to get you
- Using your past experiences, mental illness, trauma, etc. to justify your actions
Ultimately, playing the victim allows people to gain sympathy and avoid taking responsibility for their behavior. However, this toxic trait can ruin your relationships with others by causing others to feel as if their feelings and experiences don’t matter.
Perfectionists set incredibly high standards not only for themselves but also for others, expecting nothing less than perfection. They also tend to be highly critical, both of themselves and others. Oftentimes, this toxic personality trait manifests at work.
For instance, a perfectionist boss may:
- Micromanage you
- Set unattainable monthly targets and get frustrated when you don’t reach them
- Expect you to do your work flawlessly in a very short amount of time yet get hung up on minor details that don’t affect the overall quality of your work
Needless to say, such nit-picking and unrealistically high expectations can lead to stress and anxiety, as well as create an unhealthy, tense atmosphere. Ironically, perfectionism can negatively affect not only your job satisfaction but also your performance.
While everyone has their preferences, inflexible people insist on accommodating theirs and become frustrated when things don’t go their way.
Since they resist change, they stick with things that are familiar to them rather than trying out something new. As such, they may struggle to adapt to changing circumstances, as these make them feel like life is spinning out of their control.
Inflexible people may also refuse to consider other people’s points of view, which can lead to conflict and resentment. Due to their uncompromising natures, it may be difficult to build harmonious relationships with such people without sacrificing your individuality and neglecting your needs.
#8. Feeling of Superiority
The feeling of superiority is among the most easily noticeable toxic personality traits.
People who feel superior to others have an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement. They often put their needs above those of others and expect special treatment, but they fail to treat others with respect, kindness, and integrity. Such people often come across as arrogant, bossy, condescending, and self-centered.
Naturally, those who feel superior to others make people in their lives feel belittled, disrespected, and undervalued. This, coupled with their tendency to overlook other people’s needs and dismiss their needs, can prevent them from forging close bonds with others.
Negative people have a pessimistic attitude toward life and assume the worst about everyone and everything. They constantly rain on other people’s parades—either on purpose or not. This may lead to relationship dissatisfaction and conflict, especially if you have a different outlook on life.
For example, negative people may insist that the world is a bad and dangerous place, discourage you from going after your dreams, and constantly complain, all of which is emotionally draining.
Even in friendships, this toxic personality trait can be a total dealbreaker. After all, hanging out with a Debbie Downer is more upsetting than fulfilling.
#10. Toxic Positivity
Like negativity, excessive positivity can also be a very toxic personality trait.
While you may think that there’s nothing wrong with being cheerful and optimistic at all times, the truth is that overly positive people rarely build authentic relationships due to their avoidance of negative emotions. It’s also not unheard of for people to use toxic positivity as an unhealthy coping mechanism.
Rather than hearing others out and addressing problems head-on, such people brush off all things negative. In doing so, they not only invalidate other people’s feelings but also create a barrier to open, honest communication.
Overly competitive people desire to win at any cost. As such, hypercompetitiveness can create a hostile atmosphere and cause a great deal of tension in your personal and professional relationships. Oftentimes, they’ll exaggerate their accomplishments and undermine yours, leading to resentment and defensiveness.
In a romantic relationship, this toxic trait can be especially harmful. Instead of celebrating your victories, for example, hypercompetitive partners feel jealous or intimidated by your success. They also place more importance on winning arguments than on fostering mutual understanding and harmony in the relationship, thus preventing open communication and cooperation.
#12. Black-and-White Thinking
Black-and-white thinking refers to a tendency to categorize things—and people—into two distinct categories: good or bad. In other words, it entails seeing things in extremes. While it’s natural to sometimes think in absolutes, those with this toxic personality trait do so virtually all the time.
For example, they may idealize you and put you on a pedestal shortly after meeting you, but as soon as you make a mistake—no matter how tiny—they’ll see you as a villain.
On top of that, people with this toxic trait can be rather impulsive. If their perspective suddenly changes, they may break up with you, quit their job, etc. unexpectedly. Needless to say, this can be quite devastating, and building stable relationships with such people is no easy task.
Selfish people care about little else other than themselves. Greedy and self-serving, they lack consideration for other people’s needs—so much so that they may sabotage your happiness for their personal gain without a second thought. Ultimately, they do as they please regardless of how you feel about it.
Naturally, selfishness itself can sabotage your interpersonal relationships. After all, healthy relationships are based on mutual trust, respect, and support. Unfortunately, these are nearly impossible to achieve with people who only care about their own interest.
Constant attention-seeking can wreak havoc on relationships by creating an unhealthy dynamic where everything revolves around one person only. People with this toxic personality trait may go to great lengths to draw attention to themselves. In some cases, they don’t even mind getting negative attention as long as they get to be in the spotlight.
Attention-seeking can manifest in various ways, including:
- Speaking over others
- Pretending to be insecure to get compliments
- Saying or doing controversial things to get a reaction out of others
#15. Conflict Avoidance
While this may seem surprising, being overly preoccupied with maintaining peace and avoiding conflict at all costs can actually be toxic.
People who avoid conflict often fear disappointing or hurting others. So, instead of communicating openly, they try to escape difficult conversations by withdrawing into themselves, changing the topic, and so on. Oftentimes, they also bottle up their emotions and neglect their needs.
As good as your intentions may be, conflict avoidance can cause problems to pile up and eventually lead to bitterness, contempt, and passive-aggressive behavior.
How to Deal with Toxic Characteristics
Recognizing toxic personality traits—be they in yourself or others—is the first step to dealing with toxic characteristics.
While the realization that you have some unhealthy traits may be quite uncomfortable, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Many people exhibit unhealthy traits and behaviors—often without being aware of them—but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a toxic person.
Most importantly, you can change these traits and improve your relationships by:
- Taking the time to reflect on your behavior
- Asking others for feedback on your behavior and being open to it
- Making the effort to spot and immediately stop toxic behaviors
- Seeking help from a mental health professional
Now, how do you deal with a family member, coworker, or friend who has toxic traits?
First things first, you should understand that people don’t change unless they want to—and truly toxic people rarely, if ever, see their behavior as problematic.
That said, some people who behave in a toxic way may be unaware of it. So, your best option is to address their behavior in a calm, compassionate way and hope they’ll consider your words.
If their toxic behavior persists, here’s what you can do:
- Set clear boundaries. Be assertive and explain what kind of behavior you’re no longer going to tolerate.
- Avoid taking their words and actions to heart. If you have trouble with this, try to understand where their behavior is coming from. More likely than not, it has nothing to do with you.
- Minimize contact. If the person is truly toxic—not just exhibiting some traits—they aren’t likely to change. In this case, you should try and interact with them as little as possible to preserve your peace and well-being.
Hopefully, this article shed some light on what personality traits are considered toxic and, most importantly, what to do if you recognize these characteristics in yourself or those around you.
Now, let’s summarize the key points we covered:
- Toxic personality traits refer to a pattern of behavior that is harmful to you and others.
- Some common toxic traits include dishonesty, manipulation, negativity, and selfishness.
- If you’ve noticed you’re acting in a toxic way, take time for self-reflection, be receptive to other people’s feedback on your behavior, and don’t hesitate to seek professional help.
- If someone you know has toxic traits, address their behavior gently yet openly, set boundaries, and, if necessary, reduce communication with them to a minimum.