It can be easy to get sucked towards the negativity in life, especially if you’re dealing with someone who’s particularly negative. Often, these toxic people tend the leach onto their total opposite—positive, giving people who simply want to live as stress- and carefree as possible. Your M.O.: Avoid them at all cost. Think you’ve been cursed with a toxic friend, family member or co-worker but aren’t totally sure? Check out these toxic types and find out what you can do to protect yourself from the users and abusers.
The terrible listener
We all find ourselves dealing with this type of person at some point or another—hopefully it’s never in circumstances involving a consistent and intimate relationship. “These individuals will often talk non-stop about what they are going through and how they feel, but when it comes time for you to mention anything having to do with you, they are no longer interested,” explains Adina Silvestri, EdD, a licensed professional counselor. “Just when you think you can get a word in, the moment just seems to pass.” If this sounds familiar, Silvestri suggests protecting yourself by listening for a few minutes before saying, “I hate to interrupt you, but I have to talk to these other people right now.”
This is the type of person who puts you down, often subtly but sometimes straight-up, in order to make them feel better about themselves. Marni Amsellem, PhD, consultant and private psychology practice explains that, although this person appears to think that he or she is better than you, their habit of putting others down to prove their own strength is actually a sign of weakness. “If you are seeing this pattern in a relationship, strengthen yourself by eliminating this relationship from your life,” she says. “Someone who regularly is critical of others around them without ever being part of the solution.”
If you’ve ever felt nervous, hesitant and uncomfortable about revealing a truth about yourself in front of someone because of what they might say or think of you, you’ve spent time with a judge. “Unlike a good friend, who’s feedback includes what you did right, the judge focuses only on the negative,” says Aimee Bernstein, a psychotherapist, executive coach, and mindfulness-in-action teacher and author of Stress Less Achieve More. Her advice is to stop a judge in his or her tracks. “When the judge criticizes you, say ‘That’s interesting, tell me more,’” she says. “Hearing their perspective beyond their negative sound bite will reveal whether they have a good point or not and will also give you time to take a breath and re-center yourself.”
This “woe is me” type always feels wronged, by others and society, and hardly ever takes the slightest form of responsibility for his or her own thoughts, feeling and actions. “The victim is highly self-centered and if their friends are not careful, they can actually become the victim in the relationship for trying to help or believing the best about the other person,” says Janet Birkey, D.Coun, licensed professional clinical counselor in Clovis, New Mexico. The victim also tends to be a jealous person, who may try to minimize your accomplishments and talents and look at your weaknesses and capitalize on those things in order to feel better about themselves. “One of the main problems with the jealous victim is that there is no amount of this behavior that will ever fill the hole in their heart enough to truly make them feel better,” Dr. Birkey adds.
The gossip king or queen
If you’ve ever watched the series Gossip Girl (if not, I highly recommend it!), you know these characters all too well. The gossip king or queen is always ready and willing to spill details and bits of information, as intimate as they might be, to relatively anyone for the sake of boosting their mood or status, or gaining something physical or emotional from someone else. “Gossipers enjoy playing the ‘I know something you don’t know’ game and often make a game out of taunting others with secretive information,” Dr. Birkey says. “Always remember that if a person gossips to you, they will gossip about you.” To protect yourself, she recommends steering conversation to more positive topics or simply being firm and telling an individual you’d rather discuss ideas or topics than potentially hurt other people by gossiping.
The drama king or queen
Not to be confused with the gossip king or queen, those stemming from dramatic royalty are a totally separate breed. For them, nothing is more difficult, stressful, exhausting, hurtful, exciting, etc. than what they’re going through. “They tell their stories with high-voltage emotion and tend to dismiss any suggestions from you for moving through their issues because, as they say, you don’t understand,” says Bernstein. “Even when they get through one challenging situation, you can bet there will be another one right around the corner because they major in drama.” If you are in a relationship with a drama queen or king, you’re probably not getting the emotional support you need, so Bernstein suggests setting boundaries. “If they can hear you and care enough about you, then together spend time envisioning what the next best version of your relationship might be.”
If you’ve ever felt “used” by a person, you’re quite familiar with this type of individual. “This is the kind of person who does not support you as much as you support him or her and tends to suck the life from you in the areas of time, finances and emotional support,” says Dr. Birkey. “However, when you need something from them, they coincidentally do not have the time, finances or emotional support that you need (probably because of another crisis in their own life).” She adds that relationships are two-way streets that should not and cannot work with one person giving 100 percent all the time with the other hardly giving anything. “You should not feel that you are always the host (giver) to the leach in the relationship.”
While we often tend to associate addiction with alcohol and drugs, it comes in many forms, from gambling and sex to the Internet and self-image. “Although an addict may have many good traits, they are deeply wounded, out of alignment with themselves and their desire for the particular addiction takes center stage in their life,” explains Bernstein. “As their integrity is compromised, they often lie, manipulate and justify their behavior, leaving you always feeling secondary at best.” Often in these relationships, without the individual getting help, the non-addict spends the majority of his or her time trying to rescue the person, she explains. If you are currently in a relationship with an addict or substance abuser, get yourself to a support group such as AA or NA immediately.
This might be the most toxic of the bunch, as those who deal with narcissists often have to eliminate them from their life completely—forever. The scariest part, according to Dr. Birkey, is that most people find the narcissist charming in the beginning, but as the relationship goes on, report feeling scared and unsafe. “There is always plenty of charm to go around in public, so it may be very, very difficult to put your thumb on something that you know in your heart has crossed a boundary,” she says. “When you try to talk to others who know this person, they may look at you as if you have lost your mind because all they have ever seen is the charm, but know this: You are not crazy.” In fact, she advises victims of a narcissist to seek professional help, as they’re often dealing with emotional abuse at the very minimum.