Introverts, Watch for These 9 Signs You’re Dealing With a Toxic Person

For introverts, the energy drain of toxic people can hit even harder — which is why it’s crucial for us to recognize and deal with them head-on.

When you read the phrase, “toxic people,” did someone in your life come to mind? Your father-in-law, a coworker, a friend, or perhaps even a parent? Toxic people can pop up anywhere, and may walk and talk just like anyone else — until you get to know them better.

Toxic people are one of life’s greatest struggles, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. You’ll know when you’ve encountered one because they’ll leave you feeling bleerrrghhhh after spending time with them. There’s just always something going on with them, and they have a sneaky way of bringing you down more than they bring you up.

For introverts, that energy drain can hit even harder — which is why it’s crucial for us “quiet ones” to recognize toxic people and deal with them head-on.

9 Signs of a Toxic Person

In reality, the phrase “toxic person” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not the whole person that is toxic; their behavior, or your relationship with them, has taken on unhealthy qualities. Often, toxic people are dealing with unmanaged depression or anxiety, according to psychologist Jonathan F. Anderson. Although these mental health conditions aren’t under their direct control, and may be the result of genetics, it’s still their job to step up and manage their behavior.

At first, a toxic person may seem nice, kind, and completely harmless. Even as the relationship progresses, you may “see occasional blips of that person that you’d like to be friends with,” explains Anderson. But eventually, their toxicity will rear its ugly head: “Sometimes, toxic people are able to maintain a temporary healthy presence but eventually succumb to their darker side.”

Anderson adds that we can all act in a toxic way at times; what truly sets a “toxic person” apart from others is an ongoing pattern of unhealthy behavior, not just the occasional bump in the road. So, if you see yourself in some of these signs, that doesn’t necessarily mean you wear the toxic label; remember, it’s the ongoing pattern that truly counts:

1. Toxic people are consistently negative.

They find a way to turn almost any situation into a negative one, according to Anderson. They see rejection or failure where people who view the world in a healthier way don’t. They may anticipate rejection before it even has a chance to happen. (“I’ll never get the job.” “This will never work out.”)

2. You feel exhausted after hanging out with them.

The best gauge of a toxic person is your own physical and emotional reactions to them, according to bestselling author and licensed clinical social worker Shannon Thomas. She tells Greatist, “They can be draining and leave you emotionally wiped out. They want you to feel sorry for them and responsible for all their problems — and then fix these problems too.”

3. They’re always stirring up drama.

Whether through gossip or flat-out dishonesty, toxic people are drawn to drama like mosquitoes to a backyard cook-out. “The toxic personality will go to great lengths to drag people into the same vortex of misery that they find themselves in,” explains Anderson. “The trouble is that they often don’t even realize that they are doing it.”

4. They’re manipulative.

Often the goal of toxic people is to get others to do what they want them to do, according to psychiatrist Abigail Brenner. Their actions tend to be selfish, because it’s all about them. “Forget what you want; this is not about equality in a relationship — far from it,” explains Brenner.

5. They don’t take responsibility for their feelings.

Instead, they may project their feelings onto you, according to Brenner. If you point out this behavior, they may become defensive and upset, rarely (if ever) owning up to their actions.

6. They constantly judge you and others.

Nothing is ever good enough for a toxic person. They frequently criticize you — what you did or didn’t do — as well as anyone else they encounter.

7. They won’t apologize.

They don’t see a need to say sorry, explains Brenner, because in their mind, nothing is ever their fault. Toxic people will attempt to gain sympathy and attention by playing the victim.

8. They always have to be right.

It may be a way to control their pain, according to Anderson, so they go overboard trying to prove they’re right. This may be one of their most off-putting traits, and potentially connected to narcissism.

9. They mistreat people.

Toxic people lie, are jealous, hold grudges, and may delight in seeking revenge or “punishing” people who have mistreated them.

Introverts: How to Deal With Toxic People Who Drain the Life Out of You

Both introverts and extroverts can fall victim to toxic people, and both introverts and extroverts can be toxic themselves. Unfortunately for us “quiet ones,” toxic people may move in because we tend to be good listeners, willing to help, and conscientious of others. Once toxic people are in our lives, the energy drain can be very real — because introverts have limited social energy to begin with.

Sometimes a toxic person just isn’t worth the trouble, so don’t feel bad about purposely spending less time with them (or removing yourself from the relationship completely). When you can’t limit your exposure to a toxic person — say, when it’s a coworker, family member, or someone else you have to see on a regular basis — your first defense is strong, healthy boundaries. Here are some tips to set them:

Start by asking yourself who are you and what do you stand for.

You can’t protect your identity and space if you have no idea what those things look like, writes Brenda Knowles, author of The Quiet Rise of Introverts.

Ask yourself:

  • What do I stand for?
  • Who am I apart from my relationships?
  • Where do I draw the line regarding values, personal space, and the amount of time and effort I’m willing to give? (For example, you might decide that you simply cannot tolerate people making racist or sexist jokes.)

Discovering the answers to these questions is the first step to setting better boundaries with toxic people. Journal your answers, talk them out with a trusted friend, or simply reflect on them in the privacy of your mind, as introverts tend to do.

Know the signs of your boundaries being crossed.

Psychologist Dana Gionta explains that you should look for the two signs of your boundaries being crossed: discomfort and resentment.

When someone crosses your boundaries, you may feel a sense of being forced out of your comfort zone, or you may feel angry, nervous, or on edge. The key is to acknowledge that you’re experiencing these feelings for a reason. They’re signposts that let you know important information about yourself and your current situation.

For example, a toxic person may drop by your home unexpectedly even though you’ve told them this isn’t okay. When you explain your introvert need to mentally prepare before socializing, they dismiss you or laugh it off. It’s normal to feel anger in this situation; pay attention to it, and use it to identify toxicity.

You don’t need permission.

As children, it was drilled into our heads that we had to ask the adults in our lives for permission. Permission to go to a friend’s house. Permission to use the bathroom during class. According to Michaela Chung, founder of Introvert Spring, it’s no wonder that many of us continue asking for permission even when we grow up!

You don’t have to ask anyone for permission to set healthy boundaries and do what’s right for you. No matter how much a toxic person pressures you, give yourself permission to do things like:

  • Spend one day or evening a week alone, recharging
  • Say no to group activities, provided that you do it in a polite way
  • Leave a social event before you feel completely drained, even if you’re the first one to go

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Say no.

Some people will understand your need for healthy boundaries without you even having to say anything. This usually happens when people are similar in their personalities, communication styles, and general approach to life, explains Gionta. With toxic people, you’ll have to spell out exactly what you need or want, and politely but firmly say no.

Let go of guilt.

When you start putting your foot down, there are two things that typically happen: There is backlash from the toxic person, which results in you feeling guilt, according to psychotherapist Jennifer Twardowski.

Remember that it’s normal to feel guilty in a situation like this — but you don’t have to live in guilt. Instead of rehashing the drama in your mind, do some self-care. Go on a walk alone, exercise, get out in nature, or anything else that gets you re-centered.

If someone else wants to talk about the drama of what happened, don’t even go there, because that can keep the stress alive. Politely tell the other person that you’re moving on.

“Remember that your emotions are valid,” writes Twardowski. “For that reason, you are not wrong for setting your boundary. In fact, you are taking care of yourself, which is something that we should all do above all else.”

(For more boundary-setting tips, read this post, How to Set Better Boundaries When You’re a Peace-Loving Introvert.)

Introverts, how have you dealt with toxic people in your life? Let me know in the comments below. 

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Jenn Granneman is the founder of IntrovertDear.com and the author of The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World. Jenn is a contributor to Psychology Today, HuffPost, Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution, Upworthy, The Mighty, The Muse, Motherly, and a number of other outlets. She has appeared on the BBC and in Buzzfeed and Glamour magazine. Jenn started Introvert, Dear because she wanted to write about what it was like being an introvert living in an extrovert's world. Now she's on a mission: to let introverts everywhere know it's okay to be who they are.