Why Some Introverts Are a Favorite Target of Toxic People

IntrovertDear.com introverts attract toxic people

When you read the phrase, “toxic people,” who in your life comes to mind? Your father-in-law, a coworker, an old high school friend, or perhaps even a parent? If you’re an introvert, chances are good that there’s a toxic person in your life.

Toxic people are manipulative. Their whole goal in life is to get other people to do what they want. They use people as a means to an end — because it’s all about them.

Toxic people will wreak havoc on your life if you let them.

To be clear, the phrase “toxic person” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not the whole person that is toxic. Their behavior is, or your relationship with them has become toxic. Often, toxic people have been deeply wounded by someone else, and they have not yet taken responsibility for their feelings, their needs, and the problems that result.

In this article, let’s explore why introverts tend to attract toxic people, and how they can set better boundaries to minimize their effect.

Why Some Introverts Attract Toxic People

It’s possible for extroverts to attract toxic people, too, but there are two reasons introverts are even more prone to it.

First, many introverts are good listeners. They’re generally not clamoring to make their voice heard. In fact, it’s usually quite the opposite: In unfamiliar social settings or in large groups, introverts tend to remain quiet, unless they have something of real value to say. And in our extrovert-obsessed society, when you remain quiet, you open up a space for others to move in.

Because toxic people put themselves first, they have no problem moving into that space and taking over. They have no problem dominating the conversation, and by extension, attempting to dominate the introvert’s life.

At first, introverts may welcome someone who takes the initiative and moves the conversation and relationship forward. But this isn’t all toxic people do. Soon they’ll start taking more than they give and ignoring or outright disrespecting your expressed needs and desires. They may lie, try to control you, or be arrogant or overly negative. They may take up too much of your time, too much of your energy, and too much of your life. You feel worse — not better, like you should — after spending time with them.

And this brings us to the second reason us “quiet ones” attract toxic people: For many introverts, it’s hard to say no. It takes a lot of energy to verbally spar with a strong-willed personality and explain your needs. As a result, many introverts simply go with the flow — which is exactly what a toxic person feeds on.

How Introverts Can Set Better Boundaries

Once toxic people are entrenched in your life, they may be hard to uproot. However, you can learn to set better boundaries to keep them from taking more from you than they should. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but even a few baby steps in the right direction can make a big difference. Here are five steps that you should take.

1. 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 it’s just not okay for people to drop by your home unannounced, or that you simply can’t tolerate people making racist or sexist jokes.

Discovering the answers to these questions is the first step to setting better boundaries. 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.

2. Know the signs of your boundaries being crossed.

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

When a toxic person (or anyone!) 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.

3. Quit asking others for 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. 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, you can give yourself permission to do things like:

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

4. Get comfortable saying 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 other people — especially toxic people — you’ll have to spell out exactly what you need or want, and politely but firmly say no.

5. Let go of guilt.

When boundaries in a relationship have been weak for a while, and you start setting your foot down, there are two things that typically happen: There is backlash from the other person, which results in you feeling guilt, writes psychotherapist Jennifer Twardowski.

Remember that it’s normal to feel guilty in a situation like this — but you don’t have to live in your guilt. Instead of rehashing the drama in your mind, do some self-care. Go on a walk alone, exercise, get out in nature, or doing 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 just keeps the stress alive. Politely tell the other person that you’re moving on from the situation, and you’d rather not to talk about it.

“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.” 

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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. She also cohosts The Introvert, Dear Podcast and blogs for Psychology Today. For most of her life, Jenn felt weird, different, and out of place because of her quiet ways. She writes about introversion because she doesn’t want other introverts to feel the way she did.