How often have you been told that you are a toxic person?
How did you feel about it? How did you react to this? And, what did you do about it?
When you are told on multiple occasions by multiple people that your behavior is toxic, it is time you look inward and do basic research. You should know toxic behavior because you are the first one to point it out in others. But, at times, we ignore this in ourselves.
Often our own toxic behavior is unintentional or out of ignorance. Use this opportunity to unearth this undesirable trait in you and get rid of it. Now, the questions that pop up are what exactly constitutes toxicity and how to detect it. Are you a toxic person and how to stop being toxic?
Let’s begin at the beginning and understand what qualifies as toxic behavior.
Who is a toxic person?
A person who habitually hurts others and negatively impacts the lives of others is a toxic person. Any relationship they are part of turns out to be a toxic relationship.
Not all hurtful and negative behavior can be termed toxic. When it is an integral part of one’s personality and if the action is performed intentionally, it is considered toxic behavior. A toxic person tends to derive enjoyment from this act.
Even if you are not aware, toxic behavior can creep into your mind and take control of your actions. This means that it is not possible to rule out toxicity based on your ignorance about it. The truth is you need to consider various aspects of your behavior to figure out whether your action is toxic or not.
The good news is toxicity can be completely eradicated.
Signs of toxic behavior in you
It is not easy to spot toxic behavior in yourself, though it comes naturally to you to point out in others. Having a checklist of signs can help you figure it out.
- You always speak in a sarcastic tone.
- You have a hard time dealing with tricky situations.
- You show your hostility in a secretive fashion. Silent treatment, sulky behavior, subtle insults, and stubbornness are your thing.
- You approach every situation competitively.
- You make a joke out of every uncomfortable situation.
- You want to find a fix for every issue you come across.
- You wish for things to go bad so that you will get more attention. You love pity parties.
- You never miss a chance to point fingers at others’ faults. You think that this will help them improve.
- You think “changing the mindset” is the solution to most problems.
- You are overbearing and push your opinion on others.
- You judge others mercilessly, often without realizing it.
- You feel you are better than others.
- You fail to recognize the merits in others.
- You fail to see others’ requests for help.
- You take everything personally.
- You are obsessed with negative thoughts.
- You treat yourself as a victim.
- You lack empathy or can’t see others’ perspectives.
- Your reactions often border on the extreme.
- You are always seeking validation.
Why do you display toxic behavior?
From the time you suspected that you may have toxic traits, you must be troubled by this question. Where is this toxic behavior coming from? Even when you spotted the same in others and pointed it out without fail, you never ever imagined that you are one of the “toxic people”.
Most of us are toxic without being conscious of it. The reason for this is simple enough to understand. We are merely copying the behavior of other toxic people. When you choose the wrong role model for yourself, this is one of the fallouts that may happen.
Another reason for toxicity creeping unawares in your behavior is when you suffered some really bad phase in life. Everything you attempt tends to go wrong. This will make you feel pessimistic and angry at the world in general. When this phase lasts longer, it will slowly change into permanent toxic behavior.
Often victims of toxic behavior themselves display toxicity later on in life. Moreover, toxicity always begins small and gains in intensity if allowed to develop unchecked.
Just because you display toxic behavior now doesn’t mean you are doomed or condemned for life. You imbibed this behavior by mistake or unawares. With a little bit of effort, unlearning toxic behaviors is possible.
All you need to focus on is to return to your old self and invest your time and attention in personal growth. Learn from the experience and move on.
How to get rid of my toxic behaviors?
Once you recognize your negative behavior, the first step is to accept it. Then and only then, unlearning toxic behavior is possible.
You should be able to admit to yourself without reservations that you are capable of being negative, cruel, too needy, self-obsessed, or emotionally reactive. You should acknowledge that you lack empathy and tend to play victim at every opportunity. You judge others, seek validation, and try to fix every problem in your own way.
Toxicity may come out in different ways but the simple truth is that they are all harmful to others. After you accept your faults, it is time for action.
1. Take an effort to understand how you hurt others.
Talk to your victims and listen to their grievances. This is really hard not just for you, but also for the person you hurt. Allow them to express themselves freely. Keep an open mind and don’t intervene to justify your actions. Neither should you try to minimize or deflect the blame.
When you are on the dock, your natural instinct is to defend yourself. You may be tempted to view it as a personal attack. Do remember that your victim is doing you a favor by recounting the harrowing incident. They are being patient and courageous, despite being afraid and uncomfortable. Once they have said their piece, begin your reply with a heartfelt apology.
Not all your victims will be ready to talk about the harassment they endured at your hands. In those cases, you need to introspect by yourself.
2. Recognize that you are toxic.
When you are accused of toxic behavior, you naturally try to defend yourself or ignore it or deflect the blame. Resist that reaction. Take a deep breath and pause. Count to ten if need be. Give yourself enough time to think before saying something.
Curb your instinct to lash out and deny the charges. You need to figure out a way to acknowledge the hurt you have caused others. Most probably, the situation is making you uncomfortable and you find yourself in uncharted waters.
You should not run away from this either. Disregard your urge to judge the other person and dismiss their grievances. Consider this as an opportunity for self-improvement. Do it for your own sake and not for others. You will find it easier to change.
2. Accept your mistakes.
Needless to say, it takes a big heart to accept that you have done something wrong and take responsibility for your behavior. We, humans, are pretty good at making excuses. Don’t bother to justify your actions.
You may do self-introspection to satisfy yourself, but these are not for public consumption. Then, these same arguments will turn into excuses and excuses can only make matters worse. It is as if you are shirking your responsibility.
Instead, try to own up to your mistakes and apologize. Avoid words like “if” and “but” in your apology as it will take away its sincerity.
4. Don’t try to hide your vulnerability.
In most cases, the need to hide the vulnerability is the prime reason for toxic behavior. Because negativity can overshadow most other issues including your vulnerability.
To overcome this, you may have to get help from others. It would be hard for you to deal with this on your own. Again, revealing your vulnerabilities to a known person may not be a comfortable choice. A therapist would be a good choice for you.
Therapists are trained to deal with toxic people and they offer you an environment free of judgment for you to express yourself and your concern freely.
5. Promise yourself that you will change.
You may begin the process in earnest but the difficulty may make you quit even before you started. Commit yourself that you will weed out this undesirable element from your behavior and you will turn a new leaf.
In this journey, you will encounter numerous hurdles and roadblocks. You may even go back to your old ways. Stay resolute in your commitment. Haul yourself back to the right path and continue your journey towards a better you.
You need to reassure yourself again and again that you are capable of change and you can do what you set out to achieve. Remember that it is easy to give up and tell yourself, “This is just the person I am and this is how I will remain the rest of my life”.
Toxicity is not an inherited trait. Often it is absorbed from the environment. With some willpower, you can manage to free yourself from this undesirable behavior.
6. Don’t expect your victims to forgive you.
Come to think of it, it is not fair to expect this either. But we all are guilty of this. We feel that when we put in the effort and admit to our mistakes, it is only fair that our victims should forgive us. Some of them do, some don’t.
Don’t consider forgiveness from people you hurt as a reward for your act of apology. Then, you are doing it all wrong. The apology itself is the reward. Moreover, no one owes you anything, especially your victims. After all that they have suffered at your hands, you should be thankful that they are sparing you the time to hear your apology.
It is understandable if your victims don’t want to interact with you or get involved with you in any manner. You should recognize their need to prioritize their welfare and move on. Allow them to heal in their own way.
What you need to do at this point is to work with yourself and eliminate toxicity from your system and not make it worse for your victims.
You may ask yourself these questions.
- What did you learn?
- Have you shown any improvement?
- How can you do better?
- How do all these changes make you feel?
Finding answers to these questions can help you own up to responsibility and hold yourself accountable. This will help you in the process of healing and self-improvement.
7. Let yourself off the hook.
Last but not least important is to forgive yourself for your mistake. Holding yourself accountable doesn’t mean you need to feel guilty as well. Accept and understand your mistakes and make a sincere effort to change. You cannot do better than this.
Remember that as long as you feel hurt, you are going to take it out on others and continue on the same old path. Stop feeling hurt and see how your behavior is transforming.
Resist the tendency to see yourself as a toxic person. Just choose to accept that you displayed some toxic behavior. As long as you can recognize the difference between these two, you are home safe.
This process is neither simple nor easy. If you can’t manage this by yourself, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Don’t feel ashamed, guilty, or hard on yourself. You are only making matters worse. Be kind and compassionate to yourself. Love and embrace yourself. Give yourself time and space to heal.
At the end of the process, pat yourself on the back for being honest and courageous. Not everyone can do what you just did. Admitting our mistakes is not in our DNA. With this step, you have accomplished one of the hardest things a human being can do.
Already so many books exist to guide toxic people away from their toxicity and so many more are coming out every day. This means you are not in this alone.