Are You Toxic? Ways to Tell (And How to Stop)

Tara Blair Ball

If you find yourself wondering why some of your relationships have ended, it might be because you’re exhibiting some toxic behaviors.
Photo by Mathilde LMD on Unsplash

In my early 20s, I became intensely close to a girl named Laura. I’d just moved to the area a couple of years before and struggled to find my “place,” so she was my first real friend in a while. I idolized and envied her. She seemed so carefree and happy, beautiful and cheerful.

We were both adamant about not dating for a year, but not even six months into it, she started talking to a few guys who kept breadcrumbing her.

Why do you keep talking to these stupid guys?” I railed her.

“Because I want to! What’s the big deal?” she snapped.

You can probably tell where this is going. The more she chased after these dudes, the more jealous and possessive I got. I wanted her to be my friend and only my friend. I didn’t want to share her, and eventually, it became too much, and she drifted away from me.

That’s hard for me to write because I remember feeling so lonely and hurt that the only close friend I’d had in a few years was now moving away from me. I didn’t have the kind of supportive community everyone needs to grow and thrive, and that came out in some behaviors I now know (thanks to therapy) were very unhealthy.

One of the definitions of the word “toxic” on Urban Dictionary is, “a word describing any destructive behavior or personality.”

It is important to differentiate a toxic “person” from a toxic “behavior.” Someone who commits a toxic “behavior” isn’t toxic; we aren’t the sum of one or even several ugly behaviors. We all make mistakes, and we all likely lack some self-awareness too.

I wasn’t aware at the time of how toxic I was being with that friend because I was stuck in my emotions. I didn’t want to be alone again, and that’s what motivated me to act the way I did.

If you find yourself, like me, wondering why some of your relationships have ended, it might be because you are exhibiting some toxic behaviors you’re not aware of. Here are ten major ones:

1. People avoid you or end their relationships with you.

This is often the first indicator that something is wrong. If you keep having relationships end abruptly, it might be because you’re harming them in some way.

People will make an effort to spend time with you if they enjoy it. If they don’t, they’ll make an effort to be as far away from you as possible.

2. You’re judgmental and hypercritical of other people’s choices.

Whenever we’re judgmental of other people, we’re implying we’re better than them, and no one likes to feel inferior to someone else.

“I can’t believe you’re talking to that guy again,” I told my friend.

“I know,” she said. “I just like him, and he did send me a text…”

People need the freedom to make whatever choices they want to without judgment from their friends and loved ones. Making mistakes is how we all grow and change. No one is going to handle something perfectly, and I can’t assume or act like I know better when I make just as many mistakes.

3. You’re controlling.

Do you try to make other people do what you think they should? Are you blunt and rude even?

It’s all about your intention. If you’re purposefully trying to have power over another person, you’ve become controlling. You aren’t letting other people be who they are, and no one wants to be changed.

4. You don’t apologize.

Asking for forgiveness is an amazing way to be vulnerable with another person. You’re admitting you weren’t perfect in front of someone else, which can be scary, but is important for building and fostering intimate relationships.

If you choose never to apologize, even when it’s obvious you were at fault, then there’s no chance you’re going to build an intimate relationship. You might not realize this is what you’re doing, but if the words, “I’m sorry” don’t pass your lips and instead you keep making up excuses or doing #5, then you’re not a person most people would want to be close to.

5. You’re never responsible for anything.

Life is unfair, but if you find that you are always the victim, then it’s likely your thinking, not your life, that might actually be the problem.

For example, you might find yourself saying something like, “My boss just won’t leave me alone! I don’t understand why she’s always up my ass!” Well, what’s the deal? Is your boss really unfairly targeting you, or is she just trying to hold you accountable for showing up for work on time and you don’t like it? Is there some part of this equation that you should look at?

No one cares to be around victims. Life is hard enough that we don’t need to hear constantly about anyone else’s problems.

6. You’re a taker instead of a giver.

When someone is kind to you, it’s always good to consider, “When was the last time I was kind to someone else?” Like if someone gives you a thoughtful gift, maybe you need to consider someone in your life who could benefit from receiving something from you, even if it was just a nice note.

We can’t always be focused on what we can get from others. We do have to start looking at how we can help other people too. If you look back over the last three months and you can’t remember the last time you did something for someone else, you’re a “taker.” Often people get exhausted “giving” to someone who never reciprocates.

7. You take things personally.

Your friend is going through a rough time and they ask for some space. Instead of respecting their request, you assume that they’re mad at you and not being honest.

You’re hurt, and you decide to retaliate. You blow up their phone. Call them selfish and bring up things they told you in the past (“You told me your mom used to do this all the time. I can’t believe you’re now doing this to me!”). You talk badly to everyone around them.

Not everything is about you, but when you make it that way, you ensure other people are not going to want anything to do with you.

8. You don’t celebrate the success of others.

I used to think that life was a zero-sum game, like if someone got something, that meant I wasn’t going to get it too. If someone got a book deal, a job, had a baby, etc., I thought that meant that the cosmic muffin in the sky had given MY gift to them.

Because I thought I was being “deprived,” I wasn’t happy if people got something, even if I knew they deserved it. I couldn’t get over feeling like they were walking away with what I was supposed to get.

Friends and loved ones need to show love and support for one another, and we aren’t doing that if we don’t make sure to celebrate the good stuff.

9. You can’t keep a secret.

Open and honest communication is necessary to building healthy relationships. Divulging the secrets your people share with you is thus a major form of betrayal.

We often might find ourselves wanting to share secrets because we love gossiping or we don’t really care about the person, so we just want the goods on them. If someone is gossiping TO you, they’re gossiping ABOUT you.

The only way to have healthy honest relationships is to be trustworthy. You can’t do that if you run your mouth whenever you learn someone’s darkest awfuls.

10. You make passive-aggressive comments.

Healthy relationships begin at the intersection of trust and safety. We can build both trust and safety by communicating clearly. Making passive-aggressive comments, though, is the exact opposite of clear communication.

Passive-aggression is actual aggression that is spilling over. It usually means that we’re hurt and angry and need to communicate something directly to our friend, loved one, etc.

Here are some examples:

“Why are you getting upset?”
“I was only joking.”
“I told you I’m fine.”

These sorts of comments throw the other person off-kilter and make them wonder wtf is going on.

How To Stop

If you can relate to any of the points I listed above, you’ve done the first step by identifying some of your toxic behaviors. We can’t change things we aren’t aware of.

To move forward and reduce and then eliminate these undesirable actions, work on recognizing why and when you act out on these behaviors. Is it only when you’re around certain people or settings? Is it because you’re feeling fearful? Deprived? Are you wanting to fit in? Or are you being just a little self-centered?

If you struggle figuring this out or want to make sure you tackle these issues, get help. I personally got a lot of benefit from working with a therapist.

Identifying ugly traits about yourself isn’t fun, but it’s necessary to making real lasting change. Be kind to yourself. Know that things won’t get fixed overnight, but you can keep learning as you go. One day hopefully, you’ll become the kind of person no one would ever call “toxic.”

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Certified Relationship Coach and Writer. E-mail:

Memphis, TN

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