Toxic people are everywhere, and if left unchecked they can have serious negative consequences in our lives. It took me years to identify the different types that we all encounter. Here is how to identify toxic people around you, and what do about them when you find them.
Toxic people are self-centered, and hurt the people around them in order to get their own way. While their motivations and tactics differ, a toxic person is willing to sacrifice any relationship, person, or organization as a means of achieving their own desires.
The toxic people in our lives come in a wide variety of forms. From my own experience, here are the four most destructive types of toxic people and what to do about them.
Narcissists are individuals that suffer from a pathological need to stoke their own egos. While this comes from a deep-seated low self-esteem, narcissists will outwardly portray extreme self-confidence and foster a grandiose narrative about themselves.
Narcissist tend to have the following traits —
- Need constant approval of others
- Overly critical of other’s work
- Emotionally manipulative in order to cultivate admiration
- Compulsively lie and tell stories
- Cannot accept any form of critique or criticism
Probably the most dangerous character on this list, the psychopath is outwardly perceived as being extremely likable, competent, and put together. What makes them dangerous is their complete lack of empathy, callousness, and detachment.
Unlike narcissists, which are over-reactive to the opinions of those around them, psychopaths couldn’t care less. At some level, they just can’t comprehend the pain of others, and don’t see any bound of morality or ethics as applying to them.
Psychopaths are more than willing to sacrifice those around them to get what they want. Their motivations are not always clear, but typically involve some form of power or control over others. However, psychopaths are prone to boredom and compulsive excitement seeking, which may make some of their actions seem random or aimless.
Psychopaths tend to have the following traits —
- Glibness or superficial charm
- Pathological lying
- Parasitic lifestyle
- Poor behavioral controls
- Lack of realistic long term goals
- Promiscuous sexual behavior
(These signs based on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist)
The Pathological Liar
Pathological liars are people with a compulsive need to lie, but without the necessity for personal gain.
While almost every character on this list will employ lies or lie compulsively as part of their mental condition, pathological liars are unique in that they don’t do lie for some perceived sense of gain. From the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law the following are commonly accepted qualities of a pathological liar:
[With pathological liars] the lies are often repeated over a period of years, with the lies eventually becoming a lifestyle; material reward or social advantage does not appear to be the primary motivating force but the lying is an end in itself; an inner dynamic rather than an external reason drives the lies, but when an external reason is suspected, the lies are far in excess of the suspected external reason; the lies are often woven into complex narratives.
For instance, there is the case of Judge Patrick Couwenberg, removed from the California bench in 2001, after making false statements for years. Some of the most outlandish include that he was part of secret CIA activities in South East Asia, and that he had earned a Masters in Psychology, when in reality he had never been part of the CIA and had never earned any psychology degree of any kind.
What makes the pathological liar toxic is the fact that they inject so much falsehood over time in to personal and professional relationship. Pathological liars can poison the reputation organizations and businesses to the highest level.
A sociopath is a person that has difficulty fitting within the bounds of society. Often confused with psychopaths, sociopaths differ in that they do have a sense of remorse when they wrong others, although probably much less than normal.
The unique characteristic of sociopaths is that they tend to be erratic, coming across as irresponsible, disturbed, or unhinged. Sociopaths tend toward open impulsiveness, risky behavior, and in some cases aggression. Traits of a sociopath include:
- Lack of empathy
- Manipulative behavior
- Difficulty in relationships
- Risky Behavior
Antisocial behavior is a broad classification applied to people that are able to consistently act badly, break trust, and trample rules without a sense of remorse. In technical circles, psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists are all considered to have antisocial personality disorder. But, there are many more varieties not as well known as those that fall in to this group.
Antisocial people are tend toward criminality, impulsiveness, aggression, compulsive lying, animal cruelty, and irritability. Often, these behaviors lead them down the road of drugs and alcohol abuse.
People with antisocial characteristics also tend to suffer from the following relation conditions:
- Anxiety disorders
- Depressive disorder
- Impulse control disorders
- Substance-related disorders
- Somatization disorder
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Histrionic personality disorder
- Narcissistic personality disorder
- Sadistic personality disorder
What to Do About Toxic People
When you have identified a toxic person in your life, you must be very careful how you handle the situation. Overly sudden or dramatic moves can make you the target of reprisal from the toxic individual.
The first most important step is to get help and identify the lies, falsehoods, and manipulations the toxic person is using against you. In this aspect, coaching from knowledgeable advisers is extremely helpful if not essential in extreme cases.
Once you have gotten your head free of the toxic person’s projected delusions, then you can take steps to distance yourself, dissolve the relationship, or set healthy boundaries as the case dictates.