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How to Spot a Toxic Person

Do you have a toxic person in your life?

Draining, non-supportive and difficult people are one of life’s greatest challenges. In this post, I want to talk about how you can spot, stop and deal with the toxic people who come into your life. You deserve to have people in your life who you enjoy spending time with, who support you and who you LOVE hanging out with.

Here’s the problem: Guilt

Whenever I talk about toxic people, the same categories seem to crop up over and over again:

  • Friend by History: This is a person who you have known forever. Maybe you went to elementary school together or you were neighbors growing up. Now you feel guilty ending the relationship.
  • Friend by Proximity: This is a person who comes as a package with someone else in your life. Maybe it’s your partner’s best friend or your friend’s brother who always tags along or your best friend’s childhood friend. You feel guilty because you don’t want to put your person in an awkward situation.
  • Friend by Context: This is a person who you see all the time in a specific area of your life–someone you work with everyday. Someone on your flag football team. Someone who lives across the hall. You feel guilty brushing them off because you see them all the dang time.

Sometimes these relationships are casual, but other times they can grow rotten. You end up keeping someone in your life who is jealous or has a totally different set of ethics, and this is when they become toxic.

7 Types of Toxic People:

Here are the 7 types of toxic people to watch out for:

#1: Conversational Narcissist

Have you ever been talking to someone who keeps interrupting you? Maybe I should revise that sentence: have you ever been trying to talk to someone who won’t let you get a word in? Conversational narcissists LOVE to talk about themselves—or just hear themselves talk. They don’t ask you any questions, they don’t wait for your responses and they won’t shut up. In a relationship, these people will end up being completely self-centered and never be attentive to your needs.

#2: The Straight Jacket

The straight jacket is someone who wants to control everything and everyone around them. They want to be in charge of what you do, what you say and even what you think. You know the person I am talking about–they freak out when you disagree with them and won’t stop trying to convince you that they are right and you should do what they say. In a relationship, this person will give you no breathing room and will constantly nag you until you are in complete alignment with them. Be careful, these people will go after your emotional, conversational and mental freedom until you have nothing left. Get out while you can!

#3: Emotional Moocher

An emotional moocher is also known as a spiritual vampire because they tend to suck the positivity out of you or bleed you emotionally dry. These are the kinds of people who always have something sad, negative or pessimistic to say. In conversations and relationships, they can never see the positive and tend to bring everyone down with them. If you’re with someone and they only have bad things to say whenever you see them, watch out, it might not get better.

#4: Drama Magnet

Some toxic people are magnets for drama. Something is always wrong. Always. And of course, once a problem is solved, another one emerges. And they only want your empathy, sympathy and support–but not your advice! You offer help and solutions, but they never seem to want to fix anything. Instead they complain and complain. In a relationship, drama magnets are victims and thrive in a crisis because it makes them feel important. If someone is a beacon for adversity, watch out, you might one day become part of the drama.

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#5: A JJ

My friends and I can spot a JJ from a mile away and I want to show you how to as well. A JJ is a jealous-judgmental person. Jealous people are incredibly toxic because they have so much internal self-hate that they can’t be happy for anyone around them. And typically, their jealousy comes out as judgment, criticism or gossip. According to them, everyone else is awful, uncool or lacking in some way. If someone starts to jealously gossip with you about other people, watch out, this might be a toxic person—and you never know what they say about you behind your back.

#6: The Fibber

I had a lot of liars in my life before I learned human lie detection. Liars, fibbers, exaggerators… it’s exhausting to have a toxic deceiver in your life. Whether they tell little falsehoods or major lies, it’s impossible to trust a liar in a relationship. Dishonesty drains us because we are constantly doubting their words. If your intuition is ringing alarm bells, then watch out, get out before you’re lied to.

#7: A Tank

A tank crushes everything in its wake. A human tank is always right, doesn’t take anyone else’s feelings or ideas into account and constantly puts themselves first. In a relationship, tanks are incredibly arrogant and see their personal opinions as facts. This is because they often think they are the smartest person in the room and so they see every conversation and person as a challenge that must be won over. They rarely see others as equals—and this can be challenging when trying to form a loving connection. If you feel your ideas are being run over, or you are not being respected, get out while you still can!

How to Deal with Toxicity

Did someone pop into your head as I explained these toxic personality types? If you have someone in your life who you dread seeing, who doesn’t respect your opinions or makes you feel bad about yourself in any way, then you need to just say no. Do you feel:

  • You have to constantly save this person and fix their problems
  • You are covering up or hiding for them
  • You dread seeing them
  • You feel drained after being with them
  • You get angry, sad or depressed when you are around them
  • They cause you to gossip or be mean
  • You feel you have to impress them
  • You’re affected by their drama or problems
  • They ignore your needs and don’t hear ‘no’

You deserve to have wonderful, supportive and loving people in your life. In fact, life is too short to spend time with people who don’t help you be your best self. I hope you will use this article as your immunization against toxic people!

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About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a published author and behavioral investigator. She is a Huffington Post columnist and her courses and research has been featured on CNN, Forbes, Business Week and the Wall Street Journal. As a published Penguin author, Vanessa regularly speaks and appears in the media to talk about her research. She is a sought after consultant and speaker.


    1. Danielle McRae

      Thanks for checking it out, Nejc. Welcome to the Science of People community!

      Danielle | Science of People Team

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  2. Dany

    Hi! It would be great if you could make a video about what happens and what to do when YOU’re the toxic one :
    Thanks! 🙂

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  4. michael

    Add one more – someone is always blaming others for the internal responses that cause them pain. Living in denial they dissociate from what is going on inside of themselves and conclude they must get away from the people that “make” them feel what was already inside of them!

    Don’t try to get away from this person, do your inner worn and heal 🙂

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  6. Faye

    My 37-year-old stepson and his 35-year-old wife never seem to come around myself and my husband until they want us to babysit their kids. Since both my husband and I are retired, they seem to think that all we should be doing now is babysitting for them while they work. I have babysat for them in the past, but this one particular time they came by early one morning without calling me to drop their child off for me to watch all day. I didn’t appreciate that especially because I wasn’t feeling well. I let them know that. They both got upset with me and didn’t visited us in two years . They only started coming back around two weeks ago, the day before school started. And even then they were “hinting” about us babysitting their kids. They are both fully employed and day care centers are available . It appears that they only want to use us, particularly , me as a day care center. I really get negative vibes whenever they are around.

  7. Terri

    After 35 years I just ended a business partnership with a person who has every trait listed. When the partnership was ending they would call me a insult me. The day it ended I was so happy, 8am another bad phone call ending with them telling me that they were going to directly compete with me in business. This has been working overtime stealing employees and spreading hate about me. The employees who left have been offered the world. This is the sad part, this person is my brother, I have kids and they really loved him. After he called and told me he plans to ruin my business I decided that my kids could no longer go stay at his house. These people are so scary, once you get on third bad side they seem to be solely focused on destruction.


    My husband of five years has the sympyoms of a toxic person. He does not want me to express my feelings and he reacts with anger outbursts. He is very dishonest, cheating . We are now separated for six months .he is not protective of me and insensitive. hE had a tendency of lashing out at me in public.This has drained me as now i dont want to him near me. Whenever he is around, i feel very depressed. I now feel stress free since we are separated.

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  10. Joan miller

    I have learned a lot from this, and now I know I’ll be staying away from a person who is very toxic to me . I’ll not let her into my life again. Thanks.

  11. Bleu

    Thank you! This helps a lot. I spend years figuring out why I put up and believe certain people to just realize that their traits are listed in one of the types. You helped me to understand it better.

  12. Emma

    Thank you for this useful article, and your whole website in general – I love it!

    I had a question: I recognise someone close to me in one of the toxic person personas (#5). However, I care about him deeply and think it has to do with a lack of self confidence. Do you have any tips or a follow up article on how to handle these different types of personas?

    Thank you!

  13. Ameliarose14

    I grew up with this person-she and I were best friends as kids. We had fallen out of contact after awhile, but about 7 years ago we ran into each other again. At first, it was like the “old days”, just laughing and joking, having a good time. Suddenly though, it was like a switch was flipped in her mind as soon as I confided some rather personal struggles with her. Suddenly she was using that information I had trusted her with, as a way to constantly hurt me. For so long, I really did believe maybe I was over-reacting by no longer wanting to associate myself with her. It took 6 years to finally realize that she was an incredibly toxic individual-she was real quick to use my husband and I for a lot of money and even stole from us (we will never get any of the money back). Then I heard her bragging how she stole from one of her neighbors when they were out of town for a week. Then it clicked for me: I NEEDED to get her out of my life, and only when I looked at it from the perspective of “this is wrong; I have to start taking care of myself emotionally; I can’t continue wondering if it’s me, when I know that it’s not.” that I finally got her out of my life. I told her flat out that I deserved much better in a friend, that she was clearly never my friend, because of her behavior towards me, and that I was done with her and her bs. Despite her tears, and all the other crap she tried to come up with to try to make me take pity on her, I walked away-I have NO regrets about that. If I had to do it all again, it wouldn’t take me 6 years to walk away, but “you live and you learn” as some people say. Nothing more than a valuable and tough life lesson.

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  15. Carlos

    Hi, that’s realy serious stuff 🙂 Could I ask you, how to act when you feel some “toxicity” from one of your parents? I mean someone, who is certainly not the one you want to cut off from your life.. Do you have to accept it and be aware, or are there any magic methods how to nicely change the person? (I’ve read that change someone is almost impossible :).

  16. Natalia

    These are great, Vanessa. As I talk to people about health, understanding how to recognize toxic people can be a difference between falling into a depression a living a happy healthy life. Toxic people’s influence can actually manifest in stress-related physical symptoms, from insomnia, to weight gain, to cardiovascular issues.
    I’m definitely sharing this with my community! You are awesome, as always.

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  19. Gustavo M.G.

    Hi Vanessa!
    Your video is great!
    I read quite a lot about this kind of people but your explanation is the best.
    I also ask to myself: What can we do if the toxic person is an important client? Or perhaps a boss?
    Bye, Bye and nice to see you again.

  20. rebecca owen

    After reading several postings of toxic people I began to think that maybe I am a “toxic” person… some symptoms apply, others are not me. For example I am a pretty honest person, my home has always been open to my friends and my kids friends.. I am pretty concerned about people, eg. homeless people, or minority people on public transportation.. but… I do come into a room like a storm, and do request to eat where I would prefer, or a movie I prefer.. I do share all the things that befall me, bureaucratically, financilly.. bills and things..and about some relationships. I always apologize when I do or say something wrong …after reviewing same.. and yet my family mainly treat me like a toxic person.. and yet, I have always had good friends in every city or country or school I went to. In fact, some friends date back to my first 20 years, others, the next, and so I am 80 and barely surviving.. So am I toxic? I know I am often depressed for good reason and lonely.. though I do love to read and go to my park, or a movie, but not so much to another person’s house to be indoors.. cause I like being home alone.

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