How to Tell if Someone is Toxic

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Is there someone in your life that you suspect may be a toxic person to you? The answer to how to tell if someone is toxic, may surprise you.

A toxic relationship is extremely damaging to your mental and physical health and it is worth taking the time to consider how to tell if someone is toxic.

While most online searches about toxic people, give you a list of things that toxic people do–the most definitive way to tell if a person is toxic is by the way you feel after interactions with this person. Of course, we all have days when we or another person is “off.” With toxic people, it happens often or most of the time.

A toxic relationship is extremely damaging to your mental and physical health. Yet, it can be confusing at times. Here is how to tell if someone is toxic.

If you are often left feeling bad after contact with a person; it’s possible that they are toxic—at least to you. I’ll go into some other ways that you can make this distinction but it’s important to know right up front, that you aren’t diagnosing or labeling a person as toxic, except as how they relate to you.

This is important. You have to be confident about determining if someone is toxic to you. Because once you accept that they are toxic to you; you can make the important decisions about how you want to interact with that person from then on.

Why This is Different than Most Other Lists

When you are around a Toxic person, you are usually left feeling bad—you might be left feeling hurt, surprised, confused, frustrated, or even angry.

Positive and generally supporting people can have bad days too. You can have an interaction with a friend or family member and feel bad but that doesn’t mean that they are toxic. If it’s once in a while, that’s not a big deal. That’s life.

If you are left feeling bad most of the time when you are around or talking to or thinking about a certain person; then there’s some toxicity there.

Most lists about toxic people focus on their behavior: they lie, they don’t listen, they complain. However, to my way of thinking, your perceptions are more important. Your perception that you don’t feel good is significant.

A toxic relationship is extremely damaging to your mental and physical health. Yet, it can be confusing at times. Here is how to tell if someone is toxic.

What you can be sure about is how you feel. By concentrating on you, the only person you can truly know, you have a more accurate test than checking off a list of attributes that another person has.

You feel something is not right and you feel bad. That’s a good enough reason to start thinking about if someone is toxic.

I’ve had toxic people in my life and while there were some good times, more often than not, they made me feel miserable. It took me a long time to realize that these people were not good for me and that I could trust my perceptions. Once I did that, I was able to take effective action.

How Can I Be Sure if a Person is Toxic?

Okay, so you are quite sure that interactions with a certain person leave you feeling bad, hurt, frustrated, or sad. Here are some additional things you might be experiencing.

You often feel confused about what has just happened. You cannot understand what happened or why they did it.

Sometimes they act nice. Most of us think that people are like us, generally nice and trying to get along. Toxic people aren’t like that. They may occasionally wear the nice mask but they often do things that are not nice at all. Yet, because most of us are pretty nice—it’s really difficult to accept that someone isn’t nice as well. We want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Yet, time and time again, they surprise us with hurtful behavior.

They may act contrite sometimes but it never changes anything. Hurtful things keep happening.

You sometimes feel sick to your stomach. When the hurtful behavior happens yet again, you FEEL actual pain or nausea.

We cling to the thought that they actually care about us and that there’s some other reason that they keep hurting us. It’s very hard to reach the place when we accept that they just don’t care.

We don’t want to label someone as toxic. That’s not right, is it?

Why It’s Not Just Okay to Label Someone as Toxic but Necessary

Well, if you want to free yourself from a toxic person, you have to label them. You don’t have to announce it or publicize it but you must accept that a person is toxic so you can make better decisions about them.

When you gain some kind of acceptance that a person is not good for you; you are in a stronger position to decide what you want to do. But if you keep holding on to some hope that they aren’t really toxic; then you will often keep accepting bad behavior that leaves you feeling hurt, betrayed, and confused.

Toxic People are NOT Good for Us!

Having toxic people in our lives takes a toll on our health and our emotions. We feel the stress even if we aren’t seeing theme every day. Do you feel some stress when you get a text or call from them? Do you practice standing up to them in your mind?

If this toxic person is often in your head whether they are physically around or not—that’s not good for you! You can twist yourself in knots trying to please or help a toxic person but it doesn’t change them, it just changes you for the worse.

What Do You Do About a Toxic Person?

Ideally, you remove yourself from their orbit. At the moment, all I’m asking is that you accept something that might initially be difficult. And that is that you have a toxic person (or people) in your life.

I finally dealt with the toxic people in my life when I realized that I was putting so much energy into protecting myself that I was missing opportunities and I wasn’t enjoying my own life very much.

Deciding that you are worth positive, supportive relationships is a huge step in its own right. You do deserve this and having toxic people in your life can put barriers between you and people that would be really good for you.

We tolerate toxic people for many reasons, let’s face it, relationships can be complicated. In my experience, a truly toxic person will do no more than pay lip-service to any boundaries. They may agree to your face but then keep doing their toxic behaviors.

How to Tell if Someone is Toxic? What to Do Next

It really all comes down to you and how you feel. Learning to trust yourself and your feelings is a huge piece of having the kind of life you want. I can tell you that in my own case my life improved almost immediately when I finally released the toxic people from my life. I quit expecting them to change and I got on with the business of changing my own life.

Much of my personal growth journey has been written about through this blog. I can honestly say that accepting that certain people were toxic saved my life.

(If you want to receive weekly thought-provoking personal growth emails be sure and sign up below for my AHA newsletters. These AHA’s are shorter but just as important insights as the blog.)

I was at a very low point in my life and feeling terrible about myself. Somehow, while staying with my sister and trying to heal, I wrote a post called, “Don’t Let a Toxic Person Steal Your Joy.

It took me another couple of weeks to begin distancing myself from that person and a few months to completely cut off contact.

That was one of the best decisions I have ever made. But it took me a long time to get there because honestly, I didn’t understand toxic people very well.

I hope this post gives you some insight. I’ve written a companion post called How to Free Yourself From a Toxic Relationship to help you do that if it ever feels like the right thing to do.

Stay strong my friends and keep taking care of yourself!



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  1. Julieta on June 21, 2020 at 12:33 am

    I’m in a very toxic relationship. I try to let him go but he always comes back and i accept him again and again. I feel like he drains all my energy I can’t do this anymore I need to get out of this without feeling guilty

    • Sara on June 21, 2020 at 8:56 am

      It’s difficult to make decisions and act on them from a place of guilt. Compassion for yourself might help you stand firm. You can love yourself and even love this other person and still decide to not be in a relationship with him. I wish you all the best.

  2. Naz on January 26, 2019 at 4:42 am

    I really liked you blog. It gave me an idea how to separate myself from toxic people. I will try to apply that in my personal life.

  3. Susanna on April 27, 2018 at 4:35 am

    Very good info, I have a friend she loves in a diff state, and I just found out she stole money from her grandpa, I have been talking to her for years , I just don’t know how to tell her I don’t wanta be friends ,and she told me she coming down for visit , I really don’t wanta hang out with her , so I’m probably gonna half to just tell her ,I guess I know she’s gonna be upset , she nice to talk to on phone ,just not to hangout with especially if I tell her I’m trying to lose weight ,she just wanta eat. So this is good info I’m gonna try it but I don’t if I will be able to cut of friendship , I have been talking to her for 12 yrs . I just need advice

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Hi, I'm Sara Garska and I'm so happy you're here! Big changes can happen with a shift in thinking. Over time, you transform your life into the one you always dreamed of having. As a certified life and weight loss coach, I can help you create a life you love. Click here to schedule a free 50-minute coaching session.