Last Updated on March 17, 2021

How To Spot Toxic People: 6 Traits To Watch Out For

How To Spot Toxic People: 6 Traits To Watch Out For

We can clearly see the warning signs on hazardous products. That human skull with the two cross bones behind it on any label screams one word: TOXIC.

We know without having to interact that whatever may be inside is at its best harmful and to be handled with care and at its worst poisonous and to be avoided at all cost. Toxic people can be quite similar in terms of their ability to negatively impact us and do some serious damage. But unlike those products, toxic people don’t come with warning labels making them much more difficult to spot.

So how can we tell if someone is toxic? What are those toxic people traits that are common among them and that we need to watch out for?

Chances are that if you’ve found this way to this article, you already have encountered someone exhibiting toxic behaviors. Those feelings of being dismissed, devalued, and taken advantage of that arise in you when dealing with toxic people are not to be ignored. Toxic people take many forms. They can be your boss or a colleague from work, a family member or a love interest, or even your neighbor or that grocery checkout clerk who always seems to be the only one working when you go into the shop. Sadly, toxic people aren’t limited to any one area of our lives. Personally and professionally toxic people are among us. As the old saying goes:

“Some people brighten a room when they enter it; others when they leave it.”

And toxic people are definitely the latter.


Here are some telltale signs to help you spot those toxic people traits:

1. Master Manipulators

Toxic people love control. They love to twist situations in their favor, and they’ve perfected their pitch in making you feel off-balance and irrational should you not whole-heartedly go along with what they want.

Some examples of tools they’ll use in their manipulation attempts include:

  • Making you feel guilty
  • Flat out lying or denying even when the facts are staring them in the face
  • Projecting onto you the blame that actually belongs to them

Toxic people will work to gain your trust. They can be oh so charming. You start out thinking they’re a friend and then you start to doubt if they really are. Once they have you, they’ll use what you’ve told them in confidence — your weaknesses and insecurities — to take advantage of you.

2. Drama Junkies

While it’s safe to say that a majority of people try to avoid drama, toxic people are addicted to it. They not only thrive in chaos, but get a thrill out of creating confusion and conflict. Surrounding yourself in such a swirl of stress leaves you feeling exhausted, just as it leaves them feeling exhilarated.

Some favorite tools in creating their drama include:


  • Announcing the 11th hour project deadlines and needs, not out of necessity, but on purpose to watch others spin
  • Expecting what they want exactly when they want it, regardless of what it takes (usually at your expense)
  • Worrying about everything and anything unnecessarily and sucking you into their world of unfounded fear and doubt

3. Condescending Communicators

An air of superiority fills the room every time toxic people open their mouths. It can take several forms.

Bullying and belittling is probably its most blatant and, perhaps, its worst.

Mean-spiritedness or masking negative comments with alleged humor is another favorite of theirs.

Complaining about others and doing everything they can to get you to agree or join in is a way they make a party out of patronizing others, expanding their toxicity to a wider group of people who unfortunately may happen to fall in their path.

A few favorite tools they use to make you feel small with their words include:

  • Rather than comment on the content of the message someone else is delivering, toxic people will point out and focus on insignificant errors such as a mispronounced word
  • Telling others how they should or shouldn’t feel, often in a way that shames them into thinking they are in the wrong — “don’t be so emotional” or “relax” or “get a grip”
  • Criticizing what others have to say by exaggerating their responses with backhanded praise — “I can’t believe you came up with that!” or “Wow…but it isn’t exactly rocket science”

4. Me, Myself & I Mentality

This one is easy to spot. It’s along the lines of the narcissist, the ego-tripper, the swelled head. Toxic people are all about themselves and only include you IF you serve a purpose to get them what they want. This goes beyond selfish and into the realm of self-obsession. They are not only the center of their own universe, but they expect to be the center of yours, too.


Surefire signs of this toxic trait include:

  • Not an ounce of empathy or even awareness of what others are experiencing or feeling
  • The need to put themselves on display and the requirement for others to shower them with compliments and accolades
  • An “above the law” attitude — the rules are fine for minions but in the toxic mindset but they don’t apply to them

5. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

You may never know who you’ll be dealing with on any given moment or any given day when dealing with toxic people. They can parade around as altruistic and fool a great many people — even you. It’s actually how they worm their way into your heart making you believe they are a friend when in actuality they’re mission is to chip away at your self-esteem and elevate their own presence and status.

Toxic people contradict themselves often, but tend to be masters at making it your problem, your mistake, if you point out their flip-flopping. They’ll turn on you in the blink of an eye and leave you doubting yourself and asking what you did to cause such a shift in the person you thought you knew.

Favorite Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde warning signs that come from inside of you include:

  • If you dread opening emails or taking phone calls or having in-person meetings with an individual, feeling anxiety because you don’t know what to expect — you find yourself just wanting to keep your distance from the toxic person
  • When you hesitate speaking or taking actions in front of them for fear of what they may think, say, or do in response
  • When you feel as if you’re losing your mind or suffering from bi-polar disorder because of how you can be on top of the world when around them in one minute and in the very next be in the depths of despair depending on if Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde showed up

6. Predators at Heart

Leopards never change their spots. Nor do toxic people change their ways. At their core, they are predators seeking out those who make their egos swell. They prey on people who aren’t necessarily easy to manipulate — what would be the challenge for them in that?

Truly toxic people cast a wide net and inflict their negative attitudes and behaviors on whomever they can and follow up with those on whom their toxicity sticks. If they can do damage on someone who starts out pretty strong and confident and ends up turning them into a shadow of their former selves, a toxic person considers themselves to have scored big.


A few things to watch out for what a toxic predator is stalking their next prey include:

  • They’ll be seemingly ever-present. They’ll appear whenever you are positioned to shine so that they can work to dim your light with their negativity
  • They’ll try to separate you from the herd. They won’t want you to surround yourself with other more positive voices. They want you all to themselves
  • A toxic predator will play with you, as a cat does with a mouse, before finally doing you in. They often savor your slow decline, watching you innocently fall deeper and deeper into their traps

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, toxic people traits become clear to us IF we pay attention to our own gut and our own internal alarm bells that tells us something is off. We don’t need to know what is wrong, but we do need to listen to the voice inside of us that whispers its warnings. We need to heed those red flags before they become so common that we think a toxic person’s negativity is normal. It’s not.

Toxic people are poison…but, remember, you are the one who gets to choose whether or not to take a drink.[1]

Here’re more suggestions on how to deal with toxic people:

Featured photo credit: Papaioannou Kostas via


More by this author

Paolina Milana

Paolina is an award-winning author, and a communications expert with journalistic roots.

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Published on May 4, 2021

How To Spot Fake People (And Ways To Deal With Them)

How To Spot Fake People (And Ways To Deal With Them)

They say we are the average of the five persons we spend the most time with. For a minute, consider the people around you. Are they truly who your “tribe” should be or who you aspire to become in the future? Are they really genuine people who want to see you succeed? Or are they fake people who don’t really want to see you happy?

In this article, I’ll review why it is important to surround yourself with genuine individuals—the ones who care, bring something to our table, and first and foremost, who leave all fakeness behind.

How to Spot Fake People?

When you’ve been working in the helping professions for a while, spotting fake people gets a bit easier. There are some very clear signs that the person you are looking at is hiding something, acting somehow, or simply wanting to get somewhere. Most often, there is a secondary gain—perhaps attention, sympathy, or even a promotion.

Whatever it is, you’re better off working their true agenda and staying the hell away. Here are some things you should look out for to help spot fake people.

1. Full of Themselves

Fake people like to show off. They love looking at themselves in the mirror. They collect photos and videos of every single achievement they had and every part of their body and claim to be the “best at what they do.”

Most of these people are actually not that good in real life. But they act like they are and ensure that they appear better than the next person. The issue for you is that you may find yourself always feeling “beneath” them and irritated at their constant need to be in the spotlight.

2. Murky in Expressing Their Emotions

Have you ever tried having a deep and meaningful conversation with a fake person? It’s almost impossible. It’s because they have limited emotional intelligence and don’t know how they truly feel deep down—and partly because they don’t want to have their true emotions exposed, no matter how normal these might be.


It’s much harder to say “I’m the best at what I do” while simultaneously sharing “average” emotions with “equal” people.

3. Zero Self-Reflection

To grow, we must accept feedback from others. We must be open to our strengths and to our weaknesses. We must accept that we all come in different shapes and can always improve.

Self-reflection requires us to think, forgive, admit fault, and learn from our mistakes. But to do that, we have to be able to adopt a level of genuineness and depth that fake people don’t routinely have. A fake person generally never apologizes, but when they do, it is often followed with a “but” in the next breath.

4. Unrealistic Perceptions

Fake people most often have an unrealistic perception of the world—things that they want to portray to others (pseudo achievements, materialistic gains, or a made-up sense of happiness) or simply how they genuinely regard life outside themselves.

A lot of fake people hide pain, shame, and other underlying reasons in their behavior. This could explain why they can’t be authentic and/or have difficulties seeing their environment for the way it objectively is (both good and bad).

5. Love Attention

As I mentioned earlier, the biggest sign that something isn’t quite right with someone’s behavior can be established by how much they love attention. Are you being interrupted every time you speak by someone who wants to make sure that the spotlight gets reverted back to them? Is the focus always on them, no matter the topic? If yes, you’re probably dealing with a fake person.

6. People Pleaser

Appreciation feels nice but having everyone like you is even better. While it is completely unrealistic for most people to please everyone all the time, fake people seem to always say yes in pursuit of constant approval.


Now, this is a problem for two reasons. Firstly, these people are simply saying yes to things for their own satisfaction. Secondly, they often end up changing their minds or retracting their offer for one reason or another (“I would have loved to, but my grandmother suddenly fell ill.”), leaving you in the lurch for the 100th time this year.

7. Sarcasm and Cynicism

Behind the chronic pasted smile, fake people are well known for brewing resentment, jealousy, or anger. This is because, behind the postcard life, they are often unhappy. Sarcasm and cynicism are well known to act as a defense mechanism, sometimes even a diversion—anything so they can remain feeling on top of the world, whether it is through boosting themselves or bringing people down.

8. Crappy friend

Fake people are bad friends. They don’t listen to you, your feelings, and whatever news you might have to share. In fact, you might find yourself migrating away from them when you have exciting or bad news to share, knowing that it will always end up one way—their way. In addition, you might find that they’re not available when you truly need them or worse, cancel plans at the last minute.

It’s not unusual to hear that a fake person talks constantly behind people’s backs. Let’s be honest, if they do it to others, they’re doing it to you too. If your “friend” makes you feel bad constantly, trust me, they’re not achieving their purpose, and they’re simply not a good person to have around.

The sooner you learn to spot these fake people, the sooner you can meet meaningful individuals again.

How to Cope With Fake People Moving Forward?

It is important to remind yourself that you deserve more than what you’re getting. You are worthy, valuable, precious, and just as important as the next person.

There are many ways to manage fake people. Here are some tips on how to deal with them.


1. Boundaries

Keep your boundaries very clear. As explained in the book Unlock Your Resilience, boundaries are what keep you sane when the world tries to suffocate you. When fake people become emotional vampires, make sure to keep your distances, limit contact, and simply replace them with more valuable interactions.

2. Don’t Take Their Behavior Personally

Sadly, they most likely have behaved this way before they knew you and will continue much longer after you have moved on. It isn’t about you. It is about their inner need to meet a void that you are not responsible for. And in all honesty, unless you are a trained professional, you are unlikely to improve it anyway.

3. Be Upfront and Honest About How You Feel

If your “friend” has been hurtful or engaged in behaviors you struggle with, let them know—nicely, firmly, however you want, but let them know that they are affecting you. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, you’ll feel better and when you’re ready to move on, you’ll know you tried to reach out. Your conscience is clear.

4. Ask for Advice

If you’re unsure about what you’re seeing or feeling, ask for advice. Perhaps a relative, a good friend, or a colleague might have some input as to whether you are overreacting or seeing some genuine concerns.

Now, don’t confuse asking for advice with gossiping behind the fake person’s back because, in the end, you don’t want to stoop down to their level. However, a little reminder as to how to stay on your own wellness track can never hurt.

5. Dig Deeper

Now, this one, I offer with caution. If you are emotionally strong, up to it, guaranteed you won’t get sucked into it, and have the skills to manage, perhaps you could dig into the reasons a fake person is acting the way they do.

Have they suffered recent trauma? Have they been rejected all their lives? Is their self-esteem so low that they must resort to making themselves feel good in any way they can? Sometimes, having an understanding of a person’s behavior can help in processing it.


6. Practice Self-Care!

Clearly, putting some distance between the fake person and yourself is probably the way to go. However, sometimes, it takes time to get there. In the meantime, make sure to practice self-care, be gentle with yourself, and compensate with lots of positives!

Self-care can be as simple as taking a hot shower after talking to them or declining an invitation when you’re not feeling up to the challenge.

Spotting fake people isn’t too hard. They generally glow with wanna-be vibes. However, most often, there are reasons as to why they are like this. Calling their behavior might be the first step. Providing them with support might be the second. But if these don’t work, it’s time to stay away and surround yourself with the positivity that you deserve.

Final Thoughts

Remember that life is a rollercoaster. It has good moments, tough moments, and moments you wouldn’t change for the world. So, look around and make sure that you take the time to choose the right people to share it all with.

We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, so take a good look around and choose wisely!

More Tips on Dealing With Fake People

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via

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