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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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:


  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.


Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.


Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.


However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.


Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:


  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:


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