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Characteristics Of A Toxic Relationship

Let's take a look at the characteristics of a toxic relationship, and what you can do about it when you find yourself tangled up in the mess of one.

If you allow them, toxic people can be like vampires. Draining your energy - mentally, emotionally, financially. When you are with them your mood sours, and you struggle to be at your best. To sum it up after you've been with a toxic person you feel the need to shower yourself in some positivity.

Interestingly, toxic people come in all shapes and forms. Your boss, a direct report, a colleague, your partner, your kids. Even if you think you are in the 'power' position, don't be misled. Even one of your kids could be having a negative impact on your thinking and attitude.


The Types of Behaviors You Can Expect When a Relationship is Toxic

  • Gossiping and snide remarks about you and other people in your circle
  • Fault finding and criticism is the name of the game - everything from the way you clean your office, to your dental hygiene, to your size, your friends, how much time you spend on things
  • Discounting of your thoughts and opinions 
  • Over-demanding - nothing you do is good enough
  • Subtle jabs and put-downs - you often don't realize you've been put-down until you start feeling distressed
  • Unreliability
  • Jealousy
  • Neediness - it's all about them - they don't take any time to talk about you
  • Making fun of your ideas, especially in front of others
  • Blaming you for all their problems, rather than taking responsibility for their own choices
  • Constant complaining about his or her life, and dumping their frustrations on you

These are some of the characteristics of a toxic relationship. You've possibly experienced others. The crucial point is that, when you are around this person you end up feeling bad.

Characteristics of toxic relationships

Do you work with an aggressive person and aren't sure how to handle him or her?  Click here to access the Successful Feedback training

While the characteristics of a toxic relationship are easy to define, it is useful to understand what is at the core of most toxic relationships ... Low Self-Esteem!


Generally, toxic people are filled with fears: afraid that they aren't good enough, of losing control, of exposing their inner desires and wants. Often they have been victims of toxic relationships themselves.


When people don't feel good about themselves, they view other people's successes as a poor reflection upon themselves. Furthermore,  they resent other people getting ahead. When they see the other person doing well, and then look in the mirror at themselves, compare and feel threatened the toxic person seeks ways to get rid of the pressure. 


More often than not, they take this pressure off by belittling other peoples, dreams, successes, wins, and goals.


Your sense of self-worth and your belief in your capability dies if you are around a toxic person for too long. Especially if you give your power away to them, by believing what they say. It is imperative that you take steps to ensure you stop the harm of people who are poisonous to you.

Ways Out of a Toxic Relationship

Your life will be unpleasant when you are around toxic people.. Fortunately you are the one who can do something about it. Here are a few tips on how to improve the quality of your life by neutralizing the impact of toxic relationships:

  • 1
    Make a list of the Positive Aspects of the person. This technique helps you to shift your focus. If all you only focus on their negative aspects, then they will be like this whenever they are around you.  In the One-on-One Meetings training we discuss the Pygmalion Leadership effect. If you understand this effect it is a fabulous tool to help you 'retrain' your toxic person.
  • 2
    Get perspective by working with a neutral person, who has no agenda about you and the relationship with the other person. Maybe a counselor, a coach, a neighbor or a co-worker. The key here is that this isn't about creating for yourself a pity party (acting like a victim), and/or looking to dump on the other person. This is about asking the other person to help you focus on what is going on, the part you have played and what you are willing to do to move forward.
  • 3
    Take Responsibility. A part of you is allowing the behaviors to happen and continue to happen. Ask yourself why am I allowing this to happen? What could I be learning from this?
  • 4
    Set Boundaries. Let the other person know what they can and cannot do around you. If you have the skills, such as those from the Successful Feedback training, you will be able to describe quite accurately what the person is doing and what your expectations are for the future. (You can even do this with someone who seemingly is in the more powerful position e.g. a boss)
  • 5
    Keep Working On You and improving your mindset and emotional capability. The book "Anatomy of Peace" is a terrific book, to help you view situations like this, from a very different and freeing perspective.
  • 6
    End the Relationship. If after trying all of the above and nothing changes, then it is time you walked away from the relationship.

You may be thinking it's not that easy! I can't walk away from my job. However, if the relationship does have all the characteristics of a toxic relationship, and you have accepted responsibility for your part, and exhausted all avenues of moving it into something more healthy, then you need to ask yourself, what do you value most? Financial security, or mental, emotional and spiritual health?


When you are 76, looking back on life, do you think you will regret trading your soul for $? If so, then have the courage to move on, and faith that something better will come to you.


Your life clock is ticking, only be around people who uplift you, and make your life journey a wondrous one.

Additional Resources

Download "People You Associate With" to assess how supportive the people around you are to your success.

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