How to detect and change toxic behaviour

by Langa Mohlala


Image from The Random Vibez (@therandomvibez on Instagram).

A person whose behaviour adds negativity to one's life is toxic. Toxic people deal with difficulties in their lives in an unhealthy manner, causing them to act out and behave in a way that upsets others around them.


Encountering toxic people is more common than one realises. Results of a survey conducted in 2011 on 22 000 participants showed that 80% of people have had at least one toxic friend in their lifetime. As frightening as that statistic is, the survey did not explore how many people possess toxic behaviours. One may not want to admit it, but people are capable of being perpetrators of toxicity as much as they can be its victim. Perhaps that is why we stay in toxic relationships – no one is perfect and we all think that we can fix each other. Unfortunately, not everyone can be helped or “fixed” unless they are willing to receive it.


Getting out of a toxic relationship can be difficult for multiple reasons, especially if the person is impossible to avoid. Detecting toxicity can also be troublesome. Do you feel as if you have a toxic person in your life? Consider the following traits that toxic people display:

  • In an argument, they emotionally blackmail you (e.g. they threaten to harm themselves or others).

  • They are manipulative and gaslight you frequently.

  • They are narcissistic and play the blame game.

  • They are controlling/possessive.

  • They are passive-aggressive and undermining (e.g. they can give back-handed compliments).

  • They are unreliable (e.g. by making plans but flaking out on you at the last minute).

  • They have anger issues.

  • They are excessively needy.

  • They are pathological liars.

  • You feel more negative and/or emotionally drained after being around them/interacting with them.


Accepting the fact that you may be toxic can be tough, and you may be struggling to detect any behaviours that are pushing people away. Are you worried that you might be toxic? Here are some warning signs to consider:

  • People avoid you or completely disappear from your life.

  • You are highly critical and see yourself as superior to others.

  • You never apologize or admit when you are wrong.

  • You find opportunities to blame others (as opposed to being accountable for your actions).

  • You take advantage of people's kindness.

  • You hold grudges.

  • You never compromise (i.e. it's either your way or the highway).

  • You tend to dominate conversations.

  • People say you're only nice when it suits you.

  • You think that revenge is better than peace.

  • You always feel like the victim.

  • You're pessimistic.

  • You only care about yourself.


While it is important to be aware of the toxic qualities that you and other people can possess, it is important to understand how to change that behaviour in oneself. It is also vital to learn how to deal with and remove unhealthy people from your life. The difficulty of removing toxic people from your life varies depending on how serious the relationship is. For example, it is easier to remove a toxic acquaintance from your life while it is nearly impossible to cut a toxic parent/guardian out of your life (if you are living with and/or depending on them). It is, therefore, important to know your boundaries and put them in place. When dealing with toxic people, you should also:

  • Own your weaknesses.

  • Choose your battles carefully.

  • Distance yourself from their behaviour.

  • Be in control of your emotions.

  • Be firm and assertive.

  • Surround yourself with healthy and positive relationships.

  • Utilize and rely on your support system.

  • Don’t expect toxic people to change.

  • Realise that it is not your job to fix or save them.


When confronting your toxicity, the first step is accountability. Be honest with yourself. Acknowledge the toxic behaviours you possess. Be open to showing vulnerability and ask for help. Additionally, you must:

  • Take responsibility for your actions and own up to your mistakes.

  • Apologize to the people you have hurt.

  • Put your ego aside and work on building others up.

  • Give yourself (and others) enough time to heal.

  • Respect people's boundaries.

  • Think before you react.

  • Consider whether or not you are mistreating someone else.

  • Learn how to control your emotions.

  • Try exercising to combat stress.


As daunting as it is to face the possibility of ending a toxic relationship, you should always remember that you are shaped by your environment. You become the five people you spend the most time with. Changing your surroundings will help to change what is inside of you, and an internal change will have a wonderful impact on your outside world.


(Image from PairedLife)

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