Theory has it that we attract into our lives people “matching” our subconscious, unhealed wounds and that those who are more susceptible to socializing with negative types of people have usually weak or no boundaries, are codependents or empaths.
I certainly don’t imply having any scientific background on this subject, simply my own personal experiences with people demonstrating characteristics of the so called Cluster B personality disorders e.g. of the narcissistic personality disorder or sociopaths – from teachers, higher-ups or friends and relatives, even.
And my conclusion is, all is “well” with the sure-fire signs of a toxic personality; the ultimate danger lies behind the seemingly harmless yet common traits of it. So here it goes:
- The Puer Aeternus
Now, not all Peter Pans are toxic. But some of these eternal children might be and furthermore they’re usually the hardest source of negativity to spot. Often of the narcissistic personality disorder kind, covert even, on initial acquaintance the Puer Aeternus displays a carefree, vibrant attitude that can get anyone tricked and soon easily addicted to them.
It doesn’t change the fact, however, that he (or she) is somebody who unconsciously yearns for an eternal state of childhood or youth and is incapable of living up to the complex yet necessary challenges and callings of real life. And as long as he remains in this zone, he will never mature; he will never fulfill his individual destiny in a collective society and become complete.
Think Dorian Grey – and yes, he comes with a portrait.
You wouldn’t want yourself around that kind of person now, would you?
“How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this portrait will remain always young.”
~Dorian Grey, Oscar Wilde
- The People-pleaser
“Positive” manipulation is the hardest kind of manipulation to detect; because let’s face it, egos love to be stroked, in fact that’s what they live for. But, it’s our inner and true self the one that has to live with the consequences, when the whole thing blows up right in our face.
Again, not all people-pleasers are by definition malignant. Someone who is, though, has absolutely no genuine, humanitarian motive behind e.g. his (or her) offering to pull an all-nighter with you for your next paper deadline. As unlikely as it may sound, it too is just a means to his end. People and their feelings are simply objects to his – unknown to you but ever present for him – goal. Everything and everyone outside his personal sphere are mere extensions of himself.
That’s why it is widely held that empathy is a totally alien notion to this type of person. If there is something he must attain or acquire at all costs, something that entails demonstrating emotion or the like, he will resort to mimicking it – and after almost a lifetime of practice, rest assured that he has perfected it.
Truth be told of course, eyes indeed never lie; as you can spot a true emotion in them, so can you see the absolute absence or fakeness of it as well.
“He never gave me anything. He only bought me into giving him something”
~Susie, Citizen Kane
- The Self-deprecator
A typical yet not easily identified example of such a personality is the covert narcissist. The case we’re referring to here is of somebody who hides his (or her) low self-esteem and insecurities almost perfectly behind a well-crafted and seemingly very confident public persona. And by definition his image follows e.g. a trend, his opinions are ultimately somebody else’s and never his own, etc. He doesn’t even know who he truly is, something that results of course in an anything but authentic self and he is mostly driven by material goods and superficial attributes as a measure for worth or happiness (money, youth, beauty, etc.). His ego is one of the most fragile and easy to crumble down.
How will you spot her/him? Simple: attention seekers. Plus, they cannot always hide their envy for people/things they deep down deem as better than them/their own.
“And, beginning to grind his teeth again, Pyotr Petrovich admitted that he’d been a fool–but only to himself, of course.”
~Demons, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- The Victim
It’s as the title implies; somebody of this type indulges in victim playing in almost any situation, projecting even his own faults onto others. The world is a cold, cruel place out to get him and he deserves all the protection and care he can get. He will try to gain your good favour – and keep it too – by appealing to your pity, empathy or own sense of guilt even (whether justified or not).
And when your guard is down, the work is already laid out for this kind of hard-to-identify energy vampire.
“A thorough, determined dislike of me — a dislike which I cannot but attribute in some measure to jealousy. […] his father’s uncommon attachment to me, irritated him I believe very early in life.”
~George Wickham – Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen
- The Coward
If you want to get a quick and clear idea on this, simply observe how someone reacts in the face of responsibility or adversity. Does he (or she) shrink from it and let others bell the cat? This type of person doesn’t know how to be sorry or apologize, tending to promise the moon and rarely deliver a light bulb – and even then, only if something is clearly in it for him, too.
And if you ever think of calling him out on it, be prepared from some first-class gaslighting.
“- Paula: Gregory, are you trying to tell me I’m insane? – Gregory: It’s what I’m trying NOT to tell myself.”
~Gaslight (1944 film)
If you often wonder why you had to encounter or worse, get entangled with toxic people, whether or not the (good) reason for it really derives from your inner, still unresolved issues, try focusing on the positive outcomes of it. For my part, it led me to realize once more how indeed no evil comes without something good; all these experiences helped me both in gaining more insight into my own, unhealed wounds, and as a writer, in e.g. exploring further dimensions of the characters of my projects.
When you happen to recognize any of the above five traits in someone you suspect might turn into a toxic encounter for you, there are many ways of dealing with it; the renowned “no contact”, though, is by far the most radical and effective. It’s easier said than done, of course, namely in the beginning, but if you stick to it diligently, like a new habit, you’ll be so over it one day that you won’t even understand why you ever bothered suffering.
Trust and respect yourself; that’s really all it takes. ~