No one’s perfect. Even the kindest, most laid-back individuals have flawed moments. But, at what point do said moments enter “toxic behavior” territory and consistently impact your relationships (both romantic and otherwise)?
Behavior patterns become a problem when they go unchecked or unacknowledged. And while the word “toxic” may seem like an extreme description, Tracy Litt, certified mindset coach, rapid transformational therapist, and founder of The Litt Factor, says it’s completely appropriate. “It’s true,” she says. “[Certain behavior are] toxic for you in your relationship with yourself, as well as with others.”
This leads to the next key question: What exactly classifies as a toxic behavior? And, how do you know it’s become impactful on your life? To be honest, only you (and possibly a therapist) can come to this conclusion, but a little self-inventory is a great way to start. Maybe you constantly find yourself unhappy or unsatisfied in your relationships (both romantic and platonic), or maybe you’re getting some negative feedback from friends that you don’t quite know how to process.
While it’s always important to get a professional opinion, your problems could be rooted in one (or more) toxic patterns. Ahead, three experts reveal the five most common ones that can and will transform into a lifelong issue, if they go unidentified.
While avoiding conflict may seem like a positive and peace-promoting tactic, what you’re actually doing is denying yourself a voice and opportunity to be heard. “What happens is you build a volcano in your gut and you wonder why you’re never happy,” says Litt. “It’s because is everything better out than in. So the single most important thing is to connect and go into the depths of yourself to say what needs to be said and acknowledge what needs to be acknowledged.”
Speaking your mind (in a healthy way) is also beneficial to those you’re in relationship with in that they also “deserve to be heard, connected with, and validated,” says Litt.
Just as avoiding conflict can be harmful, so can being overly confrontational or reactive, says Los Angeles-based psychotherapist, Dr. Aimee Martinez. “If somebody is seemingly angry all the time or verbally expressing in a way that can cause hurt, it can definitely cause problems,” she says. “The underlying thing is that someone is not feeling understood.”
To be clear, professional anger management and therapy may be the answer here, especially in extreme cases. However, taking a breath and seeking understanding is also a good place to start. Empathy serves as water for your reactive fire, so to speak. “The most important thing is recognizing and understanding that each person comes from a distinct and different experience. What might not phase one person can trigger another. Building this understanding can lead to more trust and [emotional] intimacy.”
If you find yourself in a constant critical state, you could be treading on judgmental territory. “When you’re in judgement you’re creating a situation in your relationship based on a perceived flaw that you think is true,” says Litt. “The thoughts that you think are what create your feelings, and your feelings influence attitude and behavior.”
The answer here is taking “radical responsibility,” says Litt. “If you’re not willing to do that, all things you’re wanting to change will fail.” The transformation guru also suggests keeping a judgement journal, to better understand and come to terms with the frequency of your critical thoughts. “It’s shocking to see, but it helps grow awareness, which is vital for change — you can’t self-correct without it.”
Chronic People Pleasing
If you are constantly seeking reassurance and validation from those around you, you are not only selling yourself short, but also putting unnecessary pressure on others that can create an inevitable wedge.
“People who compulsively ask, ‘Is this making sense? Am I making sense?’ are doing that to seek reassurance and approval,” says New York-based licensed psychologist, Dr. Chloe Carmichael. “If you ask that question frequently on a daily basis, it can be exhausting on the people around you. It can also be perceived as insulting. The implication is that you doubt that person’s capacity and are so focused on your own insecurities that you don’t know how to communicate clearly.”
Chronic apologizing falls into the people-pleasing category, as well. “You’re putting pressure on another person and inadvertently putting responsibility on them,” she says. “And when it’s a false apology, it’s passive aggression. Best thing to do is be secure in yourself, be direct and open about your point of view. Trust in what you’re feeling.”
Being Too Aloof
Aloofness is one that is particularly common in dating relationship scenarios, says Dr. Carmichael. “People pretend to be okay with less contact because they don’t want to be intrusive and don’t want to crowd the other person,” she says. “You don’t want to become too vulnerable.”
At the end of the day, you’re inevitably cheating yourself, especially if what you (and your partner) actually want is engagement and closeness. “When you’re pushing people away, it comes down to fear of rejection,” explains Dr. Carmichael. “Whether in a friendship or relationship, there’s nothing wrong with saying to someone, ‘Let’s try to hang out more often.’”