The toxic traits you notice most in others are the ones strongest in you.
Everyone, myself included, would like to see themselves as the good guy or gal and everyone else as bad. But we’re all fucked up in our own unique way and we’re almost always projecting.
So, this list of toxic traits will mostly provide remedies for eliminating them in yourself. When it comes to others, the best thing to do is just leave them be or cut them out.
When it comes to yourself, you have to fight the impossible battle over figuring out who you really are and correcting your toxic traits. No easy task. You’ll never complete it. But it’s worth doing.
I know these toxic traits I’m about to list so well because I see myself in all of them to varying degrees. If you’re honest with yourself, you see them too.
It was already bad, but since the pandemic started, self-righteousness is at an all-time high. There’s a difference between believing you’re right and turning your opinions into religion.
Here’s my theory. Most of the people who have become the morality police do it because they get to feel powerful. Self-righteousness isn’t just a toxic trait, it’s one of the nastiest replacements for purpose.
It’s one thing to feel justified in your beliefs. It’s a totally different ball game when you derive a perverse sense of satisfaction and build an entire identity around your moral superiority.
Ironically, self-righteous people are the exact opposite of what they claim to be. On the surface, they say they’re motivated by the good of the people, but they show a deep level of hatred towards others.
You can tell that they’re not just correcting others. They’re reveling in it. When it comes to the people who disagree with them, they’ll use all kinds of nasty and genuinely mean words to describe them.
Their perceived moral superiority allows them to subconsciously categorize their fellow human beings as less than human. They don’t just disagree, they’re insurgents in the holy war that need to be vanquished, collateral damage is damned.
I used to be the type of person who would try to combat the self-righteous. These days, I look at the futures they’re building with their mindset and I just feel bad for them.
If you see this toxic trait in yourself, look into your own heart and see if what you’re going is good for you. Think about what self-righteousness is turning you into. Think of what you’ve already become.
To deal with this toxic trait in others, just let them be. These people are ultimately devoid of compassion and they’ll get their just desserts eventually.
Fleas can jump really high.
If you put them in a jar, they’ll jump right out. If you place a lid on the jar, the fleas will learn to jump just below the lid. Remove the lid, and they’ll keep jumping to that same height even though the lid is gone.
I couldn’t find the exact experiment where they tried this. It’s like the frog and boiling water anecdote that isn’t actually true yet it’s still telling, so let’s run with it.
It’s interesting to see how you can train powerful animals to be helpless. If you tie a baby elephant to a pole to keep it from running away, it’ll still do it as an adult even though it could rip the pole right out of the ground.
In pretty much all instances, if you put a wild animal in a cage and feed it regularly it will learn to depend on you and won’t be able to fend for itself in the wild.
The toxic trait of learned helplessness turns inward. If you’ve read me long enough, you know I’m not Mr. “Just believe in yourself!” but god damn some of the boxes you guys put yourself in are ridiculous.
Of course, just like the wild animal in a cage, you weren’t always like this. Look how unrestrained children are. Look at how relentless they are when it comes to learning. Walk, fall, walk, fall, walk, fall, eventually learn to walk. Never discouraged.
As you grow older, you let these messages sink into your brain that tell you there’s nothing you can do to change your life, like the soft bigotry of low expectations that teaches marginalized groups they’re destined to fail.
I’m not some hardcore libertarian, but God some of you are so soft. Seriously. There are few toxic traits that are more counterproductive and dangerous than victimhood.
Yes, you can be victimized. We’re all victimized in our own unique way. But the minute you play the victim and throw up your hands like there’s nothing you can do about your situation, your life is over. You’re just a vessel of flesh with no soul.
My former brother-in-law and his wife would never get into fights.
Instead, they’d have ‘calm discussions’ where they threw teeny tiny little jabs at each other with a hint of up talk. You know exactly what I’m talking about.
One time, I wish I hear her tell him “Joe, would you just shut the fuck up.” Or hear him say “Jane, you’re being a real bitch right now.” Not all the time, of course, but enough to break the underlying tension and relieve themselves of all that pent-up energy.
This toxic trait rots you from the inside out.
You can see it manifested in people who are too cheery and nice all the time. You can’t be that happy. Or in people who are masters of back-handed compliments. Or those will communicate they’re upset with you by using little emotional games instead of just telling you what’s wrong.
If you don’t go to the bathroom long enough, eventually your system will shut down because it hasn’t released those toxins.
This makes me think of the show Breaking Bad. Walt had so much pent-up passive-aggressive energy inside of him that when he finally let out some anger he became a psychopathic murderer.
I’m much less afraid of people who are outwardly angry from time to time than I am people who are always nice. For the latter, I always wonder what’s underneath the surface.
What is it about them that’s so terrifying they’re trying to hide it? Ironically, passive-aggressive people tend to have much deeper-seated anger than people who occasionally tell others to fuck off.
If you were a German in the late 1930s and early ’40s, would you have been a Nazi? “Of course not,” you tell yourself. In the times of slavery, would you have been a supporter of slavery? “Of course not,” you tell yourself. You would’ve been an abolitionist.
You tell yourself you would’ve been strong enough to resist the groupthink of your day. Maybe you would have. But the vast majority of people succumb to groupthink. It’s a collective toxic trait that creates a swell of disastrous actions no one would do on their own.
No racist neo nazi would have the balls to walk around with a Tiki Torch…by himself.
Few people would run around breaking car windows and throwing Molotov cocktails into buildings…by themselves.
Look at gang culture where otherwise normal kids turn into sadistic murderers. They long so much for group acceptance that they’re literally willing to kill for it.
In our culture, tribalism has turned people into political mascots. The beliefs of their tribe don’t matter. It mathematically wouldn’t make sense for one side of the aisle to be one hundred percent right about everything and the other to be one hundred percent wrong, but that’s how people behave.
From the clothes we wear to the cars we drive to the parties we vote for, human beings are signaling machines. We have this deep-seated need to tell the world who we are. Combine that with our need to fit in and you get the toxic trait of outsourcing your thinking to the group.
I once wrote an article about why women don’t like ‘nice guys.’
It has nothing to do with their behavior and everything to do with the underlying meaning of their behavior. ‘Nice guys’ aren’t nice for the sake of being nice. They use their niceness as a tit for tat exchange to get attention, relationships, and sex. It’s not genuine.
Contrast this with the ‘asshole.’ He’s not attractive because he’s mean. He’s attractive because he’s authentic and non-needy, even if he’s kind of a dick. He thinks, perhaps a bit too, highly of himself and doesn’t feel the need to use fake gestures to attract women.
Also, as convoluted as it might sound, he’s…honest. He’s honest in that he doesn’t shy away from what he wants and he has a take it or leave it attitude. To a fault, maybe, he doesn’t tailor his behavior to the outcomes he wants.
Weird segway, but there’s a book called Power vs. Force that describes this dynamic well. When you use force to get what you want, you’re displaying the toxic trait of being manipulative.
Instead of trusting yourself to get what you want in an authentic way, you use coercive tactics to get what you want. True power comes from becoming the best version of yourself and letting things come to you.
Feeling the need to weasel your way into a situation highlights your massive level of insecurity. In the long run, it’s much easier to put your real self out into the world and accept what bounces back your way or let go of what doesn’t.
A ‘friend’ of mine once sat me down and tried to convince me to stop pursuing my writing career. He told me all the reasons why it wouldn’t work. He even went behind my back and told mutual friends about negative comments people had left on my articles.
His negativity not only lowered his self-esteem but infected everyone around him. Most of the conversations we had revolved around how much his life sucked, how people were out to get him, and all the reasons why his dreams wouldn’t work out.
These days, I’ve adopted a rule and added it to my personal code.
I learned the rule from the 48 Laws of Power:
Avoid the unlucky and miserable
I’m fine with people who disagree with me or point out flaws in my strategies, but I don’t tolerate pessimistic people at all. I keep the ‘woe is me’ types as far away from me as humanly possible and avoid those who have that naysaying energy.
The bad luck and misery of others will infect you. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of time. Point blank, optimism is almost always the better option.
Pessimism is useful in small doses and narrow windows like anticipating what might go wrong with a chosen strategy to avoid it. But an overall pessimistic attitude creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that never ends well.
When most people think of narcissism, they picture people who are grandiose, self-congratulatory, and arrogant.
The definition of this toxic trait runs much deeper than that. Learned helplessness and underestimation of your own ability are narcissistic. So is martyrdom. Hell, pretty much all the toxic traits I listed fit neatly under the umbrella of narcissism.
It’s a trait I’ve been studying for a while. Let’s take a look at some of the definitions I’ve picked up along the way.
Narcissism is about the need to self-identify and to broadcast that identity to others. – The Last Psychiatrist
Remember what I said earlier about signaling? Under this definition, we’re all narcissists, which, we are. It’s not enough that you’re living your life a certain way, everyone has to know it.
Narcissism is a defense against rationality: you remake the scale so you are always at the center. It works, except your inability to fail robs you of the ability to succeed. It works, until you encounter anyone who doesn’t accept your ever-changing values as gospel. Then you doubt yourself, panic, turn to religion, “Give me a sign!”, or rationalism, “Give me a number!”, anything external that can affirm your value. Pacified, you return to the status quo. – Hotel Concierge
Since you’re the center of the universe, everything means more than it actually means. Failure isn’t something that happened to happen, it says something about you.
Think about how self-important you actually are. Everything you believe is right, right? If, at any point in this article, you thought to yourself ‘he’s not talking about me’ when deep down you know for a fact I was talking about you, narcissism is at play once again.
It’s the over preoccupation with ‘who you are’ both positive, negative, and in any direction. This toxic trait is still hard for me to wrap my head around and fix, even for myself, but I think it comes down to creating a mission for your life, deciding what person you want to be, and fully committing to both.
Then, once you do that, try to execute that mission and be the person you want to be without needing to signal it to everyone all the fucking time. It’s like living the equivalent of going on a vacation without having to take pictures and posting them on Instagram. You derive satisfaction from the trip itself. In life, derive satisfaction from the way you live itself.
No bullet points for this one because I don’t have a firm grasp of it yet mentally, but I’m working on it.
So should you.