9 Warning Signs of a Toxic Personality

One of the saddest subplots in Charles Dickens’ masterful 1851 novel David Copperfield involves young David’s tortured relationship with the charismatic James Steerforth. David loves Steerforth like his own soul and imagines that the two men will always be close. But Steerforth abandons David and kidnaps another friend, leaving him and her whole family devastated.

In retrospect David realizes there were problems in Steerforth’s character earlier in their relationship. The scary thing about toxic personalities is that often they don’t seem toxic at first. Dangerous people have a way of not appearing to be dangerous. But there are certain warning signs that will appear early in any toxic relationship, with increasing frequency as the relationship progresses. The trouble is, once we’re involved in a friendship, we’re sometimes unwilling or unable to see the warning signs, so it’s best to dissolve ties before the situation gets seriously unhealthy.

9. Mocking and Harassment to Shut Down Discussion

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Someone with a toxic personality will seek to assert his own will at the expense of others’. He will become irritated when you try to express your own perspective and feelings, and may try to undermine you through a subtle but calculated campaign of ridicule in which others are encouraged to participate. When Bob Houston, a follower of Jim Jones, insisted on asking hard questions during Jonestown community meetings, Jones mocked him for being an “insensitive intellectual.” Over time the harassment grew worse and worse. He called him a narcoleptic and a traitor. Everyone in Jonestown was encouraged to make fun of him, even the children and his own family.