4 Types of Toxic People to Avoid Like the Plague

Understanding them helps us steer away from unintended troubles

Photo by Connor Botts on Unsplash

It was a lazy Monday afternoon. My friend Amy, and I visited Starbucks to catch up on an assigned project that was due tomorrow. Two cups of lattes sat atop our table with our laptops opened in front of us.

“Oh my god. This is driving me nuts. He was supposed to do the first-half segment of the project, and yet not a single thing has been done!” ranted Amy about one of our teammates.

“Do you remember he volunteered to complete the part on financial analysis too? Yep, he copied and pasted data without giving further explanations about it. Who couldn’t do that? Also, he retrieved the wrong information,” Amy grunted again.

Besides the lack of work ethic, the teammate whom Amy so often rant about was also infamous for being absent during our project meetings as well.

It wasn’t until much later that we learned that our teammate’s salient forms of behaviour were him disappearing whenever stress arises and his inability to complete an essential piece of work.

Oddly though, when Amy and I first met our teammate, he had a charm to his personality, which made it easy for us to get along. He was humorous too. But when it came to work-related matters, he was a different person.

When choosing people to work and associate with, we’re often mesmerised by their reputation or taken in by the surface image they try to project.

Instead, we should look at the people’s behavioural patterns and gauge the relative strength of their character by how well they handle adversity, their ability to work with people, and their patience to learn.

Knowing the types of toxic personalities can help us break compulsive patterns and take better control of our life.

My experience with a troubling teammate reminds me of Robert Greene’s book, The Laws of Human Nature. As such, the points listed below are practical tools that we can learn and apply in our daily lives.

The Pampered Prince/Princess

I used to befriend a rich kid in my high school who couldn’t understand how people live on a budget. I don’t come from a wealthy family, but I live frugally; aware that I was spending my parents’ hard-earned money.

Our group hung out a lot at the rich kid’s insistence, but she liked to dine at expensive places, and no one dared to say “no”.

When I suggested that I was more comfortable having my meals somewhere cheaper, she pouted and insisted that I stay. So, I said I wouldn’t mind staying if she could kindly foot the bill on my behalf, but she declined anyway.

I then went on to explain the financial concerns I had, hoping she’d get a clearer picture without misunderstanding my intention. Even though we went on to dine at a much affordable place, she continued to show discontent on her face and didn’t stop pouting.

The pampered prince/princess often appear confident and destined to wear a crown. They express the need to be taken care of and are masters at getting others to pamper them or appeal to their needs.

To explain why we might find ourselves doing a favour for them without really understanding why, Greene said, “As children, their parents indulged them in their slightest whim, and protected them from any kind of harsh intrusion from the outside world.”

Over time, the spoilt prince/princess remain lost in paradise. It can be quite maddening to always be on their terms.

A tip that Greene suggested was to spot for signs of guilt in ourselves — If we feel guilty for not helping them, it means we’re hooked to the addiction of playing a pampering role to their desires.

The Rebel

Have you ever met or work with someone who has every reason to complain about their superiors behind their backs, but when they’re around those who are in a higher social status, they sing praises?

Yep, the rebels love the underdog and dislike authority.

More often than not, this type of personality has a biting sense of humour, which is part of who they are, but they might turn on you because they need to deflate everyone.

It’s not that they want to be this way; it’s not some higher moral quality, it’s a compulsion to feel superior — to have the upper hand and feel loved.

Quoting from Greene, he explained, “In their childhood, a parent or father figure probably disappointed them. They came to mistrust and hated all those in power. In the end, they cannot accept any criticism from others because that reeks of authority. They cannot be told what to do. Everything must be on their terms.”

The rebels are famous for gaining attention with their vicious humour when you cross them in some way.

The Drama Mama

Have you ever met someone so cheerful, so optimistic, louder than most people, and have a wit to their humour that gets your laughing over the top?

They are fun to be around, and we often find ourselves drawn into their exciting presence until the drama turns ugly. A person who’s a drama magnet loves to embroil you in their drama to the extent you’ll feel guilty for disengaging.

“As children, they had learned that the only way to get love and attention that lasted was to enmesh their parents in their troubles and problems, which had to be large enough to engage the parents emotionally over time,” explained Greene.

The tale of the boy who cried wolf is a starring example that emphasised the principle behind a drama mama and their need to position themselves as the victim as a way of feeling alive and wanted.

A shepherd boy repeatedly tricks neighbouring villagers into thinking a wolf is attacking his town’s flock when in reality, there’s none. Yet time and again, the villagers still went to the boy’s aid.

The Perfectionist

These are the people who’re good at luring us into their circle by how hard they work and how dedicated they are to making the best of whatever it is they produce.

In reality, they’re wolves in sheep’s clothing, wizards with tricks up their sleeves masked as a normal person.

I once arrived late for a lesson where my professor was splitting the class up into groups of five. Being the latecomer, I was assigned to a group with only one space left to fill.

Among us, however, was a member who spoke with flair, dressed smartly, and knew the outline of our group project ahead of us.

She briefed us on deliverables that our professor had expected of us and even penned down a list of ideas we could go with for our project. Naturally, her leadership-like abilities gathered our trust to elect her as our team’s leader.

Despite our leader’s eye for details and quick-wittedness, she couldn't delegate tasks and had to oversee everything. Over time, I realised it was less about high standards and dedication to the group than about power and control.

Maybe it was because we weren’t as outspoken with our ideas as she was, but I felt like I was micro-managed continuously. It’s as if whatever ideas I’ve proposed were quick to be disregarded too.

Everyone in our group was also compelled to agree with whatever solution our leader thought was the best.

As Greene once said, “(Perfectionists) have patterns of initial success followed by burnout and spectacular failures.”

It’s best to recognise these patterns before getting ourselves enmeshed on any level.

As humans, we crave for connections with people. It is no doubt that no matter which stage of life we’re at, our lives depend on the relationships with the people we meet, work, and live with.

Understanding the fundamentals of why people do what they do is the most critical survival tool that’ll help us navigate through life.

We can also apply the lessons above to ourselves and identify any toxic patterns we may be exhibiting.

Just as we have the power to shape our character, knowing the types of toxic personalities can help us steer away from unintended troubles and consequences.

Thank you for reading!

Freelance writer. I write about business and life. | Email: charlenee98@gmail.com