Signs you've become a toxic person

As part of my work in crisis intervention, I'd see couples and families all the time who were struggling to get through major issues in their lives. As a professor, I've had to mediate between students assigned to work on group projects together. In both situations, conflicts would arise and we'd have to find a way to overcome them. I noticed a pattern emerge, however, that, when present, would halt progress dead its tracks. When one person refuses to acknowledge their contribution to their own problems, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to find a resolution.

We all struggle with being negative from time to time — it's a normal part of life — but we can allow ourselves to fall into toxic behavior that prevents our situation from improving. One of the toughest things, though, can be identifying the signs that we have become the toxic person in our lives. It can be horribly painful to admit that we are creating our own hardships but, once we take ownership, we can turn things around.

Here are some signs that you have become a toxic person:

You blame everyone else for your problems

Very rarely is something ever truly one person's fault. Usually, we play a role (even if it's minor) in whatever problems arise in our own lives. While it is possible that you might have a unique kind of conflict with one person, it's a red flag if you start to feel like everyone in your life is out to get you.

To be fair, let's say you really are surrounded by people who are making your life miserable. A toxic person will stay in that situation and happily accept the role of victim. It's a convenient way to blame everyone for all of your problems without having to address anything. A healthy-minded individual, however, will make every effort to get into a better position so that they can find peace and happiness. See the difference?

Take action: Think about everything that is going wrong in your life and evaluate all of the ways in which you have contributed to the problem. Write it all down and come up with a plan for making things right. You will feel empowered, and best of all — no more blaming or complaining!

You talk behind people's backs

From our earliest days in grade school, we've been tempted into conversations that we know can hurt other people. Gossip is a part of life and will likely continue to exist until the end of time. That being said, you have a choice about whether to be an active participant.

Rather than become the hub for all the juicy tidbits circulating throughout the office or within your friend group, make a conscious effort to walk away from conversations that could potentially hurt someone else. You don't want to be associated with that kind of negativity.

It's also understandable that you might need to vent, following an argument. It's one thing to have a confidante that you can trust, it's another if you find yourself engaging in "trash talk" about someone with who you've had a disagreement. If something is bothering you, take a few moments to gather your thoughts and speak to the other person directly and privately.

Take action: Get honest with yourself about things you've said to hurt people. If someone has confronted you about your actions, take a deep breath and take ownership of your behavior. Apologize, if needed, and commit to being more respectful in the future.

You take more than you give

There will be times in your life when you genuinely need help. In fact, it can sometimes feel like certain periods of our lives are needier than others — and that's okay. There's nothing wrong with relying on your support system when you are struggling.

The problem arises, however, if you have a neverending string of requests but never seem to be available to return the favor. Do you find yourself hiding when you know people are asking for help? Do you make excuses for why you can't lend a hand or offer assistance? If so, it won't be long before people stop responding to your pleas in a time of need.

Take action: Think of someone in your life who has been having a hard time and offer a few ways in which you can help. Be realistic and honest, if you are also struggling. You could say something like, "I wish I could do more but, right now, I'm able to…" Start small, if you have to. Anything is better than nothing!

Your friends have disappeared

It's funny. When people start leaving our lives, they tend to do it quietly in an attempt to avoid an uncomfortable confrontation. They are, after all, pulling away for a reason. It's not until a special occasion, crisis, or significant event occurs that we realize how alone we've become.

If, for example, your birthday rolls around and no one is offering to help you celebrate, you might have to acknowledge the fact that your friends have jumped ship. It can be tempting to get mad and send out angry messages demanding an explanation for their rude behavior, but if you really want answers, the wise thing would be to reflect on your recent behavior. Have you been negative, demanding, or overly dramatic? More than likely, you have pushed people away without even realizing it.

Take action: Be brutally honest with yourself about why your friends have gone into hiding. Reach out to them, allow them to express any frustration about your behavior, and then decide whether the friendship is worth saving. If it is, apologize for your actions and commit to making some changes.

Your life is constantly full of drama

Everyone can go through some pretty intense moments in their lives. Sometimes, we truly can't help what's happening around us and all we can do is stay strong while focusing on how we can improve our situation.

It's entirely different, however, if you seem to thrive when things are going wrong. Drama can be addictive, especially if anything you see on reality television is true. You might have become hooked on the attention you receive when your life is in tatters but your loved ones will grow tired of listening to your endless complaints. If, instead of finding solutions to your problems, you relish in the hopelessness of a dramatic existence, you've probably allowed toxicity to enter into your life.

Take action: Explore the reasons why you might be attracting drama. Identify any negative patterns that keep things on the crazier side. It's also possible that you are feeling ignored and neglected by loved ones. If so, communicate how you are feeling and then find new, productive ways to keep in touch.

You can't let go

It can be really hard to move on when we've been hurt or disappointed by someone or something. Most of us, though, will find our way through these tough moments and begin looking forward to the happier times that lie ahead.

If you're refusing to cut ties with people who hurt you or if you are determined to hold a grudge, it might become very difficult for those around you to be supportive. One of the main reasons for this is that things will never improve as long as you stay in a toxic situation or mindset. If you aren't willing to take the necessary steps to better your own life, why should you expect others to stick around and listen to you complain?

Take action: Accept someone's apology and work hard on forgiveness. Stop obsessing over, and throw away, mementos from a failed relationship. Find a new hobby where you can make new friends. It's not easy — moving on takes effort — but if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, one day you will look back and be able to see how far you've come.

You have an intense need to be right

There's a saying that asks a very valid question: "do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?" Wouldn't it be great if we could be both right and happy all the time? Sure! Is that possible or realistic? Absolutely not. Besides, in most situations, there will be more than one way to be "right." It's all about compromise and seeing other people's perspectives!

If you find yourself irritated because you made a mistake at work or one of your theories was proven wrong by your significant other, you might need to ask yourself if these types of arguments are worth potentially damaging your relationships or hampering your ability to be happy. It might be hard to concede defeat to others, at first, but it will be easier once you see how much more peaceful your life becomes.

Take action: Resist the need to jump in with a fact or detail that proves your correctness on a matter. Learn to be content with allowing others to find their own answers, especially if it means keeping the peace.

You tend to focus on the negative

There are positives and negatives to almost every situation in life. While it's important that we consider any potential consequences to our actions and choices, life is far more pleasant and productive when we adopt an optimistic outlook.

When you find yourself focusing on what could go wrong in a situation or if you constantly feel the need to give those around you a "reality check," you have begun to place a higher value on negativity than all of the positives that exist around you. After a while, this type of behavior will attract other toxic, negative people and you may find yourself struggling to feel good about anything.

Take action: Surround yourself with positive people and be honest about the fact that you are trying to be less pessimistic. Create a gratitude journal and, before bed each night, list five things that happened during your day for which you are thankful. It's a game-changer!

You dominate the conversation

Think about the last time you sat down and talked with a friend. Did the conversation volley back and forth between you or was it more one-sided? If you determine that your issues and interests dominated the discussion, extend your reflection to all of your interactions. Are you regularly hogging the spotlight and cutting people off?

There are few things more frustrating and toxic than going through the effort of meeting a friend for a lunch date and then spending the next hour trying to get a word in edgewise. It's inconsiderate, selfish, and sends the message that you aren't interested in anyone else's life but your own.

Take action: If you realize that you have been dominating the conversation, make a date with a friend and let them do all the talking. You will get things back on an even playing field, learn more about what's been happening in their life, and show them that they are important to you. Going forward, make an effort to keep the conversation balanced so that you both walk away feeling heard and valued.

A more positive future

It's definitely no fun to realize that you are responsible for bringing negativity into your own life as well as those around you. If you find that you are running in circles, repeatedly fighting the same battles, alienating friends, and are overwhelmed with pessimism, you may need to step back and evaluate what is truly causing your problems.

The good news is that, the sooner you take ownership of your role in your unhappiness, the sooner you can kick toxic behaviors to the curb. It can happen to the best of us — so don't feel bad. Commit to making healthy changes and, even when times are tough, you'll feel stronger and better able to find the silver lining.