Recognizing a Poison Personality

Some people seem to have a knack for making life miserable for others. Like poison, they cause problems for everyone they come into contact with, while remaining unscathed themselves. These people have poison personalities — their reckless, ruthless, and selfish behavior hurts everyone but themselves.

Distinctive Thought Patterns

Poison personalities believe that:

Having power and control gives them excitement in life— and they are always seeking excitement.

 They are unique. They see themselves as smarter and more important than “ordinary” people. They are narcissistic and grandiose.

They are never wrong. When they do not get what they want or are caught in dishonest or manipulative behavior, they complain that they have been victimized, misunderstood, or mistreated.

They are “good people,” despite their manipulative, exploitative, or otherwise harmful behavior.

Caring equals using. If you care about them, you will let them manipulate and take advantage of you.

They are entitled to have what they want regardless of the consequences for themselves or others.  They can rationalize the use of any means in the pursuit of their goals.

When we are caught in the hands of a poison personality, we often experience feelings of confusion, impotence, betrayal, depression, anger, anxiety, and fear. 

Sometimes poison personalities tell victims that they are to blame for their own suffering.  Some manipulate their victims into believing that they have hurt the poison person.  Others don’t hang around long enough for the victims to know what hit them.  In any case, victims are left holding a bag of negative emotions that will distort their feelings about themselves and others.

Because poison personalities excel at creating self-doubt and confusion, it is vital to identify the manipulations commonly used by poison personalities, and reduce your vulnerability to them.

Know the signs. The charm of the poison personality diverts attention from their real goal of self-gratification.

Be skeptical. Enter new relationships with open eyes. Listen to your gut.

Risk selectively. Poison personalities use others needs or desires to give themselves the upper hand.

Set limits. Demand to be treated fairly, honestly, and respectfully.

Understand who’s being hurt. Don’t blame yourself for the behavior of a poison personality.

Get help. Never think you can change a poison personality. You can only change your responses to them. 

Poison personalities are the most aggravating, exasperating, and crazy-making people we are exposed to. We may find them among colleagues, family, or friends. The quicker we learn how to protect ourselves from them, the happier our relationships and feelings about ourselves become.  If you are involved with a poison personality, counseling can help.  

Source: “Update on Human Behavior,” Human Services, 1998.  





© 2006 All rights reserved. |  Last revised by R. Cohen on January 21, 2006.