7 Reasons Why Some People Appear “Toxic”

Do you know someone in your life who just always seems to be angry, rude, aggressive, or plain bitter? Sometimes there seems to be no particular reason for them to act this way, but they just do. Maybe you wonder why they are the way they are- so let’s figure it out. Exploring the reason behind such behavior will allow us to to build empathy through better understanding toxic people, and could perhaps help us all move forward with and learn from toxic experiences ourselves. Here are some possible reasons someone may have a toxic personality.

Before we continue, here’s a reminder that this article is not intended to attack anyone who may display the following signs, but rather to understand them better and bring more awareness to the reason behind such behavior. If you can personally relate to these signs, please do not take this feedback as an attack on your character. This article is simply meant to be viewed as a self-improvement guide for those of you who may be feeling stuck with this issue.

1. Insecurity & Low Self-Esteem

Anger tends to be an expression or reaction to negative feelings such as guilt, shame, sadness, rejection, or anxiety. When you feel insecure, or less than, or view yourself in a negative manner, you might be more likely to project these negative emotions through toxic behavior so that you can regain control. Nathan Heflick Ph.D, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Lincoln in the U.K, states that “Whether it is a means of promoting our groups or ourselves, we tend to be more aggressive when our self-worth has been challenged and we are not feeling particularly positive about ourselves.” Essentially, you protect yourself from being more vulnerable than you already feel, through displaying unhealthy toxic traits.

2. Projection 

The all-famous Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud, had a theory a long time ago that “people cope with negative views of themselves by perceiving other people as having particularly high levels of that same negative view”- as Heflick puts it. So basically if you feel like you are high in anger, you will then most likely view everyone around you to be angry as well, which then makes you feel better about this issue that brings up self-doubt. Projection is the classic in which someone can use such a trait as a defense mechanism or distraction from the real concern at hand. 

3. Feeling Invalid/Treated Unfairly

When you feel invalid, or are experiencing injustice of any sort, your anger is the emotion that speaks up for you. Your anger comes from a place that recognizes this unfairness, making you react to it. If you know someone in your life who is displaying signs of anger (which may include constant irritability, rage, stress, or frustration), it may be an indicator of how they are truly feeling about something. Maybe they just wished they got more attention from you because they feel lonely, or just can’t find a way to communicate a lack of fulfillment in an appropriate manner. 

4. Rough Childhood/Upbringing

Your childhood holds a strong influence on who you are as a person. People who display signs of toxic behavior most likely had a rough childhood which may have included a challenging relationship with their parents and siblings, as well as harmful characteristics of the environment and community in which they grew up in. You tend to carry with you the expectation of how you should cope with negative feelings from your childhood as you become an adult. According to Mind, a registered non-profit for mental health in the U.K, some examples of how childhood impacts your behavior negatively include how “you may have witnessed your parents’ or other adults’ anger when it was out of control”, or “you may have grown up thinking that it was always okay to act out your anger aggressively or violently”. If you weren’t given an appropriate example on how to deal with anger or negative feelings in an emotionally mature way when you were younger, the struggle will weigh on you more as you get older. 

5. Past Experiences or Trauma

Negative past experiences can hugely impact our behavior, opinions, beliefs, and perspectives in and about this world. Someone who has experienced a significant amount of trauma, abuse, bullying, or any other form of targeted behavior in the past may be struggling with dealing with anger issues or toxic behavior in the present since they weren’t able to safely express themselves at the time. If you know someone who tends to struggle with such issues, it is likely that this behavior is a reflection of past struggles or challenges which were left behind for years. 

6. Current Stress-Inducing Events

Present stressful circumstances can be a significant trigger for toxic behavior. Maybe you got rejected for that new position, or are struggling financially, or have lost someone close to you. Situations that may increase stress levels can lead to anxiety, frustration, and feelings of being overwhelmed, which are then most likely expressed through anger or toxic behavior. When someone isn’t able to figure out how to deal with stress, they may use toxic behavior as a way of masking their inner concerns. When you are occupied with too many stressful issues, your mind tries to filter it out, and projecting this stress through toxicity comes into play as a coping mechanism.

7. Underlying Mental Health Issue or Disorder

Lastly, if you or someone you know has been struggling with more severe or persistent signs of anger or overall toxic behavior, you might consider talking to a medical or mental health professional as the situation could be coming from a deeper place than you would think. Persistent anger or frustration along with unpredictable negative behavior could be a sign of an underlying mental health issue or undiagnosed disorder. Watch out for common signs of toxic behavior, and if you start recognizing a pattern, it would be best to reach out for help immediately.

Remember that you are not responsible for anyone’s actions or behavior besides your own. If you are in a situation where you genuinely feel threatened or that your safety is at risk, please reach out for help. For dealing with those who may be displaying milder signs of toxic behavior or anger, try to understand where they may be coming from, and talk it through with them. Show them that you genuinely care about them, and that you are there for them. Communication is the key to any relationship. As always, good luck with your journey! 


  1. Anger management: Your questions answered. (2020, March 5). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/anger-management/art-20048149
  2. Freudian Psychology. (n.d.). Psychology Today. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/freudian-psychology
  3. Heflick, N. A. (2013, June 29). Why Are People Mean? Part 1. Psychology Today. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-big-questions/201306/why-are-people-mean-part-1
  4. How to cope with anger. (2018, July). Mind. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anger/causes-of-anger/
  5. Nichols, H. (2019, August 27). Feeling angry: Mental health and what to do (T. J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP, Ed.). Medical News Today. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326155

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