This post explores the notion of toxic personality traits, ghosting, gaslighting, and narcissism.
It also demonstrates how to use nature as a metaphor to explore aspects of our life needing deeper understanding and healing.
We’ll view the entirety of our relationships as a garden. A garden cultivated and nourished, weeded and seeded. The result is a healthy space that attracts nourishing relationships
We’ll do a good bit of introspection in this post. As they say, as without so within. Our internal conditions are like the soil inviting what may come to take root in our social life.
Get your journal and be ready to do some work. There are prompts with each section to help you weed and till your inner garden.
A Nature-Based Lens for Relationships
The natural world is a potent place for exploring metaphors. These metaphors can help us clarify our life dynamics. Once seen with a crisp image, unhealthy dynamics can be healed. Often the path to healing is defined by methods and modalities held in the metaphor.
That’s a bit heady, so let me explain.
I tend to see the entirety of my life as a collection of gardens.
My home is like a well-maintained kitchen garden, with each room a garden bed for specific crops that nourish and heal. My family is like a summer flower garden that attracts birds and bees and critters who share in our delights.
And, I see my personal relationships as an edge landscape. I cultivate areas of the edging beds to best suit their particular micro-climate – shade, sun, moist, dry. I have very few friends who are in all parts of my life. Each person meets me at a point of common interest, like being well suited to a micro-climate. Together we grow deep roots and ascending vines. We are nourished by our common interests.
Like the property I care for here at Stony Ridge Farm, not all the gardens get the same amount of care. Whether through neglect, poor soil conditions, or exposure to less than optimal inputs, unwelcome invasive plants gather. They threaten a complete takeover of these untended areas.
What to expect…
This post is an exploration of toxic personality traits. We’ll look specifically at ghosting behavior, gaslighting, and narcissism. We’ll use nature as a metaphor for understanding, healing, and personal change.
So, grab the metaphorical gloves, trowel, soil test kit of your soul. Then, come along on a journey of introspection, contemplation, and transformation.
A journal and pen would be handy as well.
Weeds in the Relationship Garden | An Example
I have a wild garden of pawpaws on my property. The garden space was selected for its extensive tree canopy (pawpaws love shade) and space for new growth.
Last year, we had 24 inches more rain than usual. It was impossible to garden. Tending to the kitchen garden was very difficult. Managing the growth in the pawpaw patch was impossible. It’s a wild spot and we let it go even wilder as the weeks passed into months of downpours.
That lack of attention and all that rain created the perfect environment for fast-growing invasive plants. They moved in and took over. Bob and I recently spent the day removing invasive plants like autumn olive, mulberry, multiflora rose, bush honeysuckle…you name it! The patch is beautiful now. It is restored.
Since moving to West Virginia from Baltimore 10 years ago, my relationships have been a lot like that pawpaw patch. For about 8 years, I was so busy healing from my life in Baltimore and building out the farm that I gave no conscious direction to my friendships, professional network, or place in my new community.
I let it all in!
A turning point…
Last year, like my gardens, I went into a dormant period. I used that downtime to examine what my relationships said about who I am. Some friendships were fed some and others left to whither on the vine.
Introspection defined those days. Time was dedicated to personal development from sources like James Clear and Michael Hyatt. I made a plan.
This is how I use nature-based images as a metaphor for my life and I hope you find it useful.
Here are some journal prompts to help you frame your life in natural metaphor…
Journal Prompts for Nature-Based Reflection
- What is the climate of my life? Am I a dessert about to bloom? A multi-tiered deciduous forest, diverse and complete? An ocean with depths unexplored?
- In that climate, there is a walled garden. What are the walls made of, and what condition are those walls in?
- In the walled garden, is the soil healthy or depleted? Water-logged or parched?
- Finally, are the garden beds within the walled garden of your soul cultivated or wild? Well-tended or abandoned?
Feel free to concentrate on one area of your life, like relationships, as you answer the questions.
Toxic Personality Traits
Thorns, itchy oils, voracious appetites, aggressive growth, and invasion. These are some of the more common aspects of invasive plants in our gardens. They move in quickly when we’re not looking, take hold like wildfire across the landscape.
Toxic personality traits, in ourselves and in others, are much like these invasives. An area of life lacking awareness, a personal blindspot, is like a neglected garden.
Let’s list some toxic personality traits as we see them in others, then as we see them in ourselves.
If you can name it (plant or behavior), you have more control over it.
Toxic Personality Traits in Others
It’s always easy to start these healing journeys by looking at others. Once we can define some of the toxic personality traits we attract into our relationship garden, it’s easier to see where we need to heal.
The only reason these people keep showing up in our life is that the conditions are right for their survival.
Here is the list of toxic personality traits I consistently attract:
- Gossip. No respect for personal boundaries and confidentiality. These people ask deeply personal questions and then freely share responses.
- Passive aggression. These people smile beautifully with an undercurrent of anger that is disconcerting.
- Narcissism. These people see all others as an audience for their ego. It’s a one-way exchange that is exhausting.
I’ve combed the web and my psych texts to comprise a list of 20 common toxic personality traits. If you want to learn more, please visit the Further Reading section at the end of the post.
The List of Toxic Personality Traits
- Manipulative. They exercise unscrupulous control over a person or situation.
- Judgemental and Critical. Their internal eye focuses on the worst in people and situations, and they are happy to tell you about it.
- Blaming others for their feelings. Nothing is the result of their own behavior, ever.
- No apologies. See number 3.
- Inconsistent. They’ll say and do what they need to get the attention and control they crave.
- Divide and conquer mentality. They will put you in situations where you have to choose between your own needs and values and theirs. This often results in having to choose between friends.
- No interest in you. All the focus is on them.
- Negative. They will never allow a good moment to pass unblemished and they will suck your unabashed optimism dry.
- Drama magnet. There’s always something swirling around them.
- Lack of compassion and unable to empathize.
- Talk more than they listen. They’ll suck the air right out of the room.
- Lying. They will frame situations to make you question your own experience.
- Self-absorbed. There’s one point of focus all the time.
- Victim mentality. A thought process that places them on the receiving end of the ill will of others.
- Unresolved addiction issues. Functional addicts are people who can move in the world effectively hiding their addiction. Befriending them can leave you feeling like you’re in a Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde situation.
- Needy. Another way of sucking the life right out of you.
- An interesting relationship with the truth. Lying, extreme exaggeration, and the aforementioned manipulation all in one place.
- Stuck in the past. They’ll tell you their same sad story every time you see them as if you’ve never heard it before.
- Sense of entitlement. They believe they deserve certain privileges and act on that belief.
- Praise in private and mislead in public. That hug you, then smack you dynamic that makes you question reality.
I don’t know about you, but after reading that I feel like I need a shower.
Journal Prompts for Toxic Personality Traits
- How do you feel after reading the list? Explore emotions and body sensations.
- What is the strongest memory evoked by the list?
- If this list described a natural setting, what would it be? (Urban landscape, polluted pond, etc.)
Toxic Personality Traits in Ourselves
I firmly believe that as we heal, we attract healthy people into our lives.
Toxic relationships are a symptom of something in ourselves needing attention.
Perhaps the reason for feeling so uncomfortable after reading that list of toxic personality traits is that they touch something in us needing loving attention.
When I have a repeating issue come up in relationships, I ask this question: what is asking for healing in me?
It’s a lot like seeing blossom end rot on your tomatoes and knowing your soil lacks calcium. There’s a symptom pointing to illness and a remedy.
One of my worst personality traits is a harsh self-criticism. I have to tread lightly with this kind of introspection and I advise you do the same. Don’t take the weight of a negative experience on to yourself. Simply live into the question of healing so that the pattern is less likely to repeat.
Journal Prompts for Acknowledging Toxic Personality Traits in Ourselves
- In difficult relationships, do I recognize a repeated behavior pattern in myself?
- If there is one thing that I could heal in myself to improve my relationships, what is it?
- Do my difficult relationships remind me of a family pattern?
- What awareness practice can I cultivate to help heal my relationship patterns?
What is Ghosting?
Ghosting is the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.
It’s confusing and painful.
For me, ghosting is like experiencing a death and requires a period of mourning.
Experientially, this behavior feels like an extreme form of passive-aggression. The ambiguity of the ending is painful. The person on the receiving end doesn’t know how to respond.
Ghosting is a modern term first found in the common language in 2006. Its rise in occurrence is attributed to social media and online dating apps. There are other terms that capture nuances of the behavior including:
- Marleying, that’s when an X gets in touch with you during the holidays out of nowhere.
- Caspering, that’s ghosting with a gentle explanation.
You can read more at Wiki.
What is Gaslighting?
manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. ~ Google Dictionary
Gaslighting is when the perpetrator behaves in a way that makes others question their experience. It’s manipulation that makes others question their reality.
Perhaps you have had the experience of someone telling you your recollection of events is not true, or the thing never happened at all. Maybe they suggested that the way you feel is bad or even crazy.
In such cases, when there are power dynamics and long-term relationships involved, you begin to question your own perceptions.
The term comes from a 1944 movie called Gaslight. In it, a husband changes a gaslight to make his wife question her grip on reality. He does this to get her committed to an asylum and steal her inheritance.
The best online resource about gaslighting is this article by NBC Better. Highly recommended.
What is Narcissism?
Books have been written on this subject, entire doctoral theses.
Some of us feel like our relationship history IS a doctoral thesis on narcissism.
selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.“
So reads the definition of psychological narcissism from the Google Dictionary.
The methods and behaviors a narcissist will use to get the attention he needs might very well read like the list of toxic personality traits above.
If you find yourself repeatedly in such relationships, you need to educate yourself. Recognize it early. Trust your gut. The allure is intense. The results can be catastrophic.
This Podcast by Dr. Christiane Northrup is a helpful resource for learning about narcissistic abuse and recovery.
Here are books I recommend on the subject:
Journal Prompts for Ghosting, Gaslighting, and Narcissism
- How do these specific behaviors relate to the list of toxic personality traits?
- What natural element do these behaviors remind you of? (choking vines, a morass, etc.)
- What experiences do you have with these behaviors?
- Where are you on your healing journey if you have had such experiences?
How to Heal From a Toxic Relationship
Healing from toxic personality traits begins with awareness.
That’s why you are here, reading this post. You want to learn the signs and signals of toxic personalities so you can break free of a painful pattern.
You also want to become a whole and healed person who does not attract such relationships so easily.
Finally, you want to recognize the behaviors so you can eliminate them from your own personality.
We’ve made an extensive analysis of toxic personality traits. We know one thing for sure, inaction and blaming will not bring health to our relationships. Passivity will not restore the garden.
There’s a point where asking questions about your once friend, or your own wellness begins to inflict more harm and pain. It’s time to stop. Don’t rest in victimhood. It would be too easy to get pulled into a spiral of negativity when looking into toxic personality traits.
Craft a strategy that allows you to rise like a hero in the situation. Heros find their truest self along their journeys. They come to know the wisdom of their own hearts. Heros feel the beauty of their creativity. They experience the fierceness of their love for self and others.
Generally, I rest in the contemplative practices. They include meditation, contemplative prayer, journaling, walking meditation, and contemplative nature walks. My friend Katherine has allowed her healing journey to develop a powerful personal yoga practice. Others enjoy sound healing, reiki sessions, psychotherapy. My friend Laura cares for animals at the local shelter. My kids swear by tapping.
healing is a deeply personal process. Spend time exploring options until you find one that fits your life like a key in a lock.
Healing is a personal journey…
Find your modality and turn it into a personal practice of depth and power. Cultivate awareness. Know your body and the signals it sends when danger is lurking in shadowy places.
The natural metaphors you described in the journal practice can reveal a personal and unique healing path for you.
If your images are watery, you may be soaked in emotion. Use the critical mind to dry out a bit. Conversely, if your images are brittle, you may need to connect more honestly with your emotions to heal.
Get where this is going?
Finally, I recommend slowing down. Allow pauses between events. Don’t let the eagerness driven by a lurking sense of loneliness drive you from friend to new friend. There’s time, plenty of time for good things to unfold. Meaningful relationships can unfold like the seasons, hour-by-hour, month-by-month.
Cultivate your relationship garden with the end in mind. Create a vision of what friendship and community look like to you. Then, use that vision to guide your interactions. Create a mind map, vision board, or written narrative of the perfect friendship, professional relationship, and community.
Remember, trust is earned. It takes time for connections to become rooted. Then, they can rise up into their fullness for the good of all involved.
Resources for a contemplative life…
Seasonal Living and Personal Wellness
Seasonal wellness asks that we learn to trust nature and our bodies to guide our self-care practices. Whether learning the skill of handcrafting herbal teas or taking up a meditation practice, seasonal wellness is about the slow approach to making our wellbeing a priority.
Basically, nature-based wellness practices are contemplative. They need time set aside to experience moments in nature, and in our interior landscape. These practices can be solitary or in community, solemn or festive. They always bring us into direct contact with the present moment. They inspire an internal sense of purpose and peace.
If this resonates with you, I invite you to explore the Seasonal Living Framework with this post and the downloadable workbook.
Despite the length of this post, we’ve just touched the tip of the ice burg when it comes to toxic personality traits. Here are some online resources I used to develop the list of traits. I hope you find them useful.
- The tyranny of toxic managers: Applying emotional intelligence to deal with difficult personalities. Ivy Management Strategies, 2004.
- Measures of Dark Personalities, Paulhus & Jones, 2015.
- 8 things Most Toxic People in your Life Have in Common, Brenner 2016.
- How Emotionally Intelligent People Handle Toxic People. Bradberry.
Let’s stay connected!!!
If you enjoy seeing life through the lens of the changing seasons, I invite you to stay connected. This is a community of activist-oriented gardeners, cooks, and nature lovers.
If you want a loving community to be a part of your seasonal life, please do anyone (or ALL!) of the following:
- Sign up for the newsletter and get my herbal teas and tisanes recipe book for FREE! Tea is always a welcome addition to any time in the kitchen.
- Join our FREE Facebook group where we’re always talking gardens and kitchens.
- Follow me on Instagram and watch the seasons unfold on my 5-acre homestead in Harpers Ferry, WV.
Behaviors that are abusive, unsupportive, and emotionally damaging.
This post has journal prompts to help bring awareness to relationship habits.
This post explores ghosting, gaslighting, and narcissism specifically. It also lists 20 toxic personality traits associated with these behaviors.