healing,  self-love,  toxic relationships

6 Negative Coping Mechanisms That Are Unhealthy & Toxic!

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It’s important to put the focus on “toxic emotions” rather than “toxic people” so we don’t further the shame broken individuals struggle with.

We have all used toxic strategies to handle emotions at one point in our lives. However, the person that is usually labeled “dysfunctional” uses “toxic” strategies excessively and cannot maintain consistent relationships due to their behavior. The unhealed individual encounters trauma at every direction they turn.

People that deal with toxic emotions cannot be picked out from a crowd. In fact, you can be close with the person for months (some people longer) before any of their dysfunctions come to the surface. But, something will eventually trigger (hurt) them and you’ll witness their unhealthy response to pain.

Related Article10 Emotional Needs That Destroy Relationships!

Some toxic behaviors only show up as we get to know someone or see them in tense situation. After seeing their emotional responses, the person that once appeared “healthy” can leave us wondering what happened to the person we “thought” we knew.

Humanity was created in the PERFECT image of God. If people were created perfectly then they can’t be toxic. Therefore, people are not toxic but they handle their emotions and impulses with toxic methods. Individuals with mental health problems have biological, cognitive, and other psychological deficits that inhibit the ability to have empathy, especially when there is choice between hurting themselves and others.

Bad coping mechanism cause toxic behaviors!

Emotions are a normal part of life; it’s how we decide to deal with them that becomes toxic.

Most people do not have healthy coping mechanism for their negative emotions. When we don’t know how to release the negative emotions in a healthy way we end up doing it in an unhealthy way.

While, some people learn how to mask their emotions and deal with them in a way that “society” doesn’t deem dangerous, others don’t. The person with negative coping mechanism has endured so much trauma that they are “incapable” of suppressing it in a way that is acceptable to society.

The highly dysfunctional person most likely grew up in a home where they did not learn healthy strategies or “acceptable strategies” for emotional release, such as numbing with excessive sleep which isn’t a coping method that is judged harshly. Or, the home didn’t help them address their emotions in a way that fit their unique mind and behavioral issues.

Many individuals may know something is “wrong”, but they may be clueless about fixing the issue. Fixing internal dysfunctions is a life-long commitment that many do not know how to start or fear starting because they don’t believe anything will change.

Related Article: Am I In A Toxic Relationship? 6 Signs You Are!

The fear of being an abuser or being abused keeps us in toxic relationship cycles.

Individuals With Toxic Behaviors Struggle With Feelings Of Self-Hate

Coping mechanisms help us deal with disappointments in life. The person with toxic behaviors does not know how to deal with the fact, that they have disappointed themselves and others. They essentially have a lot of self-hate because of the things that have happened in their life.

Everyone experiences self-hate at some point. It’s the complete opposite of self-love. In this experience, individuals do not like something about themselves and deal with it in an unhealthy way.

To avoid the negative things about themselves they involve themselves in many different tactics such as manipulation, blame-shifting, projection, avoidance, and escapism. These tactics allow someone that hates things about themselves to focus their negative energy on something else. Then, they don’t have to feel bad about themselves.

Ultimately, individuals with self-hate are not able to be kind to themselves when they make mistakes. Each time they do something “wrong” they can’t bare the shame and guilt of it. Therefore, they find ways to give away the shame and guilt.

Related QUIZ: What is your coping style?

Individuals With Toxic Behaviors Struggle With Victim-Mentality

Some individuals with unhealthy coping mechanism have been hurt so much by the world that they become afraid. Their actions are centered around protecting themselves from the abusers in the world. They may become so focused on identifying abuse that they think people are attacking them, even when they are not!

Related QUIZ: Are you stuck in a victim mentality?

Victim mentality is the perception that the entire world is against an individual. This way of seeing the world is dangerous because the individual has no clue how distorted their vision is. In fact, it’s easy to get caught up in their web of confusion because they really believe what that they see the world correctly. They are SURE everyone is trying to attack them.

 The key to escaping the cycle of self-hate and victim-mentality is forgiving ourselves and other people. We must also be willing to see what we added to traumatic events or how we can prevent traumatic events to truly heal. Related Article: What is Forgiveness and Why is It Important?

6 Unhealthy Defense Mechanisms

We all need coping mechanisms to protect ourselves from scary emotions and people. These 7 toxic strategies are strategies to preserve our hearts from experiencing pain.

As you read through this section, I suggest you envision when you have used one of these strategies. If you can’t, try to keep thinking about it in daily life. Understanding how others handle negative emotions, impulses, and experiences starts with understanding your own mind.

I’m better at seeing these toxic responses in others because I have identified times, within myself, that I’ve felt inclined to use a toxic coping mechanism. Honestly, resisting the urge to use one of these strategies is often a hard choice… But, I’m committed to giving the world GOOD even when it deserves PUNISHMENT.

Related Quiz: Do you have toxic tendencies?

1. Distorting or Avoiding Reality

Most toxic behaviors stem from an individual that deals with chronic self-hate or a victim-mentality, as mentioned above.

Self- Hate: They are unwilling or unable to accept responsibility for their actions because it means admitting to the horrible things they have done. Admittance of the things they have done makes them feel like a MONSTER, so they will go to any length to ensure that YOU are the monster and not them.

Victim-Mentality: See above for more information. However, this individual doesn’t trust others and believes everyone will hurt them. They see things through their pain and are usually focused on “protecting” themselves even if it hurts others.

Examples of reality distortions or avoidance: 

  • Perspective-taking. Some individuals lack the ability to understand how someone else could feel. Or, they refuse to ponder how another would feel because it would hurt too much. The world revolves around Individuals that do not take the time to see other perspectives. They believe that their point-of-view is the only point-of-view. They are sure they saw the problem correctly and can’t compromise well.
  • Pain Goggles. Individuals that are in pain see the world through their pain. They are so deeply hurt that they are not able to see another perspective in certain or all situations.

    For example: Sally has an issue with a friend. She believes her friend does not care about her. She feels that her friend Gina prefers other people to her. Gina gets a call one night from a group of girls asking her go hang out. Gina did not invite Sally. Sally is very upset and lets Gina have it. Gina was confused because Sally goes out with other friends all the time and doesn’t invite Gina. The problem in this scenario had nothing to do with Gina going out and not inviting Sally. The problem is deeper. Sally feels uncared for in her friendship with Gina.
  • Gas-lighting. The gas-lighter seeks to confuse you and distort your reality. They want you to think your reality is FALSE and they want you to feel crazy or shameful for it. The gas-lighter will lie, manipulate, project, call you “crazy”, change the story, get mad when you ask questions,  and accuse you of false things. This is all done for the gas-lighter to gain control of the story and ensure that they don’t have to feel self-hate. Unfortunately, they give you self-hate and you are left feeling all the negative emotions they don’t want to deal with.
  • Control. The individual that is fleeing from feelings of self-hate or fear of being abused needs to control the story and what you think so they don’t look like the monster or get hurt. They also do this to avoid being rejected or abandoned. However, in order to make themselves feel better they cause pain for others. Eventually, they cause people to leave them and continue the pattern of dysfunction in their own lives.

Related QUIZ: Do you blame shift and gaslight?

2. Blame-shifting

Blame-shifting is when an individual does something wrong or inappropriate but refuses to own up to it. Instead of taking the responsibility for their behavior or words they blame someone else. The person that deals with their emotions in a toxic manner is seeking to distort the reality of the victim.

Self-Hate: This happens when the individual experiences a large amount of guilt or shame in a situation. They are unable to take responsibility for something because it hurts too much. Victim Mentality: Or, the person may be seeing things from their “pain-googles” and feel they are “right” for the destructive things they have done because you were going to hurt them anyways!

Examples of Blame-Shifting:

  • Playing Victim. The blame-shifter will either give blame to you or something they experienced by playing the victim. They will make it seem like the whole world is against them and they were just trying to protect themselves. Or, they’ll point out how flawed everyone  else is and comment that their behavior wasn’t that bad in comparison.
  • Minimizing Your Feelings. You’re just being dramatic! You took it totally out of proportion! What would make you think that? The blame-shifter’s goal is to make you feel “crazy” or “guilty” for thinking negativity of them. If they succeed and you to feel ashamed of yourself you’ll drop the case and move on.
  • Arguing About The Argument. The truth hurts and the individual with toxic behaviors knows this very well. They are unable to take the weigh of responsibility as it makes them feel like a monster. So to get rid of that pain, they will start pointing out everything you’re doing wrong in a conversation – your tone, word choice, facial expression, etc. Soon, you may forget what the actual point of the conversation was and start arguing about small things that don’t solve the main issue.
  • Guilt Tripping & Pity Stories. An individual that blame-shifts is likely to start telling you a story or explaining their situation to lessen the blow of their bad behavior. If you are super empathic, you’ll forget why you were so upset and start tending to their bleeding wounds immediately.
  • Unreasonable Accusations. The victim may be winning the argument at this point so anything to make you feel guilty or distracted from the problem will work. The blame-shifter will make accusations stemming from past issues or accuse you of things that make no sense. Ex: They make it sound like you don’t care about them (you’re the abuser) and their really hurt (they are the victim), even though you’ve spent the last week tending to their wounds.

The victim of blame-shifters are usually people that lack self-esteem, are extremely empathic, and/or lack awareness of what is happening. The victim takes the “false” reality of what happened in an event to keep the peace or because they get confused about what actually happened. The individual with toxic emotions latches onto people like this because they don’t have to deal with the scary emotions they feel.

Related Article: Is The God Complex Hurting Your Relationship? 3 Keys To End The Cycle!

Blame-shifting to the extreme is coupled with other tactics to ensure the victim deals with the pain, instead of the person with toxic traits. All the pain and rage they feel inside is given to the victim through different methods – hitting, humiliation,  Instead, the victim has to deal with those emotions – (I.e., Narcissistic Abuse, Abuse Victims, Domestic Violence).

This is why abuse victims stay with abusers because they feel they deserve it. They have been conditioned to believe they are to blame.

3. Projection

Projection is removing negative internal issues and blaming it on something external. Projection is a version of blame-shifting, however, it is not always intentional and can be subconscious. Projectors usually view others negatively so they don’t have to focus on how horrible they feel about themselves.

Individuals that project tend to blame others for things they are doing or incorrectly assign negative qualities to others.

Examples of Projection:

  • Fran is very sensitive, easily hurt, and paranoid about what everyone says. Fran can’t stand how sensitive she is and is ashamed of it. Fran projects these negative emotions by accusing others of being insensitive and un-compassionate.
  • Julie feels that everyone is selfish and un-compassionate. Julie then gets mad at people when they do one thing she finds selfish or un-compassionate. One violation is enough for Julie to assume that people are rotten to the core.
    • This form of projection is coupled with Confirmation Bias. Confirmation bias occurs when we are looking for something to happen so we see it a lot. One gets hyper focused on looking at that issue and it becomes hard to see the good qualities in others. If we only look for bad, we will only SEE bad.
  • Perhaps you are dating someone that doesn’t feel they are attractive. They will point out everything wrong with you so they can make you feel less attractive. Then, they won’t feel so helpless and unattractive because you feel the same as them.
    • This can also take the form of a manipulative tactic called “Negging.” The goal of this toxic coping mechanism is to make the. victim feel insecure. The unhealthy person does this by giving back-handed compliments or doing something sweet and then criticizing the victim after. The result? The victim likes the good compliments and attention but feels bad about the criticism. The victim  gets “trained” to do the right things to get good “treats” from their master. The victim knows they deserve criticism when they don’t “obey” their master or do what the master likes.
  • Jean cheated on his wife Sarah (She doesn’t know). Sarah and Jean go out to eat. Sarah smiles at the male waiter. Jean feels so guilty that he starts to blame Sarah for flirting and accuses her of cheating.
Check out Healthline.com for other great example.

4. Escapism & Avoidance

Individuals that have difficulty dealing with their emotions tend escape or numb their emotions. Drugs are an example of this. Though, drugs are different for different people. The possibilities of addictive drugs are: Drugs, Obsessive thoughts, Television, Social Media, Food, Sex, Money, Working, Looking Nice, Shopping, Cutting, Cleaning, Gambling, Excercising, etc.

Whatever the person is addicted to is their high and gives them the high they need to escape or avoid their scary negative emotions. Because the emotions are undealt with they will show up in another form such as anger, anxiety, worry, depression, etc.

Examples of Escapism & Avoidance:

  • Relationship hopping. Individuals that can’t keep a healthy relationship are usually escaping and avoiding the issues within other relationships. Every relationship requires hard-work, if an individual complains about everyone and everything… They don’t want to face the problems that they have helped to cause.
  • Suppressed emotions. Joe just got in a car accident that killed his 5 year old son and totaled the car. He is VERY upset about the situation. He can’t bare to think about it. He starts to drink a lot so he can escape the pain. His wife Rosey escapes the pain by obsessively worrying about cleaning and watching television. Joe and Rosey  need to go through a healing process to get over their pain.
  • Suppressed emotions. Christina has a bad day at work so she goes and gets ice-cream. Turns out she has a bad day, everyday for two years. She eventually forms a food addiction and gains 100 pounds. Christina didn’t deal with her work stress in a healthy manner.
  • Stone-walling. This is when an individual refuses to communicate or participate in a discussion or action.
  • Emotionally shutting-down. This person has emotionally checked out. They are no longer there. They may be “doing” the right things but you can tell their heart isn’t in it. They feel emotionally drained and may eventually become depressed.

Which of these coping strategy do you use for coping with emotions? Learn how to end that cycle by Reading More: 3 Strategies to End Toxic Generational Patterns In Relationships

Free empowerment coaching to help you go deeper spiritually and achieve your goals.Want help addressing any of these toxic traits? I can help you! Try 20 mins of Empowerment Coaching now!

5. Passive-Agression

People that are not comfortable using their voice to express what they feel and need in a healthy manner tend to be passive-aggressive. They tend to do “covert” or “subtle” things to give the other person a hint or to punish the person.

The problem with passive-aggression is the other person doesn’t usually learn the lesson because they don’t know what they are doing wrong. Passive-aggression always makes other people feel unsafe because they aren’t sure what may set the passive-aggressive person off. Ultimately, conversations need to be had and not the use of verbal jabs.

Related Article: Are You The Queen of Petty?

The passive-aggressive person is a ticking time bomb. The people that are around them don’t know when or what will cause them to trigger. The passive-aggressive person doesn’t know either. The passive-aggressive needs to learn healthy communication and coping mechanism so they don’t blow up on people or continue taking little petty jabs at the people they love.

Examples of passive-aggression: 

  • Revenge. The passive-aggressive person will punish another person for the wrongs they have done. However, they will do it in subtle ways such as: silent treatment and petty actions.
  • Silent treatment. The person will refuse to communicate or cooperate as a passive form of revenge.
  • Petty Actions. The passive-aggressive might do or not do things to punish another person. For instance, Jill may refuse to make her husband breakfast because he won’t take out the trash.
  • Verbal Jabs. An individual will use subtle words or carefully crafted speech to say something rude without being totally upfront. For instance, John might ask Heather to wear a dress he knows she can’t fit in… To remind her that she needs to lose weight.

Related QUIZ: Do you blame shift and gaslight?

6. Manipulation

Manipulation is purposely giving or not giving certain cues, thoughts, facts, etc. to get someone to believe something. It’s a set up to get someone to believe what the manipulator wants you to believe or to question something.

Examples of Manipulation:

  • Lying – Telling lies is a quick way to get someone to believe or do what we them want to.  Ex. Bill says to his wife: No, I didn’t realize that you were mad. Then, Bill can withstand having to take any responsibility for making his wife mad. He can then blame-shift by saying she is always assuming he knows things and she is always mad about everything.
  • DeceitWithholding facts allows a manipulator to get someone to believe what they want. Presenting information in a way that gets people to think a certain way is deceit. Ex. The boyfriend that makes you think that he left his ex-girlfriend because she was always mad. Yes, she may be always mad… But what caused her to be mad? He may have abused her and caused her to be angry.
  • TriangulationTriangulation is when three or more people are involved in a web of confusion. In this web, one person is telling another person biased information or lies to get them to take their side or turn on one person. The goal of triangulation is to make “one person” or a “group of people” the person to blame.
    • Deceit used to triangulate: Sue: Is Ray a player? I can’t Tell! Kelly: I don’t think so. Sue and Kelly have a innocent conversation and Kelly uses it as fuel. Kelly then tells Ray that Sue thinks he’s a player. Ray then assumed that Kelly isn’t interested and doesn’t date him.
    • Lies used to triangulate: John tells Bob that he saw his wife (Jill) at the bar the other night with another man. Bob starts to accuse Jill of cheating. Eventually their marriage gets really bad. John then tries to comfort Jill and show her that he is a better guy than Bob. Jill and John start to sleep together.  John’s goal is achieved: Bob and Jill get a divorce.

Are you using any of the unhealthy coping mechanisms? Learn how to end that cycle by reading more: 3 Strategies to End Toxic Generational Patterns In Relationships

Christina Daniels is the founder of Adorned Heart. She is devoted to learning about human behavior and its affects on society. She received a B.A. in Psychology and M.A. in Public Policy. She hopes to use her life and academic experience to empower & heal the hearts of women!


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