How to identify toxic people as an autistic adult
Autistics process socializing in our own unique way. That can often mean falling victim often and easily to toxic people. All the tip articles out there for steering clear of toxic folk are written by and for neurotypicals, making them virtually useless to autistics. This article explores eight ways autistic people can use to weed the toxic people out of their lives.
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How to identify toxic people as an autistic adult
Life as an autistic adult is a challenge, to say the least. We are, by design, sensitive creatures who are inundated on a regular basis by overwhelm. Whether it be social, sensory, or emotional, the overwhelm is out there, and it is part of our daily existence. Layer that magic with the requirements of society’s social norms, and you have one really tired adult who just wants to make it through the day without stepping on a neurotypical land mine. In other words, the perfect prey for toxic people.
Weeding the toxic people out of your life before they can do too much damage is essential for sustaining any kind of happiness. However, deciphering who is toxic is much easier said than done for autistics. By nature, toxic people do all they can to hide their real agenda, so as to appear harmless. That’s right, toxic people mask themselves, and their intentions, hoping to get all they can from each person they interact with.
Seeing through this mask is incredibly difficult for most people. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be the plethora of articles, blogs, books, and workshops out there full of the red flags that are part of the toxic profile. The problem is that they are all written by neurotypicals for neurotypicals.
Autistics need our own resources. We already struggle with social communication, add to it theory of mind preventing us from seeing others as deceitful, and, boom, we become easy targets for toxic folk.
As autistics, we miss, or misread, the “usual” toxic clues like being self-centered, manipulative, and secretive. Instead, we interpret that behavior from an autistic perspective as perseveration, enthusiasm, and privacy. It would serve us better to use our strengths to identify toxic folk. We are pattern seekers and lovers of fairness and truth, thus, toxic people simply set off our inner alarms for different reasons.
Eight ways to identify toxic people as an autistic adult
Here are some clues to identifying toxic people autistically:
The Distractors: Like professional magicians, toxic people use their own version of slight of hand to weave their secret agenda into existence. “Look at her saying X” or “See him being Y”, they say, while they quietly do X, Y, AND Z as you are busy looking where they pointed last. In other words, toxic people create social distractions for you, so that you do not notice their disingenuous behavior, just like every other bad magician.
Ye Ole Liars and Hypocrite: Nothing gets under an autistic’s skin more than lies and hypocrisy. Have you noticed somebody is really ticking you off because they lie and cover their lies with lies? That’s a big old red flag that more toxic behavior is not far behind. Similarly, hypocrites turn our stomachs into knots of rage, saying one thing and doing another. It’s essentially a lie in action. Toxicity lives in hypocrisy-land.
The Storytellers: Ever know somebody who told the same story over and over again no matter the company? Well, I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the ones who have a story for every situation, even if they have to make it up, or alter it a bit for their current audience. You know the ones that tell you one story, and then tell it to someone else with convenient details changed in their favor? That person whose stories never match, but somehow, they are always the hero or victim? Those little details are part of a bigger, darker story. Well, hello Toxic Dr. Seuss.
The Rule Breakers: I’m not talking about “go to prison” rule breakers here, but rather the subtle folks who pay little or no attention to the basic rules we have set up as a society that ensure we are polite and kind to one another. For example, the type of people who say “Those rules are for somebody else” when it comes to handicapped spaces, or their place in line. Those people will break rules with their “me, me, me” red flag flying high, and they will cross your personal boundaries in the same fashion. Boundary blind = toxic.
The Sycophants: We all know that one person who takes people pleasing to a whole different level. They don’t seem to want to just make folks happy. It’s slimier than that. They flatter in excess for their own gain; tossing about compliments and kindness in an overly saccharine tone, while smiling until they look stuck. They love you until they get what they want. Be wary of toxicity with a smile.
The Animal Avoiders: Who doesn’t like animals? And I don’t mean folks that have allergies or weren’t raised with pets. I mean people who actively dislike animals OR whom animals actively dislike. You know the people that act weird about your pets and your pets act weird with them? Huge red flag. If that’s how they feel about your pet, imagine how they really feel about you.
The Scuttlebutts: Ever meet someone for the first or second time and all they want to do is give you the gossip about everyone in the room? There is one thing you can always know about those people, when you are out of earshot, that is exactly how they will be talking about you. Gossiping is just another form of hypocrisy. It’s basic, toxic behavior that these people will repeat, ad nauseam. Don’t be their fodder.
The Energy Vampires: Energy vampires, those people that drain you of every ounce of emotional energy you have, and then disappear. You can recognize them easily enough. When you spend time with them, even digitally, you are left feeling completely dazed and depleted. Energy vampires, the ‘Collin Robinsons’ of the world, feed off of your attention, sucking your precious spoons right out of you. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes not. Here’s the thing about these people, they never concern themselves with the exhausted state they leave you in. Never. It’s a passive toxicity, but it’s toxicity just the same. No, thanks.
Keep in mind, none of these attributes alone is cause for alarm. As an independent act, any of these folks could simply be stuck in a habit loop, employing a poor coping mechanism, or exhibiting any number of valid human responses. By themselves, these reactions, though unhealthy, are just ‘bad manners’. That said, put three or more of these ‘poor responses’ together in one person, and we have a pattern. We call that pattern toxic behavior.
Now, autistics, find the pattern and do a little social Spring cleaning
Becca Lory Hector
Becca Lory Hector was diagnosed on the autism spectrum as an adult and is a dynamic autism advocate, consultant, speaker, and author.