There’s a type of person I categorize as a “Poison Person.” They may affect me mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, sensorially, or any combination of these. They will sap my coping and social skills until I am reduced to an anxious, exhausted blob. They may actually be wonderful people; they may even be people I desperately want to like. But they are like poison to me.
A Poison Person:
- demands eye contact
- implies dishonesty if little or no eye contact
- invades personal space, gets in my face
- may try to force hugs or kiss on the cheek
- consistently moves closer when I move away
- wears heavy perfume or scents, is a heavy smoker
- is impatient
- demands immediate responses and actions
- talks loudly or yells
- jumps topics frequently and rapidly
- speaks extremely quickly. Is a “hyper-speed” talker all the time
- jumps in to fill the silence when I’m trying to process something
- supplies what they think I might want to say or what I might be feeling
- derails my thought process, sometimes causing me to have to start all over again
- mocks or makes fun of me/others
- gossips constantly, makes me wonder what they say about me
- treats others as inferior
- is patronizing, condescending, infantilizing, or dismissive
- lies frequently
- cannot be trusted; breaks confidence
- is un-empathetic or uncaring
- has dry, abrasive humor and finds it funny when I can’t read it
A poison person may have more than one of these traits. Rarely, I meet someone who has ALL of these traits…and I run for cover.
In theory, I avoid a Poison Person at all costs, but unfortunately many PP’s can be fairly practiced at hiding these traits. Other times, it’s someone who is not easily avoided (example: Boss).
The effect that a Poison Person can have on me is best illustrated through a story:
I went on a shopping trip with two fellow expats while studying in Japan. One was a fairly familiar friend, the other a casual acquaintance. Normally I would avoid going anywhere with people I didn’t know well, but I was desperate to get to this particular store and had no way of getting there otherwise.
The car ride to the store was only twenty minutes, but it felt like an eternity in hell. We took the acquaintance’s car and she had air “fresheners” all over. Those things are like little migraine bombs for me. I could have handled that much, if she hadn’t been a Poison Person in disguise. As she drove, words just kept rocketing out of her mouth like verbal diarrhea.
There was no pause in the stream of words for the entirety of the car ride and I was right next to her in the passenger seat. My friend in the backseat did little to engage in conversation, and I became the sole target for the onslaught. She often spoke more quickly than I could hear (much less process), all but shouted her words, adopted high-pitched voices to imitate people, kept locking eyes with me in the rearview mirror, often grew impatient (and louder) if I didn’t fill the infinitesimally brief silences with an adequate response within her self-allotted timeframe….
Unfortunately, it didn’t stop when we reached the store; she kept it up throughout the entire hour-long shopping trip as well. I had difficulty thinking through what I needed to get while in the store–even with a list in hand. I became anxious and wanted to either sink to the floor and cry, or run out the door and into the night. At one point I excused myself to go find some random item I didn’t even want so that I could have two minutes of calm in which to breathe deeply.
By the time we got back to the car, I was at the end of my rope. During the twenty minutes of overpowering one-sided conversation returning home, I had to focus on breathing and not throwing up. I was nauseous and had a pounding headache. My thoughts were scattered and I struggled to say anything at all. I answered her in one-syllable words, hoping she might get the hint. I didn’t feel comfortable asking her to speak more softly (or not at all) because it was her car, her driving, and her kindness that got me to the store at all and I didn’t want to be rude or ungrateful.
Once I got home, I was completely nonverbal. I couldn’t force myself to speak. Instead, I sat on the couch and rocked. By the time I had calmed down, it was time for bed and I collapsed into bed in absolute exhaustion. My final thought that night was, “God, it must be exhausting to be her….”
4 thoughts on “19: Poison People”
I so agree with the description of (and reaction to) a Poison Person. Unfortunately I have some extreme versions of that type in my closest family (including a parent), and have never habituated to it… I simply avoid contact with them. Some of the traits (e.g. relentless eye contact, relentless talk, hopping from topic to topic at brief intervals, filling up any “pause” (as they see it) in a conversation with more words, more expressions, more interaction) is a deeply ingrained part of the family culture on my mother’s side, it is how they communicate when they are together, it is like second nature for them. The combined effect is a massive, invasive noise inferno where any “pause” is immediately invaded, and there is no way for me to cope except for simply just not being around… so I avoid all family get-togethers (I live far from them in another country, but even when I visit I find excuses to not come, and even when I loved nearby for many years I stayed away. Them seem to have forgotten that and now seem to assume that I would come if I was not living in a faraway country). They are all nice persons, it is just that their collective communication style is unbearable
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Thank you so much for your comment!
I’m so sorry that you have such extensive experience with Poison People, and especially that family members are so toxic to you. I agree that often avoiding people that have that toxicity to us is the best solution.
I’m also sorry to hear about the family culture on your mother’s side and how exhausting and overwhelming that seems to be. I would have fled to the bathroom (or out the front door/maybe a window) at family gatherings like that.
I agree that Poison People can often be good people! But sadly that doesn’t mean they aren’t communicating in a toxic way. Now that I’ve identified what is toxic to me, I’ve been trying to figure out good ways to communicate my needs to people.
I think it will be a trial-and-error sort of process with a lot of “I-statements” (vs “You-statements) so that people aren’t offended and immediately defensive.
I sincerely wish you the best of luck with self-care, setting boundaries, and communicating your needs with any Poison People you have in your life ❤
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I don’t want to call them toxic people, because that’s usually used to describe narcissistic and egocentric people. What’s poison to me works fine for them… It is just that their communication style is a poor match with my neurotype 🙂
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That’s a good distinction! I think some Poison People are toxic in that sense, while others are not and it’s just a difference in communication needs. That’s a great point 🙂 I love your positive and non-judgemental view on that.
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