It’s rare for a toxic people to totally sabotage your attempts at self-improvement, but it does happen. At the very least, they will certainly slow your progress. More to the point, would you want someone in your life who’s actively opposed to making your life better?

The answer, of course, is no. And yet that can be hard to accept, until you begin to recognize the effects of toxicity within you.

Under the influence of a toxic person, you might second guess yourself on an important decision. You might feel sad, uncomfortable and downright ashamed about your own progress and well-being. You might even take on some of the same toxic qualities you resent in others — something that happens to the best of us — because toxic people have a peculiar way of making you toxic yourself.

(In fact, the contagiousness of toxicity is a natural defense mechanism. Howard Bloom in The Lucifer Principle explains how increased toxicity of cyanobacteria was one of the first evolutionary adaptations — bacteria actually evolved to get more and more toxic in order to survive. The same applies to humans on the macro level.)

And more of than not, the pattern happens without us even realizing. If you’ve ever had a toxic boss, then you know how this works: His behavior makes you irritable and bitter, so you lose your temper with the team working under you, which causes your employees to become increasingly difficult with one another, which causes them to bring that attitude home to their friends and family, and before you know it, the poison has unconsciously spread.

That’s how toxicity works. It’s contagious and insidious, even in kind, well-adjusted people. That’s what makes it so dangerous, and that’s why removing toxic people from your life is so critical.

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