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Is It Healthy, Obnoxious, Toxic or Narcissistic?

You May Not Realize What You're Putting Up With.

How do we know what behaviors we shouldn't be putting up with in response to our own reasonable words or actions?

It's hard to determine what's unhealthy, when you've never known healthy.

For many of us who grew up in less-than-healthy households, we may be used to putting up with less-than-ideal behavior, to put it mildly.

Keeping What's Healthy in the Forefront

It's important to keep in the forefront of our minds an idea of what healthy behavior looks like.

Here are some tools to use to help with this.

Traits of High-Nurturance Families

You might find this checklist of 33 Traits of High-Nurturance Families and Groups eye opening. Some of the highlights include:

​All family members usually...

feel safe to ​express thoughts, feelings, opinions, and needs; disagree with family members; and feel noticed, valued, and listened to, even during conflicts and crises.

fear being scorned, ignored, attacked, or rejected

Family problems are...

discussed honestly and promptly, and are usually resolved

denied, ignored, minimized, deferred, debated, or endlessly rehashed.

Children usually trust their primary caregivers to...

consistently and genuinely care and to protect them

minimize, ignore, or increase their needs, fears, and hurts.

Adults usually...

are open to considering constructive feedback, even when feeling criticized

attack, defend, explain, ignore, discount, pull rank, or leave.

Conflict is generally...

supportive, mutually respectful, and constructive,

blameful, rageful, shaming, belittling, or manipulative.

Minor kids can safely confront the adults, [resulting] in..

empathetic listening and effective problem-solving

justifying, arguing, blaming, explaining, whining, debating, defocusing, counterattacking, condescending, pretending, withdrawing, or ignoring.

An Easy Tell, #1: Communication Style

A quick way to keep what's healthy in the forefront of our minds and for determining whether an interaction or dynamic is healthy or not is to apply this test:

Which of these descriptors, which psychologist and parenting coach Dr. Sarah Crawford uses when differentiating between helpful and unhelpful parenting, is most applicable:

"connection-based" versus "shame-based"

Even in the adult-only world, such as the workplace, you still can hear a shame-based approach used.

An Easy Tell, #2: Response vs Reaction

Also, let me offer an easy tell between healthy and unhealthy behavior: whether that behavior is a response or a reaction.

A reaction is a reflex action; the first thing that comes up, before we've addressed the feelings about what we've just taken in. Only once we address those feelings can you respond rather than react.

That involves taking the time to reflect on the feelings that come up, making room for each one (like onion layers) and processing it, and containing (not stuffing) any anger, so that we can talk about our anger rather than act it out. Not everyone everyone does this. The difference is that some of us can develop the ability to do so, and some of us can't.

This allows us to come back with a reflective response rather than a reflexive reaction.

You'll notice that the example responses in the Healthy Response rows are indeed responses, whereas the example responses in the Toxic and Narcissistic rows are actually reactions.

Narcissists can be triggered so easily by perceived slights (even just a difference of opinion), that they elicit an outsized defensive reaction. I call it the "narcissist's donkey kick" for how strong and swift those reactions can be. They can lead to a person walking on eggshells.

[Why narcissists are so reactive: The Narcissist's Alternate Reality]

You may find that there are some people in your life who habitually react rather than respond. They may not even be capable of doing otherwise. That's your clue that you're unlikely to ever have thoughtful, fair and reciprocal interactions with them.

Tables With Examples of Unhealthy Responses

In order to help analyze behavior contrasted to a healthy baseline, I've created the tables below, each with a communication scenario and examples of responses that might be considered healthy, obnoxious, toxic, or in the worst case, narcissistic.

But first, there are a few things to note about the narcissistic responses:

1. "Narcissistic" refers to a person with pathological narcissism (who may or may not be diagnosable with NPD).

Informally, we tend to use the term "narcissist" for anyone who seems self-centered or conceited, but that dilutes the term and can cause confusion.

2. There is a range of devaluing behaviors exhibited by narcissists.

Some narcissists devalue others in a dramatic fashion, while others might simply exhibit extreme dismissiveness or silent disdain.

Most of what you hear or read about refers to the more dramatic behaviors, and so, in particular, people are less aware of "Silent Narcissism," as Dr. Crawford conceptualizes it.

As a result, there are plenty of people who don't realize they are victims of narcissistic abuse and instead think it's they themselves that are the problem.

Therefore, I am including below examples of both "dramatic" and "silent" narcissistic responses (although even that doesn't cover the whole range of behaviors). The silent narcissism might seem mild, but try to imagine dealing with a dismissive and disdainful stance that is constant and impenetrable.

3. Narcissists wont always behave as poorly as I've indicated below.

They tend to weigh what behavior will work in their favor and may “play well with others” when it is to their benefit to appear to be doing so.

4. I'm referring to behavior by adults over the age of 25.

The adolescent brain doesn't fully mature into an adult brain until about age 25. Be careful not to judge teens and young adults, who are naturally higher in narcissistic behaviors, the same way you'd judge older adults who should have matured beyond those behaviors.


​You respectfully disagree with the other person's opinion.


Horror films are lame.


Really? What is it about them you don't like?

I love them. They invigorate me.

​Healthy Response:

​Healthy, mature people are open to difference. They respond respectfully, convey interest while you speak, and may even ask clarifying questions to confirm their understanding before returning to their own point of view.

The plots are too thin for me; I like a really complex story. But I can see how they would be invigorating. I never thought of it that way. Cool. I’m glad you enjoy them.

​Obnoxious Response:

​Before you can finish explaining your opinion, they cut off your response with an attack its validity, and by extension, demean you.

Really?? They have no plot whatsoever. I don’t know why anyone would watch them.

Toxic Response:

They outright demean and mock you.

What?! You don’t know what you’re talking about! They have no plot whatsoever. I don’t know why anyone over the age of 15 would watch them. Why don't you and your little friends go to the matinee and then go get an ice cream sundae afterwards!

Narcissistic Response:

​Dramatic Narcissism:

They use the opportunity to condemn you as a person, revealing their contempt for you.

What!? Why am I even surprised. Once again, it's clear you have no taste whatsoever. You're just like your no-class loser mom. You eat like a pig, too. I can't even take you to a restaurant. I don't know how I ever got involved with you. You’re lucky I’m with you. No one else would have anything to do with you. It's downright embarrassing. You're disgusting.

Silent Narcissism:

They shut down communication with a curt rejection.

Nope. You’re full of sh*t. End of subject.


​You are asked to do something that you are not comfortable with, and you say no.

Healthy Response:

​They respect your answer, even if they describe their disappointment.

If there is further information which might affect your decision, they present it respectfully.

If it makes a difference, our roommates will be there as well. But no problem, I understand.

Obnoxious Response:

​They immediately launch into an effort to get you to change your mind.

You always like going to these kinds of things! I need you there! You have to come!

Toxic Response:

​They get angry at you for declining.

Fine! See if I do you any favors!

Narcissistic Response:

​Dramatic Narcissism:

They may show outrage and attack your character, claim to be a victim of your actions, and guilt-trip you.

They may also list any help, favors or gifts they've provided, making it clear that these were not truly gifts, but opening moves building up to a quid pro quo transaction.

Amazing -- you like to think of yourself as a good person, but the real truth is that you're totally selfish! I guess I'm the last one to realize it because I always see the best in people. And this is what it gets me.

You’ve never been able to socialize well -- it's embarrassing -- but I've always been there to cover for you. But I guess that means nothing to you if this how you choose to treat me! Everyone can see that you're odd. I've tried to help you as much as I could, but there's only so much I can work with, especially since you don't care enough to even try.

Once again, I do all the giving and get nothing in return. What about the time I helped you [x]? And the time I gave you [y]? After all I've done for you, you'd think I could depend on you to be a real friend. But apparently not. I always doubted whether you were capable of any type of real friendship*, and I was right.

*They really mean"loyalty."

Silent Narcissism:

They have a silent reaction, but with a clenched jaw and facial expression that shows you their contempt, or they may completely ignore you and convey through body language that you don’t matter at all.


You bring up the issue of someone’s poor behavior, such as disrespecting your time or possessions.


Could you please clean any boiled-over food from the stovetop after cooking? I spent 15 minutes cleaning it off so that it wouldn't get baked on when I turned on the flame.

​​Healthy Response:

​They apologize for their behavior and state that now that they know it bothers you, they wont do it again.

If appropriate, they make amends or compensate you.

I apologize. Thanks for letting me know. I'll be sure to clean the stovetop after I use it.

Obnoxious Response:

​Instead of addressing the topic, they make accusations against you.

Meanwhile, you leave glasses out!

Toxic Response:

​Instead of apologizing, they blame you for their behavior and launch into a tirade of all the things you’ve ever done that bother them, many of which are false accusations.

That’s because you start using the kitchen before I'm even done! You just waltz around as if the apartment was all yours! And you’re always using the TV, too. Plus you leave your clothes in the dryer for the whole weekend.

Malignant Response:

Dramatic Narcissism:

They refuse to even acknowledge their behavior, and if they do it’s in the context of blaming you for it (blame shifting). They might launch into an attack that includes criticizing your character, using descriptions that more aptly apply to themselves (projection), and attempts to divert the focus away from themselves and onto you (deflection) through the use of circular arguments and other forms of “word salad” (see more on that topic further below).

UNBELIEVABLE that you're claiming that you cleaned up after me -- as if you ever do any cleaning! You just waltz around as if the apartment was all yours, leaving messes everywhere you go! You’re such a slob, nobody can stand to live with you! When was the last time you shaved your legs, hmm?? You disgust me!

Silent Narcissism:

They give a dismissive response. Or they might not respond at all, but show by their expression that your concerns mean nothing to them, then just leave the room.

I do everything around the house. If you have to clean the stove once in awhile, so be it.


A child comes to their parent with a painful issue.

​​​Healthy Response:

​The parent shows compassion for the situation the child is in and approaches problem-solving from a place of connection.

​​​​Obnoxious Response:

​The parent acts inconvenienced, gives a distracted response, or responds with a dismissive statement.

Calm down! You’re alright!

— or —

Stop. We need to go do.…

​​​​Toxic Response:

​The caretaker is annoyed and invalidating.

Well, if you hadn’t.…

— or —

You should have….

— or —

You only have yourself to blame.…

​​​Narcissistic Response:

Dramatic Narcissism:

In addition, the parent gets angry and shames the child.

Why can’t you ever…??

— or —

What’s wrong with you??

Then the parent peppers the “discussion” with other alleged faults and misdeeds on the child’s part, building a case that the child is altogether bad or worthless.

Silent Narcissism:

The parent makes a dismissive remark and then leaves.

Deal with it.

Sidebar: Narcissistic Word Salad

Let me provide a description of what has become known as "Narcissistic Word Salad," that I refer to in the second-to-last scenario under Narcissistic Response.

Word salad is a technique of arguing which is intended to shift blame onto the other person, even when they're the one who brought up the issue in the first place. And, indeed, being on the receiving end of word salad means that there will never be a satisfying resolution to the conversation, as it involves purposefully confusing responses that keep the conversation off track and lead to frustration.

Such responses include:

  • talking in circles (repeating the same points with no progress towards a conclusion);

  • making off-topic accusations ("Oh, you mean like when you...?!");

  • making illogical arguments or using circular reasoning (making an argument that assumes that which it is trying to prove); or

  • reinventing history using denial, distortion, mischaracterization, or outright lies.

The blame-shifting, denial, and projection (accusing you of behaviors or characteristics they themselves have) create a condition of gaslighting (i.e., you are made to doubt your own memory and perceptions), which rises to the level of emotional abuse.


NEXT: Read about the idealize - devalue - discard behavioral pattern some narcissists follow, especially in romantic relationships: Love Bombing and Limerence, a Potent Mix: How Your Twin Flame Can Burn You.

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