If you display these 9 communication patterns, you’re being toxic without realizing it

Communication allows us to express ourselves, exchange ideas, show empathy, and build connections.

When done healthily, it can be an invaluable tool in your social arsenal.

But conveying our innermost thoughts and feelings can be tricky to master. 

That’s why, sometimes, we put our foot in our mouth, making matters worse. Especially when we slide into old habits. 

I’m talking about unhealthy communication patterns here. 

And the truth is, if you display any of these, you’re being toxic… 

You just don’t realize it yet.

1) Stonewalling

What’s worse than saying the wrong thing?

You’ve guessed it. It’s saying nothing at all. 

Well, that’s what stonewalling is. 

Let me explain.

Known in psychology as one of the Four Horseman, stonewalling is when you withdraw from the conversation or refuse to engage during conflict. Often leaving the other person feeling ignored and invalidated.

In other words, you shut down (build a wall).

And instead of addressing the issue and working on a solution you pretend to be busy, avoid eye contact, or perhaps, physically leave. Anything to get out of an uncomfortable conversation. 

Here’s the thing.

It’s a fight-or-flight reaction that signals you’re feeling overwhelmed. 

You may not even realize you’re doing it. 

But if this unhealthy pattern continues, you’ll never be able to confront and resolve your issues. 

2) Contempt

According to the Gottman Institute, contempt is the most destructive behavior you can display in a relationship. 

After all, it’s the top predictor of divorce for a reason. 

And whether it’s verbal or not, it’s typically used to undermine (and disarm) the other party, making them feel worthless or unworthy. 

Perhaps you use disrespectful language, call them names, reply sarcastically, or publicly mock them. 

Either way, it sends the message “I’m better than you.”

But it doesn’t stop there.

Non-verbal communication, such as eye-rolling, sneering, mimicry, and scoffing, also counts.

There are no loopholes when it comes to being toxic

In fact, it’s not just your relationship at stake. Research shows that contempt could even make you physically sick! 

3) Defensiveness

Hey, it’s only natural to get a little defensive sometimes. 

Especially when someone questions, criticizes, or complains about you. 

You may feel singled out or attacked. Perhaps even unjustly treated. 

But when it prevents you from listening to their (very valid) feedback or taking accountability for your actions, you’re not only in denial…

You’re also demonstrating a toxic communication pattern.

One where you make excuses for your behavior to protect yourself and get them to back off. 

The problem with shifting blame (instead of considering the other person’s perspective) is that after a while, no one is going to take you seriously. 

It’s a little like the boy who cried wolf.

But sometimes, it is your fault and you need to accept that (if you’re going to have any chance at resolving any ongoing or future conflicts). 

4) Blame-shifting (and deflection)

Do you have a habit of blaming others for your problems (no matter how small)? 

Perhaps you use it to direct focus away from your shortcomings. Or maybe, it’s simply a defense mechanism to justify your bad behavior. 

Basically, you hold anyone and everyone (but yourself) liable for your mistakes, instead of taking accountability. 

Whatever your reasons, it’s your way of saving face and explaining away your actions. 

Here’s the thing.

Not only does this deflection tactic create a toxic atmosphere, but it’s an unhealthy pattern that can ultimately erode trust and prevent the genuine resolution of problems.

5) Constant criticism 

phrases narcissists use to manipulate their partner If you display these 9 communication patterns, you’re being toxic without realizing it

Another one of the Four Horsemen, criticism, can be extremely toxic. 

Especially when it’s your go-to communication style.

Think about it. 

Name-calling, being patronizing, or actively putting people down is never going to end well. 

It’s just plain mean.

In fact, it’s more likely to damage their self-esteem and strain your relationships than solve your issues.

So, if you find yourself continuously finding fault in others without offering constructive feedback or positive reinforcement, it might be time to reconsider how you talk to others. 

And remember, it’s important to “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”

6) Overgeneralization (and labeling)

Are you guilty of making sweeping statements and generalizations about yourself and others? 

Perhaps you can’t help but label the people you know (even love) as “selfish,” “emotional,” or “controlling.”

Let’s face it.

Not only is it unkind, but when you label someone based on an isolated event or negative experience it’s unfair, to say the least.  

Something that’s particularly toxic when you pair these labels with statements like “always” or “never.”

It’s like rubbing salt in the wound.

And when you allow this distorted thinking pattern to take over, it can often lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

Not to mention, it’s extremely unhelpful.

7) Gaslighting 

Probably one of the most infamous forms of manipulation, gaslighting can make people doubt their their own feelings, perceptions, or sanity.

Methods include deliberately feeding them lies, denying past events, or generally making the victim feel confused, uncertain, or mistaken.

In extreme cases, they may begin to question their reality and beliefs. 

It’s your way of gaining control and power. 

And while it might unintentional, it’s safe to say, that this communication pattern is toxic. 

8) Steamrolling

You think that you’re being confident and assertive. You’re an extrovert, after all. 

What’s more, because “you’re right” it’s okay to talk over your partner and point out their flaws.  

But in reality, you’re steamrolling them. 

You should be listening –  not interrupting.

I mean giving them a chance to explain their side and feelings. 

By steamrolling them, you’re halting the discussion dead in its tracks.

At the end of the day, conversation is a two-way street. An exchange of information and ideas. It’s a dialogue, not a monologue. 

And whether they’re right or wrong their emotions are still valid. 

9) Passive-aggression

According to psychologists, passive-aggression is a prime example of ineffective communication

I’m talking about backhanded compliments, subtle jabs, and sarcasm. 

All these actions suggest that you’re expressing your anger (or frustration) indirectly instead of addressing how you really feel. 

It’s like you’re trying to make a right out of two wrongs.

But the subtle digs and covert retaliation only adds fuel to the fire. 

In fact, it’s downright toxic and not solving anything. 

However, it’s never too late to change. 

By recognizing (and accepting) these nine unhealthy communication methods now, you can work on finding constructive ways to express your thoughts and effectively resolve conflicts in the future. 

Leila El-Dean

Leila El-Dean

Leila is a passionate writer with a background in photography and art. She has over ten years of experience in branding, marketing, and building websites. She loves travelling and has lived in several countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Spain, and Malta. When she’s not writing (or ogling cats), Leila loves trying new food and drinking copious amounts of Earl Grey tea.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.