Toxic people are like bugs: They come in a million different forms. There are gossips, blowhards, emotional vampires, covert narcissists masquerading as sensitive souls, and purveyors of "toxic positivity." As you might guess from even this short list of subtypes, some are easier to spot than others.
But all are harmful. Research shows that anger, cynicism, and negativity have concrete and measurable impacts on not just your mental health but your physical health as well. Spending time with toxic people can literally shorten your life.
So how do you cut through this complex taxonomy of toxicity, and figure out exactly which friends and colleagues (though flawed and occasionally annoying as we all are) are worth keeping around and which you should seriously consider cutting from your life? A recent post on the blog of artist and author Austin Kleon offers a refreshingly simple test.
How to spot a vampire
Being an artist, it's no surprise that Kleon draws from the visual arts to explain his "vampire test." As he explains in the excerpt from the audio version of his book Steal Like an Artist, below, Pablo Picasso wasn't just a genius, he was also the prototypical emotional vampire.
The great painter made a habit of "making off not so much with [friends'] ideas as with their energy," wrote Picasso biographer John Richardson. "After a pleasurable day in Picasso's company, those present were apt to end up suffering from collective nervous exhaustion. Picasso had made off with their energy and would go off to his studio and spend all night living off it."
The result was masterpieces like Guernica for Picasso, and a whole lot of burn out and lost vitality for friends and fellow artists. To avoid becoming a victim of the sometimes charming toxicity of vampires like Picasso, Kleon advises his readers to implement the "vampire test" to determine whether a relationship is worth your time.
"If after hanging out with someone, you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire. If after hanging out with someone, you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire," explains Kleon, who notes this simple test doesn't just work for people. "You can apply it to jobs, hobbies, places, etc.," he adds.
Kleon closes with an important reminder for the softhearted: "Vampires cannot be cured. Should you find yourself in the presence of a vampire ... banish it from your life forever."
You can check out the complete excerpt below, or the book in its entirety here.