Here's How To Tell If Your Roommate Is Toxic, According To Therapists
That fresh-out-of-college feeling you’re vibing with right now? That, my friends, is what freedom tastes like. No offense to mom or dad, of course, but it only gets better when you’re living on your own and making the rules as you go — that is, unless your income requires you to get a roomie and things go south. You can’t always know how to tell if your roommate is toxic right off the bat, especially if you’ve never had a bad experience like that before. Plus, a toxic roomie can be particularly difficult to spot if they're a stranger or a friend of a friend whom you’ve only come across in passing once or twice. Toxic behaviors are rarely, if ever, obvious during that first impression.
Take it from me: I’d been dating my husband three and a half years before we lived together, and I'd still pick up on some of the quirks I’d never noticed before about him when we first moved in together. While I don't believe or feel our relationship is toxic, you see people in a different light when you live with them, and that’s completely normal. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t always work out for the best.
Having said that, though, there’s a difference between someone you just don’t see eye to eye with and someone who’s actually toxic. According to doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker Dr. Danielle Forshee, LLC, a toxic person can be defined as “someone who violates personal boundaries physically, emotionally, or psychologically.” Oftentimes, she tells me in an interview with Elite Daily, these types of people are “passive aggressive, or [act in ways that] make it difficult to assess their genuineness.”
Now, there are a few ways to go about dealing with a toxic roomie once, as Ace Of Base would put it, you open up your eyes and see the signs. According to Dr. Forshee, it’s very important to address the toxicity with the other person first, “before making any assumptions or moves,” i.e. packing your bags and leaving them stranded without forking over half the rent as payback.
“Point out the situation(s),” she tells Elite Daily, “then say how you feel about them, ask open-ended questions to understand their perspective, and then tell them what you need.” In other words, imagine structuring the conversation like you would an essay: state your case, back up your claim, and make a closing argument you both can work with. Personally, I loathe confrontation, but when it comes to your living space, these types of conversations are more than necessary, especially if your roommate is actually toxic. Like I said, there's a difference between someone constantly leaving unwashed dishes for you to clean and someone who makes you feel insignificant on a daily basis.
Here are a few tell-tale signs your roommate is toxic AF, so you can decide for yourself whether they're just slightly annoying, or someone you cannot, under any circumstance, continue to co-exist with.
1They Overreact To The Smallest Things
Listen, I totally understand if your roommate gets a little peeved when you're constantly leaving dirty dishes in the sink, or if your hair clogs the shower drain and you never unravel the strands. I'd be irked by that, too.
But let's say, for instance, you forget to shut the TV off one night, or leave a glass of water on the table while you're in class, and she blows a fuse. You get a blast of screams, followed by the iciest of cold shoulders — the whole nine yards. That, my friends, is what Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist and creator of Your Happiness Hypothesis Method, would call a red flag.
"If your roommate is frequently overreacting to minor issues," Silva tells Elite Daily, "it could be they're frustrated with something that is not due to you," such as anxiety, insecurity, immaturity, tendency to bully, or being bullied. "Either way," she says, "it's something they need to address rather than use you as a human landline."
2If They're Controlling AF
Some like to go with the flow no matter what the context is, while others take the reigns of a situation — or, in this case, household — and don't back down.
Now, if your roomie always has to have everything just so, and prefers to live life according to their rules, that's fine to an extent (because, I mean, who doesn't?). However, according to Silva, this can become problematic fast if their uncompromising behavior starts to affect how you live and feel in your own home. Again, Silva says, this has nothing to do with you, but something about you could be "triggering their behavior," and it's up to your roommate to solve their own aggression.
3They're Super Needy
On the other side of the spectrum, you might come across people who tend to need a little more than you can give them. These types are often referred to as "emotional vampires," according to YouTuber and licensed marriage and family therapist, Kati Morton. But instead of sucking blood, they just suck everything they can get out of you until you're mentally exhausted. Sounds like the BFF of your dreams, right?
"They can depend on you for a social life, or even all their emotional support," Morton tells Elite Daily. "If they don't have other people they can count on, or even ways to help themselves, that can be exhausting and overwhelming."
These circumstances can be tricky because there's a good chance your roommates hyper dependence actually has nothing to do with you and everything to do with something going on in their personal life. Having said that though, according to Morton, your first line of defense is going to be to set boundaries. "Set up some limits as to when you will talk to them, and how long you will be around them," Morton tells Elite Daily. "Trust me, you will feel so much better."
4They Bring Out The Worst In You
Growing up, my mother always told me to find a partner who makes me feel like the best version of myself. Even though she was specifically referring to romantic partners, I definitely think this golden rule can be applied to any person you choose to keep around in life — especially if you're going to live with them.
The thing is, when you really hit it off with someone, it's often super easy to adapt to their behaviors without even meaning to. If your roomie's favorite Friday night activity is to round-robin happy hours in the city until she's plastered, for instance, and you suddenly find yourself raising multiple glasses when, really, you'd rather be home watching Queer Eye, something's not right there.
If you start to notice you're acting in ways you haven't before, that just don't feel like the you you want to be, or saying or doing things you normally wouldn't say or do, Morton says there's a good chance you and your roommate might not work out.
5They Make You Feel Bad About Yourself
You don't necessarily have to be best friends with your roommate to co-exist in peace, but when a roomie becomes public enemy number one, that's when it's time to either hash things out, or find a new home.
I'm not saying every toxic relationship is doomed. In my junior year of college, I moved in with a new set of girls, and I had it out a few times with one of them, who ultimately turned out to be a close friend of mine after all was said and done.
However, when your roommate just plain doesn't make you feel all that good about yourself, even after you've reconciled your differences, that's definitely one issue Silva advises you don't put up with.
When a roommate becomes manipulative, she tells Elite Daily, in the sense that they're constantly "demeaning you as a person," or "creating self-doubt within you," it tends to be a red flag speaking to their conflict resolution style. It may not have anything to do with who you are at all, but it's definitely not something you should accept, either.
6If They're Passive Aggressive
Personally, one of my biggest pet peeves is passive aggression (even though I know damn well I've mastered the art of it myself). It's totally natural when you're living with someone for the first time to pick up on quirky habits they possess that annoy TF out of you and vice versa. That being said, it's really not productive for you or your roomie to keep whatever's bothering you/them bottled up inside.
In fact, it can actually be pretty destructive. Dr. Carolina Castaños, founder of MovingOn, the first interactive program designed to help people overcome heartbreak, tells Elite Daily that when someone doesn't tell you what's bothering them straight-up and, instead, finds indirect ways to "make you feel bad," that's a clear sign she or he is toxic.
The best way to handle passive aggression, Castaños explains, is actually really simple: be true to your feelings. Unfortunately, she says, you really can't change another person; they have to figure out and manage their own emotions and actions. You can, however, recognize how you feel, address it straightforwardly, and hope they reciprocate this kind of behavior.
7They're Emotionally Unstable
One thing to keep in mind when going into a living situation with brand new roommates (regardless of whether you know them or not) is that humans are complicated creatures who feel a lot of things. So just make sure to assess the situation before pointing the finger.
Now that I've gotten my little disclaimer out of the way, let's address emotional instability and what that really means. There's emotional, and then there's intensity, and Castaños says your roomie's the latter if they take their feelings to an explosive level (anger, outbursts, and the like), or it starts to affect their health (like anxiety attacks or suicidal thoughts, she explains).
Oftentimes when a person is toxic, Castaños points out, they aren't able "to recognize how any of his/her behaviors might have impacted you," especially when the toxicity stems from their emotional state. The best thing you can do is be there for your roommate when they need you, but know when to take a step back when their feelings either a) start to affect yours, or b) are taken out on you.
8They'll Do Anything For Attention
I once had a roommate in college who was the very definition of an attention hog. This girl wanted all eyes on her every minute of the day, and she didn't care how or who it was from, especially when it came to guys. I learned that one real fast when freshmen year move-in day came around, and she was twirling her hair and batting her eyes at my then-boyfriend outside my bedroom door.
Castaños says these are the types of people who can wind up toxic real quick because, basically, they have no boundaries.
"Someone who can do anything for attention," she tells Elite Daily, "including talking about you behind your back, sharing your personal information with others, or being flirtatious with your partners," is a red flag at best.
Learn from my mistakes, friends, and don't just take it. When their need for attention becomes a distraction, address the situation ASAP before it gets out of control. This doesn't mean you have to hash it out with an attitude and a grocery list of their wrong-doings. Calmly sit them down and let them know their behavior is causing a rift. Hopefully they'll hear you out and re-evaluate their actions.