Don’t you wish you had a magic ball to determine who was a toxic person whenever you met someone new? Some lightning-speed clairvoyance which could immediately bring you away from any harm they might pose to you and your life? Well, technically you do in the form of your intuition – the mystical radar which appears to go off at even one inkling of danger. Yet even then, there’s no guarantee we wouldn’t rationalize our own intuition or inner voice. That’s why it’s so important to understand the red flag traits and behaviors of toxic people so we can keep them in mind whenever we encounter a potentially toxic person or even a malignant narcissist.
There is actual research which confirms the very attitudes you should be on the lookout for if you suspect you may be dealing with someone dangerous. Here are the five attitudes you might notice straight away if encountering someone who could hurt you:
1. Animosity towards your success and sabotage.
According to researchers Lange, Paulhus, and Crusius (2017), malevolent envy is associated with darker personalities such as those who embody the Dark Triad (narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy). Research has also supported the fact that malicious envy is associated with Machiavellian behaviors such as deception, sabotage, and spreading rumors about the envied person. This will be no surprise to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of sabotage, smear campaigns, or blatant misrepresentation by envious narcissistic people.
Unlike benign envy which can motivate people to improve themselves, malicious envy is said to drive “negative thoughts about the envied person, attentional focus on the competitor, and behaviors directed at undermining the other’s performance.” Other studies have confirmed the link between envy and psychopathy (Veselka, Giammarco, & Vernon, 2014).
A pathologically envious attitude can be a red flag that you may be dealing with someone narcissistic, especially if that pathological envy leads to underhanded sabotage, minimization of your success, or outright put-downs and chronic verbal abuse. These behaviors also expose narcissistic individuals in the workplace as well as dating. Watch out for anyone who covertly puts down your achievements, who ignores, belittles or acts indifferent to what you’ve accomplished, attempts to provoke you before important events, or haughtily acts like you are unimpressive. These could all be indications that you are dealing with someone toxic, and in some cases, even psychopathic.
2. A victim-shaming and gaslighting attitude towards survivors of abuse or assault.
One of the biggest attitudes you’ll quickly assess in a narcissistic individual is a lack of empathy for others – and that includes even for the victims of heinous crimes such as domestic violence (whether psychological or physical) and rape. These “rape-enabling attitudes” are a surefire sign you are dealing with someone narcissistic. Narcissism has been proven by research to be linked to the acceptance of rape myths, while psychopathy has been linked to sexual predatory behavior such as sexual harassment (Jonason, Girgis, & Milne-Home, 2017).
Unless they are a highly covert and manipulative individual in which case they will put on a persona to fool you about their real attitudes (such as the faux feminist who espouses equality in public while abusing and assaulting women in private), this form of victim-blaming stance can give them away at the early stages quite easily.
Be on the lookout for statements which support abusers over their victims, which often point to identification with the perpetrator. Also be aware of any gaslighting statements such as, “Most victims are just lying to get attention,” or “People who cry abuse are just misinterpreting things.” For example, I once had an aggressive and manipulative person tell me that half of domestic violence victims lie about the abuse they endure. Unsurprisingly, this same person also vehemently defended narcissists, claiming they were successful. I have no doubt these attitudes were all a reflection of their own need to escape accountability for their own dubious actions.
Whether it stems from ignorance or malice, however, it is a sign of a toxic person who is unlikely to validate or care about any harm that comes towards you. Victim-shaming statements which redirect the attention back to the victim whenever cases of abuse or assault come up, such as, “Victims are just damaged” or “People just want to blame the break-up on other people” are also surefire red flags you might be dealing with someone who is attempting to gaslight you – even before any relationship begins.
3. Misogynistic attitudes.
Research indicates that those with misogynistic attitudes are more likely to be narcissistic; one could deduce this by simply looking at the link between narcissistic mass shooters and their misogynistic attitudes, as well. One study suggested that heterosexual narcissistic men tended to lash out more often at heterosexual women than any other group (including homosexual men and women). Dr. Keiller (2010), lead author of the study, writes:
The present study suggests that heterosexual men’s narcissism is linked to an adversarial and angry stance toward heterosexual women more than toward other groups. Although narcissists may want to maintain feelings of superiority and power over all people, narcissistic heterosexual men are particularly invested in subordinating heterosexual women.
It’s likely that women who possess extreme internalized misogyny also possess these same narcissistic traits much like their male counterparts. Female narcissists are very likely to engage in relational aggression and bullying of other women, especially by those they feel threatened by. Be on the lookout for disparaging remarks about other women, outdated notions of how women should act or behave, a hypersensitivity or denial of women ever being thought of as victims, and rage towards females as a group.
4. An inability to “let go” of their exes for good.
There are certainly some empathic people who are able to have healthy, platonic friendships with their exes. Narcissists, however, are not one of them. According to research by Mogilski and Welling (2017), narcissists and those with darker personality traits keep their exes around for darker reasons such as access to sex and resources. As one narcissism expert writes:
“Narcissists hate to fail or lose, so they will do what they can to maintain some connection if they didn’t make the choice to end it…They can experience narcissistic injury when rejected by a partner and have difficulties letting it go or healing from it… they may stay connected [to exes in order to] have access to valuable resources. They also have inside information about their exes’ vulnerabilities and weaknesses that they can exploit and manipulate which gives them a sense of power and control.” – DR. TONY FERRETTI, NARCISSISTS AND PSYCHOPATHS LOVE TO STAY FRIENDS WITH THEIR EXES
We are all familiar with the fact that narcissists “triangulate” (create love triangles) between their former partners and their new ones. So if you notice a new partner talking excessively about their exes, or a friend who appears to always have a harem of former lovers, with the attitude of, “I am entitled to keep this person in my life, and you’re not allowed to feel uncomfortable about it,” it’s probably because you’re dealing with someone who collects exes as trophies and uses them to manufacture love triangles.
5. An entitlement to bullying, stalking, and harassment.
The connection among malignant narcissism, bullying, and stalking behaviors is well established in the literature. One study showed that the likelihood of repeating stalking behaviors, even after being arrested, was increased not by the presence of a delusional disorder as one might expect, but by the presence of narcissistic or antisocial personality disorder (Rosenfeld, 2003). Among the most dangerous offenders of stalking and harassment are those who feel entitled to violate their victims.
Bullying behavior is an early warning sign that can even tip off someone’s darker personality traits in childhood. Anyone who has been bullied in childhood knows that there are bullies who never quite grow out of it. Research has proven that the ringleaders of bullying groups tend to have psychopathic traits and that early childhood aggression can lead to antisocial, violent behavior later on (Stillwagen et. al, 2012; Renda et. al 2011).
Malignant narcissists are overgrown bullies who take their bullying behaviors from the playground to the boardroom, to the intimate spaces of relationships, and even cyberspace. Studies also show that those who cyberbully and troll online, for example, are psychopathic and sadistic – they know exactly the amount of pain they will inflict when they provoke others, but simply lack the affective empathy to care (Buckels et al., 2014; Sest et al., 2017).
Given all this, if you notice sadistic behaviors in someone you’re just getting to know – for example, a chronic condescending tone, a history of online trolling, stalking an ex, or the propensity to provoke others with cruel insults while disguising them as jokes – run in the other direction, quickly. This is not an emotionally safe person.
The Big Picture
If you notice these attitudes in someone, along with the other red flags of narcissism, you are dealing with someone who has an excessive sense of entitlement and a core lack of empathy. You know who else shares these traits? People who murder their spouses, who commit large-scale fraud, sexual predators, and con artists. These people believe bullying and manipulation to be a source of power rather than shame. Their attitudes are a dead giveaway for how they will continue to treat you in the future. Don’t attempt to change or fix them. Walk away safely, for good. The sooner, the better.
Buckels, E., Trapnell, P., & Paulhus, D. (2014). Trolls Just Want to Have Fun. PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e520722015-006
Jonason, P. K., Girgis, M., & Milne-Home, J. (2017). The Exploitive Mating Strategy of the Dark Triad Traits: Tests of Rape-Enabling Attitudes. Archives of Sexual Behavior,46(3), 697-706. doi:10.1007/s10508-017-0937-1
Lange, J., Paulhus, D. L., & Crusius, J. (2017). Elucidating the Dark Side of Envy: Distinctive Links of Benign and Malicious Envy With Dark Personalities. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,44(4), 601-614. doi:10.1177/0146167217746340
Mogilski, J. K., & Welling, L. L. (2017). Staying friends with an ex: Sex and dark personality traits predict motivations for post-relationship friendship. Personality and Individual Differences, 115, 114-119. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.04.016
Renda, J., Vassallo, S., & Edwards, B. (2011). Bullying in early adolescence and its association with anti-social behaviour, criminality and violence 6 and 10 years later.Criminal Behavior and Mental Health, 21(2), 117-121. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21370297.
Rosenfeld, B. (2003). “Recidivism in Stalking and Obsessional Harassment.” Law and Human Behavior, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 251–265., doi:10.1023/a:1023479706822.
Sest, N., & March, E. (2017). Constructing the cyber-troll: Psychopathy, sadism, and empathy. Personality and Individual Differences, 119, 69-72. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2017.06.038
Stellwagen, K. K., & Kerig, P. K. (2012). Ringleader Bullying: Association with Psychopathic Narcissism and Theory of Mind Among Child Psychiatric Inpatients. Child Psychiatry and Human Development,43(6). doi:10.1007/s10578-012-0355-5
Tourjée, D. (2016, May 10). Narcissists and Psychopaths Love to Stay Friends with Their Exes. Retrieved August 10, 2018, from https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/ezjy3m/narcissists-and-psychopaths-love-to-stay-friends-with-their-exes
Veselka L., Giammarco E. A., Vernon P. A. (2014). The Dark Triad and the seven deadly sins. Personality and Individual Differences, 67, 75-80. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2014.01.055