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Some Signs of Harmful or Untrustworthy Relationships



We recently conducted qualitative research by crowd-sourcing over 100 open-ended responses to the question:


"What signs do you look for that help you identify people who are likely to be untrustworthy or who are likely to hurt you if they become your close friend or partner?"


We thought the answers contained some insights that may help you figure out which people it may be risky to let into your life.


Here is a digest of the common themes that our respondents suggested as potential red flags or warning signs for an untrustworthy or harmful person:


1. Manipulation: This takes many forms, including guilt trips, gaslighting, peer pressure, negging, emotional blackmail, and a variety of more subtle behaviors such as when someone is excessively nice early in a relationship, in a way that is not congruent with their underlying personality. These are attempts to control or influence others without being straightforwardly coercive and without appealing to rational persuasion.


2. Inconsistency and Dishonesty: Inconsistencies in narratives they tell, dishonesty, and deception (including repeated small untruths and inconsistency between words and actions) or lack of continuity in self-presentation over time. This can also include describing projects, connections, or behaviors in grandiose ways that are detached from reality.


3. Self-Centeredness: Lack of awareness or care regarding the impact of their actions on others, with a focus just on how situations impact themselves. This self-centeredness can also appear as an over-concern with outward appearances (or how situations make them look), frequent bragging, seeking attention in an extreme manner, and the tendency to only talk about themselves without inquiring about others.


4. Anger: Lack of anger management or uncontrolled anger, a high frequency of getting angry quickly or unexpectedly, and approval of vengeful or vindictive behavior.


5. Lack of Empathy: A lack of empathy for the suffering of others or an absence of kindness in words or actions.


6. Extreme Emotionality: Emotional instability or extreme mood swings, and blaming others for their emotional reactions even when their reactions are highly inappropriate (given the circumstances). Extreme emotional reasoning that detaches them from the reality of what's actually happening (e.g., "Since I feel angry, you must have seriously wronged me!" or "Since I feel anxious, you must be threatening me!")


7. Avoidance and Poor Communication: Extreme avoidance of conflict, hiding their intense negative feelings (e.g., pretending not to be angry when they are furious), and poor communication skills, especially in resolving issues or conflicts.


8. Lack of Responsibility and Accountability: Lack of personal responsibility and accountability when they mess up, impulsivity, recklessness, or lack of consideration for others' safety. Failing to follow through on commitments, or blaming others for their own shortcomings. This can also include serious addiction issues that they are not seeking treatment for, constantly identifying as a victim of their circumstances while not taking responsibility for their role, and projecting personal issues onto others (or lacking self-awareness of their serious faults).


9. Poor Handling of Their Other Relationships: A seeming lack of ability to healthily handle other relationships, or poor treatment of individuals they dislike or disagree with, including with family, friends, co-workers, and past partners. Lack of common sense, such as asking to borrow money in the early stages of a relationship.


10. Negative Talk and Gossip: Speaking negatively of others, especially as a source of entertainment or habitual gossiping, or talking badly about past associates or partners, such as saying that all their exes were "crazy."


11. Judgmentalness: Passing harsh negative judgments of others based on little information, or being very critical or judgmental of other people's minor faults.


Please note that these traits and behaviors are a summary of over 100 people's views, not our personal opinions and not professional advice. If you're concerned that you might be in an abusive relationship, we strongly encourage you to seek support. Seeking help is a brave and important step towards ensuring your safety and well-being. Remember, you're not alone, and there are resources and people ready to assist you.


If you are in a relationship that you want to improve, we have a few free tools that might help:


  1. Kind And Effective Communication (15 Minutes): Learn and practice principles of non-violent communication to build stronger relationships, resolve conflicts, and improve your self-understanding and awareness.

  2. The Relationship Review (15 Minutes): Examine different aspects of your relationship with a partner, close friend, or family member using an open, non-judgmental approach

  3. Managing Arguments In A Relationship (20 Minutes): Learn how to navigate arguments effectively and kindly using a situation of your choosing.


Having social interactions and spending time with a variety of people is an essential part of our general well-being, but this can become risk when your interactions are with people who are untrustworthy or who aim to harm you. .


We hope this "wisdom of the crowds" summary of what 100 people helps you identify the warning signs of unsafe people!


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