When we’re children, it’s nearly impossible for us to discern predators. They tend to be kind and interested in us. They’re experts at grooming. And when we’re in the throes of their abuse, it’s hard to even realize we’re being preyed upon. It’s often in retrospect that we can clearly see what they did and how they manipulated us.
You’d think that when victims reach adulthood that we’d be ten times more discerning because of what we went through. I naively thought that. But then I ran into several predators, befriending them and inviting them into my life. I didn’t know to guard my heart around these folks. In short, I didn’t have correct discernment when it came to recognizing predatory people.
I could have avoided a lot of heartache if I knew what to look for in new friendships and relationships. Since experiencing several predatory relationships, I have done some research, had great conversations, and read a lot of books about the traits of predators. I’ve learned a lot about how these types of folks manipulate people. In light of that, I wanted to share some of what I’ve found out—to hopefully spare you from engaging deeply with a predatory person.
Here are 13 surprising traits of Predatory People.
1. They seem too perfect.
They seemingly have everything together. They are admirable, the kind of people you’d want to emulate. Unfortunately, predators are masters of deceit. They hide their narcissism and/or sociopathic tendencies by creating admirable facades. They tend to distract you easily from their faults, make others out to be the reason they even have tiny faults (it’s all THEIR fault), and they easily morph into what you admire. Their daily currency is deceit. They cannot tell the truth or discern it.
Another thing I’ve found is that most of the predatory adults I have known (not all but a huge majority) are not on social media. They protect their privacy like crazy. And they tend to completely reinvent themselves every few years with brand new friends who they can display their “perfection” to. This is true of con artists who initially charm everyone, then exploit all their relationships, then move away or reinvent themselves somewhere else. In light of this, be cautious of a charismatic newcomer to your group of friends.
2. They are entitled.
Predatory people believe everything is owed to them. They are entitled to special treatment. They have the corner on the market of wisdom, power and prestige, and therefore seek to be served instead of serving others. Others exist to serve their needs. They have a right to do whatever they want without any push-back. And often, these entitled people move so stealthily between victims (and so frighten them or shame them) that they get away with multiple crimes throughout their lives. They’re entitled and they’re Teflon. Nothing sticks—which furthers their idea of entitlement. (They can get away with anything!)
3. They are masters at exploitation.
Predators know your own weaknesses and blind spots (though they are oblivious to their own). They will press for very deep, intimate knowledge of your life in order to use that sensitive information later. In light of knowing your triggers, they will push your buttons and manipulate you into doing whatever it is they want you to do. They use intimidation, ridicule and shame with abandon. They rule by fear, not by grace. In their presence you will feel small and needy, and in some ways, you will need them in your life to feel okay about yourself. (They’ve made you believe you’re incomplete without them). They long for this kind of dependence. They thrive when you’re the messed up one, and they are the savior.
4. They feign intimacy.
Predators are chameleons. They know that intimacy is important, so they pretend to be whatever it is you need from them. They do this to gain your trust. But their heart is not in it. Instead they playact their way toward false intimacy. They demand your intimate allegiance, but they will never truly share their own hearts. This keeps victims confused and off balance. Think of them as the most clever con artists.
5. They must have control.
Abusers thrive in one situation: They have control over another. If a victim tries to assert his/her rights, the abuser will demean, cajole, threaten, harm, or even pretend to be hurt in order to maintain control. They need to have complete autonomy over another person’s decisions, thoughts, actions, and interactions with others. They often isolate from others who would help the victim, separating them from family and close friends who could offer a way of escape.
This is why when a victim begins to assert his/her rights, sparks fly. Huge fights come when the victim begins to stand up. At this point the victim will either be further slammed into submission, or he/she will flee. (If that’s you, go to a safe place. And then pursue counseling and health. You chose to be with this person for various reasons, and it’s important you learn why you’re attracted to predators. Get healthy before you approach a new relationship, or you might end up with another predator).
ASIDE: I realized that because of my past, I longed for narcissistic predators to love me. I figured if I could get one of those types of people to admire and love me, I could prove that I was finally lovable. Of course, this didn’t end well. Predatory narcissists don’t love other people, they exploit them. Once I realized my tendency, I had to ask God to fill up those parts of my heart that needed love from people like that.
6. They suffer from low self-worth.
It seems counterintuitive. You would think predatory people didn’t even need to think about self-worth since they gain power from hurting or controlling others. But they do so because they’re deeply ashamed of who they are. Bullies come to mind. Most bullies bully others because they are deeply unhappy. They’re usually compensating for some sort of early childhood wound. Instead of grieving their past in a healthy way, they are making others pay for their sadness.
7. They cannot empathize.
This is a hallmark trait of a sociopath, psychopath and even a narcissist. While they may appear to empathize (they’ve learned how so they blend in), they absolutely cannot empathize with others. They are consumed with themselves and have no concept of other people hurting. They’re the kinds who will listen and appear to hear your molehill of pain, but then quickly change the subject to their own mountain of pain.
8. They either love or hate.
Predatory people can quickly demonize anyone who is against them. Or they overly can fawn over someone they “love.” But a loved one can quickly morph (in an instant) from a companion to an absolute enemy. I’ve experienced this several times, where one moment I was over-the-top loved and praised, then suddenly became the most evil, awful enemy known to man. Predators don’t keep silent about their enemies, either. They will tell their new victims all about the evil people in their past in order to gain your empathy (and also subtly warn you to NEVER do that to them). If someone constantly talks about evil people or the evil they do, run away. Because someday they will say the very things about you. The intensity of their love today is only match by the virulent hatred they have for you tomorrow.
9. They easily find fault—but not in themselves.
Predators blame everyone else for their issues or where they are in life. They are obsessive about other people’s sin, but they cannot ever see their own. And if you bring up their sin, wait for an explosion and expect to be blamed. They’re masters at blaming the blamers.
10. They are likable.
This one is the hardest trait to swallow. When we think of predatory people, we think of creeps in white vans trolling neighborhoods for kids to harm. But they are actually quite normal on the outside. They know how to blend into society by mimicking good behavior. They’re often the life of the party, excellent conversationalists, fun to be around. They are popular in their spheres. And when you complain to someone else about their belittling behavior, the other person is utterly shocked. They’ve only known the predator when he/she is “on.” This is why it’s hard to report predators because they so easily have manipulated most people in their lives. Others cannot fathom (nor do they want to) that their kindhearted neighbor is actually a predator in disguise.
11. They are the victim.
Even though they spend their lives victimizing others, it’s always someone else’s fault. I remember one victim sticking up for the man who choked her and exploited her by saying something like, “He only did that because his first girlfriend really hurt him.” Here he was choking his girlfriend, all the while convincing her it was because of a former relationship. Similarly, predators will blame the victim for his/her awful behavior. “It’s your fault I lash out like this. It’s your fault I have to hit you. If you’d only just comply and be submissive.”
12. They flatter.
Predatory people are master manipulators, and they know how to lure people who struggle on the fringes. They exploit weaknesses of others by paying attention, building them up, pretending kindness. They give lavish gifts. They go out of their way to choose the unchosen. They tell intimate secrets that they say is ONLY for the victim to know, which makes them feel special. They grant special access or privileges to the one they’re preying on, fostering a feeling of exclusivity. They use this form of manipulation for a period of time before they let the victim know who they really are. But by that time, the victim is trapped. They’re lured through kindness, but harmed through abuse and control.
13. They are never, ever wrong.
Predatory people will go to any length to avoid personal responsibility. Besides blaming the victim (see number nine), they cannot exist in a world where they have flaws or perceived sins. So they deflect. They make anyone who brings up their actions into a heinous, callous villain. They have elaborate conspiracy theories about people out to get them in order to deflect the true things those people or groups of people have against them. They always have an explanation and excuse for getting caught. And it’s full of manipulation.
I pray that you’re not currently entangled with a predatory person. Sometimes the only way to find out is to ask very wise and trusted people what they see in your relationship. Because they are detached, they can observe what’s going on, and their wisdom will be really helpful to you. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to detangle yourself from a predator. It will hurt. And they will holler and say all sorts of mean things to you and to others. But your freedom is worth it. You are worth it. May you find a safe way to extricate yourself.
What do you think? What traits have I missed? How have you spotted predators? What have you learned in the aftermath?
**This post appeared originally on Mary Demuth’s blog.