10 signs of fake kindness in a person, according to psychology

In a busy and stressed out world, it’s always a relief to be met with kindness.

Those who take the time to care about us and do what they can to help, rekindle faith in humanity and the goodness of most people.

But what about those who only pretend to be kind or do so as part of an agenda?

These snakes in the grass are even worse than selfish, unkind people, because they cloak their interests and real motivations in a fake garb of compassion.

So how can you spot them? Let’s look at what psychology has to say about how to determine who’s only pretending to be kind.

1) They pretend to listen and care but they clearly don’t

Fake nice people pretend to listen but rarely do.

They may smile and nod or say the requisite “oh my God, I’m so sorry to hear that.”

But there’s no real emotion behind it, just all the expected gestures and expressions they know they’re supposed to show.

In other cases they may promise they’ll sit and talk but never get around to it. The basic point is the same: they say they’re on your side but they never take the time to actually listen to what you say or care about it.

As therapist Julia Lyubchenko, MS, MA writes:

“If someone’s really busy, they might not be able to give you their full attention. That’s okay—what isn’t okay is when a person never invests in or pays attention to what you have to say.”

2) They seek constant validation that they are liked and ‘good’

Fake kindness often manifests as people-pleasing.

This individual wants very badly to be liked and approved of; they are fixated on whether you and others find them to be a “good person.”

They want constant validation and reassurance that they are a kind and worthy individual, and they seek solace and comfort if anything bad happens to be reassured that they don’t deserve it.

Their kindness is part of a failed control strategy whereby they hope that rejection and misfortune won’t occur if they “play by the rules” and are well-liked.

Speaking of control… 

3) They are helpful, but only in order to influence and control you

Those who exhibit kindness for an agenda  often do so in order to influence and control you.

The typical example is a romantic partner who uses physical and emotional affection to reward or punish you. 

When you make them upset: no sex, no attention, no intimacy.  But when you do what they say and placate them: you get love bombed and they are extremely pleasant to be around. 

This is the worst form of kindness: weaponized kindness

“Be careful, because some people may use kindness to try to control you,” observes psychotherapist Julia Breur, PhD.

4) They’re only kind when it’s convenient

Fake kindness can often be separated from real kindness by just looking at the timing.

Those who never go out of their way to help or care are engaging in  “kindness when it’s convenient.”

We can all fall into this pattern at times: we become helpful and kind when we’re doing well and getting what we want in life but recalcitrant and unkind when life isn’t going our way.

Those who become extremely this way end up having no role for conscious kindness and simply radiate out whatever they’re feeling at any time instead of making it a conscious practice.  

As wellness and psychology writer Leonardo del Toro writes:

“We understand everything at the moment but later when we try to practice it, everything falls apart. It does because we fail to do the core of what loving kindness should be.”

On a related note… 

5) They’re nice to you but only if you follow their vision for your life

This ties into the point about having an ulterior agenda.

Psychologists agree that kindness is not real when it is based on a tit-for-tat: in other words “I’ll be kind to you as long as…” is not real kindness.

It’s temporary or transactional kindness that’s extended as a means of influencing your decisions and path in life.

The classic example is a parent extending financial, logistical and emotional support to their son or daughter but only if that son or daughter does what they want.

This fake kindness is especially disturbing because it prevents you from living a fully authentic and empowered life.

“Traveling a life path that uniquely expresses who you are, what your passions are, and what you desire is the embodiment of authentic living,” notes psychologist Dr. Jennifer Huggins, PsyD.

6) They demonstrate much more kindness when they are sexually or romantically interested

Fake friendship 10 signs of fake kindness in a person, according to psychology

Another form of fake kindness is that which is given by somebody who’s just wanting sex or romance.

A classic example of this is an overly “nice guy” who does everything a girl wants and agrees with her every word in order to try to appeal to her.

If she continues to see him as only a friend, this stereotypical overly nice guy feels slighted and annoyed: he’s been so kind to her and such a good person! He deserves sex! She has to be his girlfriend in return!

This isn’t real kindness, it’s just being nice in order to eventually get what you want from somebody.

Speaking of kindness with strings attached…

7) Their kindness is transactional

Transactional kindness is another form of weaponized kindness which many points in this article touch on.

An everyday example of this is a shop owner who strikes up a conversation with you and is extremely friendly when you enter her shop: you are touched and enchanted.

You start conversing for a good fifteen minutes about a number of interesting topics, but when you express that you won’t be buying something today their engagement immediately fades.

They were only being nice to get in your wallet. You mean zero to them as a human being.

This is a typical behavior of a person who’s only being transactionally kind, often for material gain.

Another example is in cults or religions where followers will “love bomb” a new person to get them to join, extending kindness and community only for as long as recruitment is on the table.

As psychology writer Elizabeth DeVille explains:

“They focus on how they can benefit in any given situation and decide where they will devote their time and energy with that in mind.

Need a favor from them? You better start by telling them how they will benefit from it.”

8) They are shameless virtue signalers

Virtue signaling is the practice of somebody broadcasting and showing that they are a good person.

It can be done in any culture or society when a person shows that they agree with the majority “good” side and despise the “bad” side.

It has become especially popular in modern societies and on social media where fake kind people are more concerned with dropping the right activist hashtags than making a real difference in the world.

Along with showing they are “good,” they mock and hate widely unpopular or targeted groups or categories.

“Fake people are desperate to be liked and noticed. Because of this, fake individuals will do everything under the sun to get a thumbs up or nod of approval from the people around them,” notes Lyubchenko.

This ties into the previous point and is a common tactic of fake kind people:

9) They make you feel like you need to ‘earn’ their approval and kindness

Fake kind people have a tendency to ration their kindness.

They give you a compliment here or laugh at one of your jokes there, and they try to get you to chase their approval.

When this happens in a relationship or close friendship it can be especially toxic and destructive.

It’s worth keeping in mind that those who make you “work” for their approval and kindness usually suffer from all sorts of issues with their own inner well-being and relationship to themselves.

“When people struggle with being authentic, it is usually a reflection of their own relationship with themselves; in short, it has nothing to do with you,” explains marriage therapist Teyhou Smyth Ph.D., LMFT.

10) They calibrate their kindness

The last key sign of a fake kind person can be found in those who change how nice they are to somebody based on status.

They snap at a waiter and tell him he’s a “stupid a**hole,” but then smile sweetly and laugh at the joke being told by their date at the restaurant who’s a high-ranking CEO.

Their kindness is calibrated to power: it’s not genuine or real, it’s just a power and favor-seeking mechanism.

As Deville says:

“If you notice that someone treats people in positions of power and those who aren’t different, pay attention. This is a sign that they are willing to put on a front and be who they feel that they have to be to impress the ‘right’ people.”

Picture of Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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