6 signs you’re dealing with a highly destructive person, according to psychology

Ever felt like you went looking for things you know would hurt you?

Perhaps it’s that big plate of pasta when you know you’ve been gluten-free since birth.

Maybe it’s that night on the town when you know you’ve got a huge work presentation the next morning.

It might even be your stance with people. As Sylvia Plath wrote: “I desire the things that will destroy me in the end.”

It sounds harsh, but there’s a little truth to it. Aren’t there so many things in life that seem great at the moment but could actually hurt you in the long run?

Think of relationships. Ever been attracted to someone you knew wasn’t the right person for you? 

Maybe they brought oodles of drama, but you weren’t able to resist their charms.

But let me tell you this—awareness helps! Every bit of it. 

Of course, nobody wants to enter into anything as a cynic, but with help, you can begin to be more aware of the people who might hurt you in the end. 

Let’s start this journey by taking a look at the psychology-backed signs of a destructive person. 

Starting with a big one: using others. 

1) They use and exploit other people

Bruno Mars once wisely sang, “Take, take, take it all, but you never give.”

Turns out, the popstar was probably singing about someone close to him who had a whole bag of destructive tendencies—a major one being exploiting others.

A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that folks with destructive tendencies tend to “take advantage of other people.”

It won’t surprise you to hear this, but often, these are people who will have “no intention of paying them back.” Like Mr. Mars, you’ve probably met someone a little like this.

They’re a friend, family member, maybe even a partner who tends to borrow things or ask for favors, promising to repay you. The catch? They never do.

This crafty individual might act like they’ve completely forgotten and it’s skipped their mind. But more often than not, they don’t care about their promises.

Those who regularly take advantage of others without giving back are not just careless—they’re mega selfish.

Yep, they 100% place their own needs above everyone else’s, even if it means hurting others.

This treatment ends up making others feel utterly used and sometimes, betrayed.

2) They seem to be fixated on power

This previous study detailed another warning sign of a destructive person as being an obsession with “gaining unlimited success, power, or love” in their lives.

I once had a partner who fell under this category. 

They were completely fixated on being on top—he could never be satisfied with one level of acclaim, it would go on and on.

In turn, this drove him to constantly strive for more, to reach higher, and to beat everyone else, including those close to him.

While it was an ambition I was initially attracted to, this destructive single-mindedness pursuit ended up causing more harm than good. Way more.

But why is this craving for power and success a sign of destructive behavior? 

Let me break it down. 

When a person’s identity is solely based on what others think of them, it’s a slippery slope. Because when it’s gone? Well, they’ve got nothing left.

3) They chip away at your confidence across a period of time

Let me just say it… I’ve always been a fairly confident person!

I wouldn’t say it’s something anyone gave to me necessarily, it’s more that I built it up bit by bit over time.

For me, it takes a lot for my confidence to slip away. But I do recall one former friend who managed to slip under the net, and wear down my confidence.

And it’s a phenomenon that’s often linked to destructive personality types, with one study finding that “undermining another person’s confidence” and “using criticism” to be a common destructive quality in friendships in particular.

This can feel like someone, often one who is close to you as only they can wield that level of influence over you, hacking away at your self-belief in yourself. Pretty awful, right?

In the end, you feel diminished and insecure.

Sometimes, these harmful behaviors stem from envy, or even a deep-rooted insecurity within themselves—something we’ll come back to in our final point.

4) They resort to sulking and childish tactics

This previous study explored a secondary strategy of emotional manipulation, and that falls under the category of an “inauthentic strategy” which can include “sulking to get [their] own way.”

The way I see it, sulking and whining are basically tantrums for adults—it’s one of the fastest, most surefire ways to give someone the ick.

Even still, folks with destructive patterns will let this sulking pop up, trapping them in an endless cycle of negativity and dependency. 

It’s almost as if they’re stuck inside the mind of a child, refusing to grow up and face life’s challenges head-on—like the rest of us might.

5) They are self-obsessed and arrogant

There’s always that one person who acts like they’re way, way better than everyone else.

I think you know the type! It’s that character who will naturally interrupt conversations just to chat about their wins. 

That person who will, no matter the circumstance, be able to make it about themselves.

According to Mayo Clinic, this is a tell-tale sign of a destructive person.

Experts say these individuals may “behave in an arrogant way, brag a lot and come across as conceited.”

In a way, their arrogance is a sign of deeper flaws and insecurities. 

By constantly boasting to those around them, they’re trying to persuade themselves and others that they’re actually worthy of attention and admiration. 

Like my ex on the power trip, this quest for validation is relentless. Plus it undoubtedly fuels other kinds of destructive behavior.

They crave attention because they just want to feel desired, important and validated.

6) They don’t love or even like themselves

Now, I don’t think this is going to surprise you, but people who consistently act destructively often have deeper issues lying within themselves. 

Their harmful patterns mean they’re stuck in a doom-like cycle of self-sabotage and they don’t have the skills or awareness to break free. But why is this?

Researchers have an answer for it. A cross-sectional study listed a “cognitive” sign of destructive personality type is having a “dislike of self.”

This in turn can involve “self-criticism” and in some cases “dislike own appearance.” 

It’s nasty stuff, which all essentially boils down to how they really feel about themselves and how they see themselves.

Rather than making choices that are good for them, they do things that make them feel even worse.

They might even be looking for attention or trying to escape from their problems by doing things that harm their loved ones—and by proxy, themselves.

Picture of Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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