4. Their mood changes quickly.
While it’s not always easy to tell if someone is untrustworthy or toxic to be around when you first meet, their body language and what they say — as well as their overall vibe — can tell you a lot over time. Whether it’s someone you’re dating, a weird neighbor, or even a stranger on the street, if something seems "off," trust your gut.
This is especially true if the person is being manipulative, which might mean they strike you as dangerous in some way, or that you pick up on the signs you’re being used. In that case, air on the side of caution and try to remove yourself from the situation as quickly and safely as possible — even if they try to convince you not to worry.
"If you have the sense that you need to get away from someone or end a relationship, try not to backpedal on it," Nicole Issa, PsyD, a licensed psychologist, tells Bustle. Follow your instincts, and reach out to a friend or authority figure for help, if need be.
Of course, not everyone who gives off "creepy" vibes is actually dangerous to be around. But if you recognize even one of the signs someone is untrustworthy, take time to consider who this person is, and whether they have your best interests at heart.
If someone is ignoring your boundaries, consider it a big red flag. "Some examples include standing too close to you (and following if you step further away), refusing to take no for an answer, or even ‘innocent’ activities like tickling you when you’ve asked [them] to stop," Amica Graber, a relationship expert for the background checking site TruthFinder, tells Bustle.
While some folks just don’t know how to take a hint, dangerous people might do these things as a way of testing you, Graber says, in order to see if it’s possible to go further. So if you tell them to stop and they don’t, take that as your cue to leave.
When it comes to manipulative people — see: sociopaths, narcissists, etc. — many have a habit of staring intensely at others, and making creepy amounts of eye contact.
"They look at their target with [a] focused, intense gaze," usually as a way to test boundaries, Patti Wood, MA, a body language expert, tells Bustle. "They may do or say something uncomfortable right before or after the hypnotic gaze to test how the target responds."
To figure out if the situation really is unsafe, Wood says, try breaking eye contact or moving away in order to see how they react. If they get upset, or you feel a huge amount of relief, your intuition was likely correct.
While some people just like to talk, manipulators will try to dominate entire conversations. "This ‘over talking’ involves auditory space invasion and other paralanguage factors that show they are in control," Wood says. "They are often quite charming and good storytellers, so it may be hypnotic to listen to them." But if you don’t feel included, or can’t get a word in edgewise, they may be someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
Since narcissists tend to get really upset when things don’t go their way, keep your eye out for shocking mood swings when interacting with others. As Wood says, "They can shift all their nonverbal behaviors in the blink of an eye and transform themselves."
This might include switching from really sweet to super irritated a second later. Or they might morph into an entirely different "character" in order to get their way, Wood says. It can be so manipulative, you might not even realize it’s happening until the person’s already sucked you in.
But the moment you do, don’t be afraid to reach out for help, or to leave the situation as soon as you can.
While intense eye contact can be a red flag, the same is true for eye contact that seems oddly disconnected. And this is doubly true if you’d describe the person as being "dead behind the eyes," Wood says, as this is a trait common among narcissists and sociopaths.
Not everyone is great at making eye contact, but if you’re getting other bad vibes, add this one to the list of reasons it may be safest to cut the convo off and get away.
If you only just met someone and they’re already revealing all the skeletons in their closet, there’s a chance they’re not trustworthy or stable, psychotherapist Dr. Laura Dabney, M.D., tells Bustle. Not only does it show a lack of boundaries, but it can easily get out of control.
Basically, if someone is willing to pile all that on you within the first few minutes of meeting, it may mean they don’t have total control over themselves or their actions. At the very least, consider it a red flag.
If someone is being rude, you likely won’t want to spend much time around them. And that’s a good call, seeing as it’s often a sign of deeper problems.
"Potentially dangerous people will often turn to belittling others in order to manipulate them," Adamaris Mendoza, LPC, MA, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship coach, tells Bustle. So if this person is making you, or those around you, feel uncomfortable, take note.
"How they do it can take different forms but their intention is to make the other person (their intended victim) feel unworthy," Mendoza says. "They can turn to ridiculing how you look, your body, your goals, your friends, your work, and/or your dreams."
Again, since it’s so manipulative, it can be difficult to spot. But by keeping an eye out for the signs, and knowing some of the tricks untrustworthy people pull, you can be safer.
If you get the feeling this person doesn’t have any empathy, think twice before interacting with them further.
"Sociopaths and psychopaths are defined by their lack of empathy," Graber says. "Does someone laugh at others’ misfortune or seem oblivious to the suffering of others? They may not be a fully fledged psychopath, but a lack of empathy is a huge red flag."
If you only just met someone, and yet the relationship seems to be developing at warp speed, it’s easy to take it as a compliment. But, as Issa says, "Oftentimes, people who are likely to harm others will sweep in quickly and forcefully and try to foster a sense of false trust." If it all seems too fast, or too good to be true, you may want to take a step back.
If you show up on a date, and the other person already knows where you work, where you went to school, etc., don’t take it lightly — even if they try to act like it’s normal that they "looked you up."
"Many people will frequently [research] a new love interest," Issa says. "But if someone starts telling you about information that likely showed up on, say, page five of your [search] results, this could be a sign that [it] went beyond the norm and crossed over into stalking."
If what they’re saying is making you uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to reach out to authorities. You can also go up to a bartender or server, if you’re out to dinner, and ask them for help.
You’ll also want to listen to your gut if someone is telling you to calm down, claiming a situation isn’t scary, or if they’re insisting everything’s OK — even when it doesn’t feel OK, Issa says.
And the same is true if they are telling you what to think, as that is a way of disrespecting your boundaries. When that happens, you’ll want to cut off communication, and move to a safer space ASAP.
If someone isn’t respecting your boundaries, it might feel like they are trying to increase the intensity of your relationship faster than you are comfortable with, Theresa Leskowat, MS, LCMHC, a mental health therapist, tells Bustle.
This might include not listening when you say "no," or pressuring you to change your "no" into a "yes." If you feel uncomfortable around them as a result, no matter the situation, give yourself permission to believe the situation is as bad as it seems — and then make moves to leave.
While it can be tough to own up to a mistake, narcissists will flat-out deny their involvement in a problem, often to a "creepy" degree.
"When you do something bad it’s normal to feel guilt. But a person that is less empathic and less trustworthy will be likely to avoid accepting any type of responsibility in order to avoid experiencing guilt," Dr. Clinton Moore, a clinical psychologist and founder of Cadence Psychology, tells Bustle. "This will often come across as […] not admitting to mistakes or refusing to [apologize] for anything."
If someone is dangerous to be around, one key giveaway is that they won’t be able to control their emotions. And you’ll likely notice a pattern in how they interact with others.
For example, if you’re on a date and they start yelling at the server, that’s a sure sign they aren’t worth your time — for multiple reasons. Same goes for telling stories about how they "blow up" all the time at work, or seek revenge for small misunderstandings.
Moore says this behavior means they aren’t able to "self-soothe," or calm their emotions in a healthier way, which is incredibly toxic.
There’s a term called "splitting" used to describe folks who tend to have black and white thinking, and it often runs deeper than a habit. "The issue for these people is an inability to hold opposing thoughts and feelings," Moore says, usually due to an underlying mental health concern.
To them, you’re either "all good" or "all bad" and never in between, Moore says. If you’re dating this person, they won’t be able to care about you while they’re upset — they love you then hate you, hate you then love you — and it can become a problem.
It’s something they certainly work on, but is a red flag all the same.
A toxic person will create arguments wherever they go. "This can sometimes take the form of actions like pitting people against one another through manipulation and gossip," Moore says. They might purposefully spill a juicy secret, for example, knowing an argument between two people could somehow benefit them. And that’s not an energy you want to be around.
If it seems like you never know what you’re going to get with this person — are they going to text you 1,000 times or go silent for a week — don’t take it lightly.
"Behaviors that are either aggressive or erratic are signs that someone hasn’t get figured out who they are," Leah Rockwell, LPC, NCC, counselor and owner of Rockwell Wellness Counseling, tells Bustle. When that’s the case, she asks, "how can they then be good to you in a friendship or relationship?"
The answer is, they likely can’t. And you may be better off to give them space while they do that work.
Pay attention if it seems like you’re never getting the full story, or if details seem to change.
"When you find yourself noticing that timelines, stories, or other pieces of information seem to be missing a piece, or don’t match up with what makes sense, it’s a definite red flag that someone may be untrustworthy or manipulative," Jennifer Silvershein Teplin, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of Manhattan Wellness, tells Bustle.
Normally life makes sense, she says, and won’t feel that confusing or complicated. "I find that when clients share that someone seems to always leave something out or is constantly in shockingly strange situations it means they’re being manipulated."
Sometimes people drop the ball, and that’s OK. But if this person can’t seem to stay true to their word, Deedee Cummings, MEd., LPCC, JD, a licensed professional clinical counselor, tells Bustle, go ahead and consider them untrustworthy.
Your alarm bells should really go off, however, if they try to convince you that you’re "making a big deal out of nothing" if you get upset or ask what happened, Cummings says. Making you feel silly or saying you just "got confused" is an attempt at manipulation and gaslighting, which is all sorts of toxic to be around.
As with apologizing, it’s common for people struggle to accept any type of feedback. But for those who are unsafe to be around, chances are they’ll react to it by lashing out.
"People with more narcissistic traits will tend to derive their sense of worth from positive feedback from the people and situations around them," Moore says, which is why even constructive criticism will be experienced as an attack.
"This type of response means you won’t ever be able to be your authentic self with this type of person," she says, "as you can never quite trust how they will react."
It can be super difficult to spot a manipulative and untrustworthy person, since they know exactly what to say and do in order to reel you in. But if you’re in a situation that feels unsafe — or if they’re exhibiting any of these characteristics — trust your gut, reach out for help, and try to get away as soon as you can.
Nicole Issa, Psy.D., licensed psychologist
Amica Graber, relationship expert
Patti Wood, MA, body language expert
Dr. Laura Dabney, M.D., psychotherapist
Adamaris Mendoza, LPC, MA, licensed psychotherapist and relationship coach
Theresa Leskowat, MS, LCMHC, mental health therapist
Clinton Moore, clinical psychologist
Leah Rockwell, LPC, NCC, counselor
Jennifer Silvershein Teplin, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker
Deedee Cummings, MEd., LPCC, JD, licensed professional clinical counselor
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