13 Traits of Predatory People


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 thirteen surprising traits of Predatory People.

One. 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.

Two. 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!)

Three. 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.

Four. 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.

Five. 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.

Six. They suffer from low self-worth. It seems counterintutive. 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.

Seven. 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.

Eight. 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.

Nine. 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.

Ten. 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.

Eleven. 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.”

Twelve. 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.

Thirteen. 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?


  • Wayno Guerrini

    This has been one of the most difficult week’s in my life. The predator’s ex-wife called (she was trying to manipulate me into going into his house and retrieving some property). I told her that I was advised by a family member (she has a degree in Criminology and Social Justice) to NEVER enter the premises, nor to have any contact with him again. This is incredibly difficult. To break free. Your mind doesn’t want to accept the odious and despicable deeds. It really took a lot of time this week for me to process this. I am still not there. She said that he swore he would never do this again. Yeah, how many times have we heard that? I told her that God could NOT work in his life until he own his own sin. I have seen the ugliness of sin, and also God’s unfathomable, infinite grace this week. Sin goes beyond the bounds of one person. Ultimately, every life that he touched, is stained with sin. God promises us that there is forgiveness of sins.

    Honestly, I hope they throw the book at him — but his actions are classed at the lowest level felony. A 3 time offender, will be out again this week, when he makes bail. But since the story is wide spread, everyone knows what he looks like, where he lives, and what he did. When I told him this, all he said was: “Well, there goes my social life.” Really? No ownership. Sorry to ramble and rant. I need a safe place to do that. If you need to delete this, I will understand. I needed some space to vent my feelings. Betrayal is hard to process.

    • Mary DeMuth

      I agree. Betrayal is hard to process. And I am so sorry you’ve been dragged into this.

  • Wayno Guerrini

    I live in Tucson, and have been dealing with the aftermath of a Sexual Predator who was a friend. All over the news media here, trying to identify this predator. It didn’t take long. People in our village begin lighting up the switchboard.

    Another friend pointed me to this article last week. I read and re-read this article several times. Yup this person definitely fits the bill. I saw him in jail. – I asked: “How do you think God would view your actions over the past week.” – He said: “I didn’t do anything wrong.” — No ownership. No remorse. So unlike a Christian. He fooled everyone. I am beginning to understand how skilfully they deceive. I know what to watch for. I have probably met these people before, but never knew it. Thank you for taking time to write this article. It was literally an answer to prayer. I have terminated the friendship. He church has banned him from ever setting foot on their grounds again.

    My biggest fear is that this person would make bail, and be on the streets again.

    • Mary DeMuth

      I’m so sorry you walked through this, Wayno. I’m grateful the article was helpful. It’s scary how people can take no responsibility for themselves, and easily lie.

  • Sylvia Ronnau

    I had a horrible experience with a predator. I am so glad you wrote an article on this because it’s so easy to be sucked in. They seek out the vulnerable; they can smell it. One almost ruined me. I love your website. I am glad I learned soul work from you. What does that say about me that I fell for an absuve, narcisstic predator?

    • Mary DeMuth

      It is easy. I’m glad the article helped you, though I’m so sorry you were prey to a predator!

      • Sylvia Ronnau

        That’s ok! You live, you learn. Now I know what to look out for! Sometimes, they can be close family members and that’s not easy to handle.

  • Maureen Garcia

    Mary, this is an excellent breakdown. Thanks for the resource.

    • Mary DeMuth

      I’m glad to help, Maureen.

    • Kangaroo52

      You sound like the typical PC brain-dead bytch. You slobs think in herds, like livestock.

  • nessa3

    For me…what has left me confused, is the pull you in with kindness, then leave you swirling in confusion with some abusive behaviour. All the why”ll your thinking I must have done or seen it incorrectly.
    I know I was conditioned that way…my dad was a master at that and my mother would defend his actions and accuse me of misinterpreting.

    • Mary DeMuth

      The confusion is one of the hardest parts because you think you’re going crazy! I’m so sorry you also had to experience this as a child.

  • Gretchen Maurer

    Mary, my work in recovery and trauma in a residential setting, living with the abused for 9 years between two places we served….gave me a window into the battle everyday life can be. Bless you for putting it out there in this format. We are dealing with a spirit(s) not flesh and blood as hard as that is to bring up but might help someone “smell” what the wooing person is selling. It is generational, the enemy attaches himself to the weak/wounded minds, gains foot holds and the cycle continues. Thank you for your work! This is good information and I sent it onto others in the field. One thing I wanted to add that I experienced….is once the person has suffered the abuse it seems that they a target for more, it is like they have a sign saying “I’m here, got for it, its been done already”…they get a deer in the headlights frozen and it happens again. It can be multiple bad boyfriends, abusive husbands, or anyone taking advantage of them. They are NOT asking for it but somehow shut down….Most I worked with, had multiple situations and abusers over the years and if they don’t get help some can become abusers themselves or turn to self-harm. For some this cycle leads to such shame, such “something must be wrong with me ” that addiction sets in to quiet the pain. Some get angry and predatory revenge ensues…going after married men, random hook-ups, prostitution… my heart goes out to all….This is pertinent information you have here that can put the breaks on the cycle as long as the conversation continues to be open in the schools, church and at home.

    • Mary DeMuth

      I so agree about that “target.” I wrote about that in my book Not Marked (referring to sexual abuse victims). http://amzn.to/1SBXMUm

      Thank you for all you’re doing to help victims. It’s SO needed, Gretchen.

  • Bonnie

    Mary, thanks for this. I have to admit, I began reading it as a novelist. “This is a great character sketch.” — Right? But then I opened my heart and let God shine His flashlight. There have been many predators, but because of a building relationship with God, I was able to put the stops to them. Praying in this vein–“Lord if this is not of you, let them lose my phone number, or distract them.” Excellent research. I’ll look forward to your book! And grateful to God for your hubby’s job! Blessed!

    • Mary DeMuth

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who reads with a novelist’s eye…

  • Wonderful and insightful article, Mary. Have your heard of Leslie Vernick? She’s done a lot of counseling and coaching for people in this cycle.

    • Mary DeMuth

      Yes, she is awesome. Love her!

  • Laura Bennet

    Excellent article. This perfectly describes some past abusive relationships I and some friends have been in. Interestingly enough, a former pastor, Daniel Brown, presented a great study on the person and spirit of Jezebel in the Bible who also showed these characteristics. It’s interesting to look at it from a spiritual perspective of what drives these people. Thanks for sharing!

    • Mary DeMuth

      It’s so hard when we look back and realize who we have chosen to be involved with, isn’t it?

      • Laura Bennet

        Yes. And sad. But enlightening and I’m glad I’ve been able to help others get out of bad relationships!

        • Mary DeMuth

          That’s lovely and amazing. We learn in order to help others get free.

  • Melissa Turner

    My father is one of these people, and after over 40 years of marriage my mother is trying to divorce him but he refuses to let her. In our state, if the other person doesn’t sign the papers, you have to prove their wrongdoing, but she doesn’t want to have her children have to testify against their father in court for cruel and inhumane treatment. (My sister and I have both told her we’ll be fine if it comes to that). When she told him she was trying to avoid a situation where we had to dredge up bad past experiences, all he could answer was “Well, they won’t be in the courtroom at the same time, so they won’t know what the other is saying about me.” REALLY? And #10 is his biggest strength/our biggest hurdle.

    • Mary DeMuth

      Wow, I’m so sorry. What a mess. 🙁

  • You just described my (soon to be) ex-son in law to a T.

  • one of many

    You covered it very well. I felt like I was reading the story of my second husband. Thank you.

    • Mary DeMuth

      So sorry you had to walk through that.

  • Susan G.

    Thanks Mary!
    My eyes are wide open!
    Blessings to you!

    • Mary DeMuth

      Mine too!

  • Helena

    Excellent article. Have you read any of Dr. Gorge Simon’s work (“In Sheep’s Clothing” or “Character Disturbance”) His books are excellent resources. I know there are differing opinions in the psychological community about whether these types of people have low self-esteem or not, and I have to agree with Dr. Simon that they do not and, in fact, they have a highly inflated sense of self. So that would be the only point in your article I would disagree with. I was married to a narcissistic sociopath for 19 years and have been divorced 4. I found Dr. Simon’s work instrumental in my recovery. I also highly recommend the blog “A Cry for Justice.” They are trying to open the eyes of the conventional church to the predators in their midst and their understanding of evil and predators astounding. Thanks for your article. It is essential to talk about these things and educate those who are naive. I have met very few women (who have been abused by their spouses) who got support from their church- most churches side with the charming, lying abuser.

    • Mary DeMuth

      Thanks for the book recommendations! (And the blog). Do you have a URL for it?

    • Jan Lori Swift

      Helena….Wow. Yes.

  • Ann

    One trait I’ve noticed is that they will use the words they know you want to hear. They use those words to placate you – but they don’t use them the same way you mean them, and they certainly don’t apply the same meanings for those words to themselves.

    • Mary DeMuth

      Well said, Ann. Can you give an example?

  • Angelina

    So I’m trying to explain the concept of tricky people to my 7 year old daughter. I told her if an adult asks her for help to say no – adults can ask other adults. Her reply? Can’t I just ask them if they are nice? Trying to teach her before she learns the hard way like her Mama…

    • Mary DeMuth

      Wow, that’s hard. We don’t want cynical kids, but predators are so wily! Good for you for teaching her to be wise.

  • This is an excellent article, and it really gets to the point. However, like most articles on the topic it feels like it mostly addresses romantic relationships. However this is also a big deal in friendships, however behaviors are not exactly exhibited in the same way. For example a friend isn’t going to necessarily physically abuse another friend. I’d love to see a follow up on how predators function in varying types of relationships.

    • Mary DeMuth

      Good point. Actually, I’m writing more from the friendship perspective, as that’s the realm I’ve met most of my predators.

      • I apologize. I need to reread it again from that perspective. There were some points that led me in the relationship direction, and I must have viewed the rest of it through that lens. I’ll reread it from a new perspective, thank you for taking the time to respond.

        • Mary DeMuth

          Oh no worries!!! I just wanted you to know that I haven’t experienced the abusuve romantic situation. But of course I have known others who have so I was sure to include those aspects too.

  • Ethel Grimes

    Very enlightening article, Mary! I only wish I’d discovered this long ago…had more than one predatory relationship in my life and only in the last seven years. Thank God I am free from them all! Now I have to work on moving on from those experiences and the feelings they caused…but God helping me, I have survived and will heal.

    P.S. #8 doesn’t surprise me at all these days.

    • Mary DeMuth

      Me too, Ethel. I learned the hard way. And you’re right, it’s hard to move on after you’ve been preyed upon.

  • Please pray for me as I share this with my friend, who has gone back to the trap of the man who abused her beyond words for 13 years.

    • Mary DeMuth

      Jesus, please open the eyes of Sundi Jo’s friend today.

    • Minerva Sue

      I left my ex three times before I was free. I was with him for 14 years. I pray that she sees her worth and can finally break free

      • Thank you so much for praying. She is doing well right now and plugging back into her one true source, God. I am praying fervently for her to know who she is in Christ so she will continue to stay away from him and know she is worth more.

        • Mary DeMuth

          amen to that. Thanks for the update.

  • Kay Shostak

    I believe this list could be very helpful to those susceptible to predators. Thank God, I’m not. However, even for someone not susceptible, it’s hard to not feel judgemental. I believe that is something victims need to learn and somehow get comfortable with. Even to those outside the situation, you DO appear judgemental, because you are making a judgement. When I was younger, I doubted myself when I would make these type judgements. Now, at 54, with a lifetime of good judgements behind me. (And a view from the sidelines as things went how I thought they would.) I trust myself and my judgement. I’m comfortable to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” One more thing – one trait I’ve noticed is if they can’t avoid the strong one, the one not buying what they are selling, the predator will tear the strong one down. I’ve learned that when I hear someone I admire being pulled down, to pay attention. See this happen in churches where a pastor has not been fooled and now the predator has to cover for why this admired person isn’t toeing the line. You did cover this somewhat in number 8 and 9. Well done. Thanks for sharing.

    • Mary DeMuth

      Kay, good addition about tearing down the strong one.

    • muzjik

      I’m not susceptible to predators, having become inoculated well due to a couple narcissistic parents. 🙁
      But it is very true that, if someone is perceived as “strong”, especially if the predator is operating (or worse, in power) within an organization, group or church, that person will be attacked. In this situation, the predator relies on the “isolation” strategy that is especially effective on Christians: “don’t share negative experiences”, “don’t ‘gossip’ “, “turn the other cheek and consider it all joy…”, “be sure and follow Matthew 18 procedures”.

      And it takes a very strong person to follow Matthew 18 when faced with the full onslaught of #s 3,5,7,8, 9,11, and 13. Which is why the perceived “strong” person must be neutralized as quickly as possible after being IDed as such, and why predators can get away with their behavior so often.

      • Mary DeMuth

        This is so insightful!

  • Greg

    That was excellent Mary and intense. Predators have an uncanny ability to detect wound or weakness. Hindsight has taught me predators could cling to a Cliffside with only a pin. Ive had them draw near when youre not on top of your game. They require enablers to satisfy their deep seated flaws and personal injuries. If they detect youre onto them in any way shape or form its viewed as disloyalty and you are flicked away like a useless rag doll/toy to make way for new enablers. Normal people are stable and they take responsibility for their actions.

    • Mary DeMuth

      So true about being “on to them” and immediately withdrawing…