Five Ways to Spot a Jerk


Photo by Mark Ou/

Life would be so much easier if bad people, say, glowed in the dark or gave off an odor that sent everyone else running for the hills. In reality decent folks can’t spot jerks just by looking at them, as bad people intentionally disguise themselves as paragons of morality. They teach in our schools, minister in our churches, work as police officers and doctors. It’s comforting to think that the immoral and amoral live some place far, far away but the truth is that ordinary people date, befriend and hire jerks all the time without a clue. For some, these individuals may even be relatives. While amoral people remain the exception and not the rule, clinical psychologist Martha Stout estimates that one out of every 25 people lacks a conscience. So how can we spot the Sociopath Next Door, as Stout named her book on the matter? For one, always trust your gut.

 Three Strikes, You’re Out

Stout recommends considering the Rule of Threes when deciding to embark on a new relationship. While one lie or broken promise may arise from a genuine misunderstanding and two lies from a serious mistake, Stout asserts that “three lies says you’re dealing with a liar, and deceit is the linchpin of conscienceless behavior. Cut your losses and get out as soon as you can.”


In his book on human evil, The People of The Lie, the late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck points out that wicked people love to scapegoat. He says they do this because they view themselves as perfect and reproach anyone who points out their bad behavior. “Evil, then, is most often committed in order to scapegoat, and the people I label as evil are chronic scapegoaters. …In other words, the evil attack others instead of facing their own failures. Spiritual growth requires the acknowledgement of one’s need to grow. If we cannot make that acknowledgement, we have no option except to attempt to eradicate the evidence of our imperfection.” 

Boastful About Evil Deeds

Jerks may not walk around with a scarlet J on their foreheads, but they may clue you into their behavior early on by bragging about their past misdeeds. The stories people tell about themselves early on in new relationships may be a sign of what’s to come. According to the Counselling Resource, bad people tell “stories of violence, aggression, being insensitive to others, rejecting others, etc. They may tell you about past relationships and in every case, they assure you that they were treated horribly despite how wonderful they were to that person. They brag about their temper and outbursts because they don’t see anything wrong with violence and actually take pride in the ‘I don’t take nothing from nobody’ attitude.” If a new person in your life tells you bad stories about the past, think twice before getting deeply involved with that individual.


Jerks may like to pretend that they’re nice people, but they actually experience very little regret about hurting others. Genuine psychopaths may actually admit to feeling remorseless about the damaging effect their behavior had on others. “Psychopaths show a stunning lack of concern for the effects their actions have on others, no matter how devastating these might be. They may appear completely forthright about the matter, calmly stating that they have no sense of guilt, are not sorry for the ensuing pain, and that there is no reason now to be concerned,” according to Dr. Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist. Hare says that these people lack remorse because they justify their bad behavior to such an extent that they shirk responsibility for their actions altogether.


Emotionally manipulative people often give gifts as a way to make others feel obligated to them, according to Heartless Bitches International. While manipulative people will pretend that these gifts come from the heart, there will inevitably be strings attached. Should you do something to displease such people, they will either remind you that “you owe them” or demand that you return their gifts. Be aware of anyone who seems eager to supply you with presents, favors or money. Question their motives for doing so.

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