In the beginning, she was delightful–funny, charming, a great listener–ticked all the boxes you want to make sure are ticked in a romantic partner. That lasted for about a month, and now you’re left with a sinking feeling that you don’t know who you are dating. And maybe you never did know the “true” them.
Was she taken over by a pod person, a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers, while she slept, or was she just on her best behavior in the honeymoon period, as we all are? Or, gulp, are you dating a Karen? You know who we are talking about–she always has to get her way, or it’s meltdown o’clock, and she is confrontational with pretty much everyone she encounters on a daily basis.
If it turns out you are indeed dating a Karen who just kept their Karen-ness under control just to reel you in, you should cut your losses and bail–the sooner, the better. And although being a Karen is not a designated diagnosis in the DSM (yet), some characteristics are bright red flags that you need to watch out for when dating someone or when wooing a potential match on a dating app.
If it’s a Karen or some other unattractive-on-the-inside characteristic, we’re going to dig into how to identify and address difficult personality traits, so you’ll be better able to suss out if you’re dealing with something minor (but still bothersome) like they’re a bit selfish or bratty, or if it’s something major and you need to cut and run.
Signs You Are in Over Your Head
We need to make things clear—there is a HUGE difference between difficult personality traits and actual personality disorders. It’s one thing to be self-centered or some other Karen-esque behavior, but we are talking about an entirely different ballgame if there is diagnosed disorder present.
“A personality disorder is a mental health condition where people have a lifelong pattern of seeing themselves and reacting to others in ways that cause problems. People with personality disorders often have a hard time understanding emotions and tolerating distress. And they act impulsively. This makes it hard for them to relate to others, causing serious issues, and affecting their family life, social activities, work and school performance, and overall quality of life,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
One of them is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and those who suffer from NPD, says Dr. Craig Malkin, a clinical psychologist, and Harvard Medical School professor, “typically believe that they’re better and more important than others around them.
They often have low to no empathy, feel entitled, and are prone to manipulating others. They may also have an inflated sense of self-importance, but that could be masking low self-esteem. However, they can also be charming, making it easy for someone to miss red flags during the early stages of a romantic relationship.”
Almost everyone on earth has a pinch of narcissism in them—it’s self-preservation to consider yourself and your feelings—but it’s on a sliding spectrum, and if it’s on the low end, it’s not usually a problem.
But NPD sufferers cannot be “fixed,” so don’t spin your wheels trying to make a relationship work if you suspect your partner is higher on the spectrum–it won’t end well. In fact, it most likely won’t end well even if you figure it out early on and try to back away; people with NPD make it pretty hard for people who try to extricate themselves from their orbit.
Of course, not all difficult people are narcissists! But there are a few ugly personality traits that, while they could be handled with a little tough love, some therapy, and self-reflection, may be more trouble than it’s worth. And remember–it’s never your job to “fix” another person, even if you care about them.
Take a gander at a few of the more commonly known difficult personality traits and find out if your SO has any–and if it’s extreme or they exhibit more than one, you can either address it and try to move forward as a couple or peace out altogether.
Have you ever been convinced that your partner is lying, but they twist it into you being delusional or paranoid? You’re being gaslit, baby. You could have physical evidence, all of the receipts, and they will still lie right to your face and make you doubt yourself.
No, you are not crazy; you have come face to face with a manipulator who got caught lying and will double or triple down to avoid responsibility and consequences. It’s not the lying that is the worst part, although that’s pretty bad–it’s the making you feel like you are insane that really grinds our gears. When you get caught doing something you aren’t supposed to be doing, is your instinct to lie? Maybe! And that’s human. What isn’t human is to make someone you supposedly love feel nuts and doubt their sanity.
Most people will forgive a lie if you come clean and apologize, but the gaslighting thing is unforgivable and one of the nastiest and most repugnant traits in existence.
They Love Conflict, aka Drama Queens
Who doesn’t love drama when it’s happening to someone else, and you can safely observe from afar? We all do! But when it’s happening between you and a romantic partner, no, thank you.
If your SO seems to come alive during conflicts and is super combative, you’re dating a drama queen. It’s not as fun as watching the chaos unfold from your couch on a Bravo The Real Housewives of wherever series, is it? It is not.
If they are always the instigator and seem determined, nay, happy, to keep fanning the flames, you’ve got a big red flag on your hands, and that red flag may be sleeping in your bed.
Feelings Over Facts
The always-in-their-feelings people base most of their reactions to a particular scenario on how they feel about it, not on what really happened. If they feel it, don’t you dare question their reality or look out.
As a fun bonus, they also think they know what you’re feeling—and better than you do, of course, even though you are actually you. Dare to contradict them about your feelings or motivations, and you’ve opened Pandora’s Box.
Don’t engage with this behavior if and when it rears its ugly head–you’ll get nowhere, as the in-their-feelings crowd are convinced that they are empaths—you aren’t going to be the hero that changes their thought pattern.
They Aren’t Capable of Self-Reflection
Why bother with a bit of introspection when you can luxuriate in the knowledge, thinking you are always right and everyone else is the problem? There is absolutely no need to look in the mirror when you are always right!
Listen, existing in a state of thinking you are always correct about everything must be blissful, but it’s not reality. The reality is that this difficult personality trait-haver acts this way out of fear and losing control of the narrative.
Disagreements are destined to escalate from 0 to 100 in a flash–they are terrified of any interaction they cannot control, which circles back to why they won’t take responsibility for anything; they are scared to death that they could be blamed for anything.
How To Address These Difficult Traits
Identifying difficult personality traits is only half the battle. Now that you know what you’re up against, is there a way to address them? And is it even worth the hassle?
It’s super hard to think clearly or reasonably while they’re an emotional wreck. Walk away if possible, take a deep breath, count to 10, collect your thoughts, try meditating, do whatever it is that makes your blood pressure drop back to normal, and then re-engage if you want—at least you’ll be able to deal without losing your temper.
It’s Not Personal (Even Though It Feels Really Personal)
It could be a traumatic childhood or any trauma they might have experienced in the past that causes them to act out. Although that’s sad, and you feel for them, that’s not a get-out-of-jail card for mistreating others.
Past events and experiences can make us who we are in the present, but again, it’s not a reason to be harmful to those around you. They’ve gotten away with it for as long as they have because it’s worked for them, so why change?
Just know that nine times out of 10, another person’s actions/behaviors are almost always about their own issues/problems and have absolutely zero to do with you–even though it does feel like it is all about you in the moment. But it’s rarely personal.
This is really, really hard, but try to put yourself in their position if you find yourself in their crosshairs. It’s challenging to show empathy to a person who is forever claiming they know how you feel better than you do, is argumentative, and generally confrontational on all fronts.
But remember that they are likely saddled with lots of insecurities and fears, just like most of the humans walking this earth. Why should they get the benefit of the doubt, you may be asking? That’s a great question! Here’s why: it could be a one-off bad day or mood. Now if it keeps happening, you’ll know what you’re dealing with and how to engage with them going forward.
Let it Go
Like Elsa from Frozen, you need to know when to let it go and when to stand up to someone who is treating you badly or even cruelly–as they say, you need to pick your battles.
Is it worth calling them out on their toxic ways, or are you better off walking away? If someone doesn’t possess even a smidgen of self-awareness to see how destructive, cruel, or downright mentally abusive they are, getting them to take a good, hard look in the mirror is an exercise in futility.
Try to keep your cool and heed this advice: you cannot force someone to change–you can only change how you react to them and either keep engaging with this knowledge or disengage completely for your own mental health.
Those who possess either one or more of these difficult personality traits are constantly in the midst of some kind of dumb (it’s not dumb to them) drama, and it’s never-ending–it’s exhausting to deal with someone like that on a superficial surface level, like a coworker, let alone be entwined in a romantic relationship with them!
And when you are dating a person who exhibits these problematic traits, you most likely get the brunt of their problematic behavior —which is emotionally unsustainable! You deserve better.
Knowing what to look out for when it involves difficult personality traits and how (or if) to address them is never going to change a person unless you know of a personality transplant doctor, but at least you’ll be armed with info about it and a few tools for coping if they pop up. And if you need more help? Don’t be afraid to seek it from a professional therapist.