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10 Sadistic Personality Traits: Recognizing Everyday Sadists

Have you watched the show Squid Game? If you have, do you remember the sadistic character who only wanted to benefit from the games and save himself? Can you put yourself in the other contestant’s shoes, and think of how much you trusted the contestant until he deceived you? 

Now, think of a time in your life when a person at first may have appeared to be friendly, honest, and approachable. But later, their actions indicated otherwise. They seemed to have only wanted the worst for you, and for the people around them. 

But what human being enjoys seeing others in pain? And why would a person want to cause humiliation, embarrassment, and shame for others? These two descriptions exactly pinpoint one thing – someone with sadistic personality traits.

Sadistic Personality Traits

Traits of a Sadistic Personality

What is Sadism? 

Sadism is usually described as the desire to harm others for self-satisfaction. These forms of harm often are psychological, physical, and emotional. Arguably, many say everyday sadists respond with harm in order to control and to cause the suffering of others

But wait, what happens if we accidentally respond with aggression to a situation? Does that mean that we want to control others?

No, the key of a sadistic personality disorder lies in the intention of harm. If there was an intention to be aggressive and harm others, and also a lack of regret, then most likely it was due to a sadistic act

Is sadism a personality disorder? 

Although the term was originally characterized to be part of the DSM-5, it is no longer included as a separate personality disorder. However, psychologists and other mental health professionals continue to refer to sadism as a personality disorder. 

Mental health practitioners group sadism in two categories: sexual sadism and everyday sadism. 

Sexual sadism occurs at subclinical levels, such as preferences for BDSM. However, research on this category commonly refers to sexual sadism amongst offenders who currently exhibit dark tretrad personality traits. 

The other category, everyday sadism, refers to the harmful and cruel behaviors which take place in daily life. This can range from watching violent video games or shows, to engaging in acts which tend to demean others. 

So, how can you spot a person with sadistic personality traits? 

Being around someone who puts you down is constantly exhausting. You always feel that you’re walking on eggshells.

So, before such human beings can cause you harm, it’s important to identify some sadistic characteristics that are common within individuals who have these dark personality traits. 

Note that with these characteristics, we aren’t meaning to give a diagnosis for the person. Even if the person does not have sadistic personality traits, these traits listed below may still affect another individual, emotionally or mentally. 

1. Recurring aggression 

Research shows that individuals with sadistic personality traits are often aggressive towards others. One study, which recruited over 2200 college undergraduates and adults, examined sadistic aggression.

Within the study, the participants exemplified sadistic aggression through various manners: Some said that they would stick pins in a voodoo doll representing someone they despised, or choose a number of gruesome images a person would watch. 

When participants were asked how they felt about performing such cruel behavior, everyday sadists would usually say that they felt pleasure performing the act. 

2. Humiliating people in front of others

More often than not, sadistic people are said to constantly humiliate others. This may be because embarrassing others gives them a feel of control and dominance over the situation.

But in reality, this sadistic behavior makes the affected individual feel uncomfortable and unsafe in the environment. 

3. Often enjoy watching violence on TV 

Research shows that those with sadistic traits are more likely to watch violent movies and TV shows. They often enjoy the fight scenes, and they may be drawn to violent video games as well. This enjoyments develops from their sadistic pleasure in the suffering of others.

4. They use intimidation 

Relationships and friendships with sadists are often one-sided. They’re only communicating with you if they need something from you. But if you don’t give them what they want, they’ll respond with intimidation. 

Psychologists say that no one feels safe around everyday sadists due to this cruel behavior. Sadistic people will always feel the need to take you down. 

5. They lack empathy 

Sadistic personalities often lack empathy and understanding towards others. Instead of seeing how situations are affecting the average people, they tend to not take such perspectives into consideration. As long they’re not on the receiving end, and it’s happening to others, they may move on and turn a blind eye. 

6. They can be a bully 

Bullies find joy in the suffering of others by asserting their own dominance and power. Since sadistic personalities often enjoy asserting their own dominance as well, they may exhibit such behavior.

They perform aggressive acts towards others in various manners, even if they’re in subtle ways, including psychologically or emotionally. Some of this harm occurs online-a term coined as cyberbullying. 

Sadistic Personality Traits

7. They are deeply insecure

People with sadistic personality traits also tend to be insecure because their deep-seated contempt also applies to themselves. This means spineless sadists tend to be more avoidant of others and certain social settings.

Being this way only further develops their sadistic behavior problems.

8. They lack responsibility 

Sadists often feel a lack of responsibility towards their actions. After all, they don’t really care if they harm others, regardless of the situation. Due to lack of empathy for their influence on others, their sadistic acts frequently go unchecked or corrected.

9. They encourage others to hurt people 

Have you ever had a friend encouraging you to seek revenge for another’s wrong-doing? Or, plan a plot against the terrible ex-boyfriend who dumped you? 

Although these intentions may seem reasonable at first, sometimes this cruel behavior can be sadistic. When an individual sees the suffering of others and they feel that sadistic pleasure, they’re basically perpetuating more harm.  

10. They’re self-absorbed

Individuals with sadistic personality traits only care about themselves. Their actions tend to reflect on their own patterns and behaviors, instead of other’s feelings and emotions. These everyday sadists find self-importance through the control and dominance their sadistic acts provide.

sad child

What are some causes of sadistic personality traits? 

Although many of us want to avoid individuals who exhibit sadistic traits, we also have to be mindful of why sadistic people have such cruel behavior. Is it their personality, temperament, or environment? Let’s take a closer look.

After all, seeing harm inflicted on others and the resulting sadistic pleasure may often stem from uncomfortable and unstable environments. These individuals may have been taught to only stand up for themselves, and not trust anyone else, including family members This may inadvertently cause them to exhibit some sadistic personality traits. 

Many of these personality traits are a result of not them, but the actions of others around them. Let’s take a closer look. 

Unsupportive caregivers

When children grow up with unsupportive caregivers, they may exhibit signs of avoidance from interacting with others.

Their unfavorable experiences may cause a confusion of love and support with negative emotions. As a way to cope with such effects, sadistic behavior may form a tight link with positive feelings.

Exposure to violence 

Children who are exposed to violence may unconsciously perceive such negative behavior as normal. Research also indicates children who witnessed violent acts are more likely to exhibit sadistic behavior later in life. As a result, sadistic personality traits are more of a result of the environment that shape an individual. 


Being bullied by others can also lead to some individuals developing dark personalities. An often tormented individual who suffers through the bullying may want to seek revenge.

They want others to know how they felt. Hence, they may show their emotions through sadistic actions. 

An Unstable Environment

When a person is not in a stable environment, they may find it harder to cooperate with and trust others. This often leads to feelings of isolation and detachment.

Although being independent is a skill, too much independence can lead to cold-bloodedness, especially for those who grew up in unstable surroundings. 

How is sadism different or similar to other personality disorders? 

Antisocial personality disorder

Many people can confuse sadistic traits with antisocial personalities because the manifestations are similar. For example, individuals with both traits often find it difficult to communicate or relate to others. However, they often react to social situations in different ways. 

Those with sadistic traits often use aggressive acts as a way to obtain power. Although they know that intimidation may not be the key to motivating others, they’re only concerned about their own needs. On the other hand, those with antisocial personality disorder do not often see aggression as a means to an end. 

Moreover, people with sadistic personalities are often more obvious in their mannerisms. In fact, those with antisocial personality traits tend to hide their lack of empathy for others. But those with sadistic traits tend to be more direct about their disregard for other people’s feelings.

Psychopathic personality disorder

Sadistic traits can often be mixed with psychopathic traits as well. However, psychopaths are different as their cruel behavior has different motivations. In the end, psychopaths feel indifferent to the suffering of others but sadists gain satisfaction from seeing that. 

Research also shows that sadists more often channel their actions vicariously through watching a TV show, or partaking in violent video games. But, psychopaths are more so known to channel their actions directly. 

Contrary to popular belief, not all psychopaths are sadists. Some may not even think about others suffering, and may remain indifferent about the negative impact they have caused. 

Sadistic Personality Traits

What can you do to protect yourself from harm? 

Since we may interact with individuals who have their own fair share of sadistic traits, there are ways which we can protect ourselves from harm. This involves setting boundaries, knowing our own emotions, and validating our feelings. 

If you speculate that you may be a primary target for an everyday sadist, be sure to continuously reinforce your boundaries and keep your distance. You can also examine your relationships and friendships with the others around you. 

Once you get out of the situation, you can seek professional help and strong support systems. This will help you protect yourself and heal from challenges. 

In Summary: Sadistic Personality Traits Worth Knowing

Although many of us think of sadism as a trait of criminals, it is actually more prevalent in our everyday lives. Human beings exhibit sadistic behavior in order for others to feel uncomfortable with themselves. 

Sadistic behavior stems from a root of environmental factors, which include childhood trauma, a difficult upbringing, and an unstable environment. 

However, when an individual with sadistic traits start to target you, it’s best to re-examine your relationship with the person and maintain your distance. Sadists don’t strive for healthy relationships so often create a lot of trouble with them and the people around them. 

If you’ve ever been affected by a person who has exhibited sadistic personality traits, take your time to heal. Ask yourself about the relationships or friendships that you want. Support the others around you who have played a role in helping you. And don’t invest time in those who want to cause harm intentionally.

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About the Author


Candice is currently attending school for social service work. One of her passions is helping others through my writing. In her downtime, you'll find her listening to music, watching random YouTube videos, and writing about career goals and resumes. She hopes to start freelancing for writing and obtain a leadership position in a public services sector.