Untrustworthy people seem to find ways to sneak under our radars until they’ve caused us a significant amount of harm, leaving us frustrated that we did not see the signs of their behaviors sooner.
That’s why we asked experts to share their insights to help us recognize certain actions and traits that untrustworthy people have in common.
Here are some significant signs of an untrustworthy person to look out for:
Certified Health and Wellness Coach | Behavior Change Specialist | Founder and Managing Editor, Zivadream
Look at their history
Perhaps this is obvious, but if they always show up late or don’t show up half the time, you know you can’t count on them. Past behavior is the best predictor of future actions.
When you share your innermost thoughts and secrets, they tell others
If you notice that your friend or loved one just can’t keep a secret about something personal you have shared with them, even after you asked them not to tell, then you know you are dealing with someone who can’t be trusted. When you confront them about the offense, they may respond by saying they didn’t know they weren’t supposed to tell, but that just means your business just isn’t important to them.
They tell you what to think
If you confide in a person about something you are worried about, or about a decision you are trying to make and they advise you rather than listen to your feelings, you may be dealing with a person who has their own best interest at heart. Be wary of people who tell you what you think, or how you should be feeling.
Manipulative people can be very subtle in steering you in a certain direction by making subtle or derogatory comments about people, jobs or situations in an attempt to get you to see things their way.
Your relationship feels one-sided
Do you have a relationship with a friend or loved one where you are doing all the giving and they are doing all the taking? Perhaps, you feel like you are being a good person because they are always going through a rough time, or need help for one reason and then another. Giving people tend to get sucked into relationships by people with a victim mentality, or that have a knack for getting others to do what they want.
If you wind up feeling resentful because the other person never takes your needs into consideration, you may want to stop and consider if they ever listen to you or are there when you need them. It is most likely that you have never been able to trust them to be there for you.
Dr. Cali Estes, Ph.D., MCAP, MAC, ICADC
Psychologist | Cognitive Behavioral Therapist | Founder, The Addictions Coach
The biggest sign of an untrustworthy person is their body language
It is all in how they stand, look at you, and react. Here is what to look for: If they shift their feet from side to side, it is a sign of being nervous in the situation or uncomfortable at what is being said in a conversation.
For example, if you just caught them lying, they will shift side to side because they are nervous in the situation. If they look right generally, they are making up a story to tell you while looking left is recalling a truth. Someone that wrings their hands shows signs of worry, especially if they are trying to hide something from you.
Crossing their arms or crossing arms and legs while seated and leaning back is a closed-off posture, and they are keeping you locked out from their world, indicating anger or underlying misdeed. Raising an eyebrow, or a side glance with a smirk can be associated with victory, them experiencing a win, or deciding that you bought their story.
Adding further to that, some untrustworthy people will curl their lip at the corner when they lie, almost like they think they are about to get away with something and are reveling in their “victory win” already.
This is the most dangerous type of untrustworthy person because they have already convinced themselves that what they did or are about to do is completely fine and normal. This type of person may steal from you, and then actually help you look for the item, convincing you it is simply misplaced.
Micah J. Longo
Trial Lawyer, The Longo Firm
Body language can provide important clues into whether a person is telling the truth. In my trial practice, I’m always on the lookout for witness body language, to see if what they are saying verbally matches up with their body movements.
Related: The 12 Best Books on Body Language
The most dependable clues to lying are the gestures a person makes automatically because the person has little or no control over them. The least dependable signs of lying are ones over which a person has the most control, such as words because the person can rehearse their lies.
When we see, speak, or hear lies or deceit, we are likely to attempt to cover our mouths, eyes, or ears with our hands.
Hand-to-face gestures are also associated with doubt, uncertainty, or exaggeration. Now, when someone uses a hand-to-face gesture, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is outright lying or untrustworthy. However, it does mean that the person could be holding back information. Further observation can confirm or deny your suspicions.
For example, people under pressure (lying) are likely to significantly increase their eye blink rate. Also, men and women both increase their number of gulps of saliva when lying. This is usually more noticeable with men because they have an enlarged Adam’s apple.
Be on the lookout for hand-to-mouth gestures
Most hand-to-mouth gestures can be connected with lying or deceptions. Fingers-in-mouth gestures are outward signs of an inner need for reassurance. It’s an unconscious attempt by the person to go back to the security of a mother’s breast, and occurs when a person feels a tremendous amount of pressure.
These are just a few visual signs (body language) of an untrustworthy person.
Dr. Clinton Moore
Clinical Psychologist | Founder, Cadence Psychology
Refusing to accept any responsibility
When you do something terrible, it’s normal to feel guilt. But a person that is less trustworthy and less empathic will be likely to avoid accepting any responsibility to avoid experiencing guilt. This will often come across as behavior such as not admitting to mistakes or refusing to apologize for anything.
Being unable to control their emotions
If you’re on a date with someone and they start yelling at the waiter, it’s generally a good sign of an untrustworthy person that can’t handle their impulses. But sometimes this type of impulsive behavior can come through in more subtle ways.
For example, a person might feel hurt by a colleague and so sends through a nasty email threatening to sue them. This behavior is common for people who aren’t able to self-soothe and can be a good pattern to look for when trying to determine if someone is trustworthy.
Most of us try to live and let live, but certain, less trustworthy people will engage in a type of behavior called splitting. This can sometimes take the form of actions like pitting people against one and other through manipulation and gossip. The issue for these people is an inability to hold opposing thoughts and feelings.
For example, if you’re having a fight with your partner, are they able to be upset with you and still love you? A trustworthy person is able to maintain their thoughts that this is someone I really care about. They won’t just suddenly switch to viewing them as all bad.
Being unable to handle negative feedback
People with more narcissistic traits will tend to determine their sense of worth from positive feedback from the people and situations around them. This means that they will also struggle to handle any form of negative feedback. Even constructive criticism will be seen as an attack on their sense of worth.
This type of response means you will never be able to be your genuine self with this type of person as you can never entirely trust how they will react.
Certified Life Coach with JRNI | Mental Health Professional
When you are a trusting person, it makes it that much more challenging to see the signs of an untrustworthy person. Some might say that family can be trusted with your deepest secrets, while others might say that the closest people to you, can hurt you the most. So, the question is, how can you determine who can be trusted and who cannot be trusted?
For me, trust is a qualification in any relationship, intimate or not.
There are people that I trust but may choose not to trust them with everything. For example, I have a friend that I tell the raw truth about my dating life because I know we have built that trust and expectations with each other. Some might say that if you can’t trust your friends with everything that they aren’t your true friends. I believe that there’s a difference between trust and being trustworthy—especially trustworthy with everything! Some may feel differently about this, and that’s okay too.
To trust someone is sharing a vulnerable piece of you in hopes they don’t exploit you with that information or reject you because of that information. To be trustworthy, that person is receiving vulnerable pieces and is responsible for fulfilling the expectations of receiving it.
For example, my friend knows that I’m sharing this information with them with the expectation of their understanding and responsibility of receiving and upholding that trust. The key to being trustworthy is that the person also has the personality traits of understanding their role and fulfilling the person’s expectations of being trustworthy.
To narrow down a trustworthy person, here are five top ways to determine if someone is trustworthy or not:
Someone who is consistent is more likely to be trustworthy.
One of the things that I noticed in my dating life is when a person talks about themselves in ways that are inconsistent with their reality, this person is not trustworthy. For example, I was on a date with someone who kept talking about putting their family first but then would bash their family members on numerous accounts. They have a disconnection between their perception and reality.
If someone is more guilt-prone, they are more aware of themselves and those around them.
They will be more sensitive to meet the other’s person’s expectations. In other words, they would be more of a trustworthy person. I get a sense of guilt if I broke someone’s trust and will feel the need to ask for their forgiveness.
If a person has a personality trait of agreeableness, they are more likely to be trustworthy.
A person who is agreeableness tends to be more cooperative and polite; they would understand their role and expectations of someone who is trusting them.
Authentic people are also very humble because they have nothing to prove; they know who they are.
They know who they are and strive to walk in their truth. I don’t know one authentic person that is not likable and easy to talk with. It seems like authentic people are more trustworthy as well.
A person with integrity and desire to be honest.
They will stand up for what is right. A person with integrity will most likely have strong moral principles that they follow and would also be a trustworthy person.
Even with these tips of identifying a trustworthy person, some may slip through the crack and surprise you of not being a trustworthy person. It’s always best to trust your gut and follow your intuition. If you are dating, make sure that you allow enough time for the other person to show their true colors before investing too much.
In relationships, it’s always helpful to maintain consistent communication, so there are no wiggle rooms for lies or false perceptions. If you strive to be a trustworthy person, like the law of attraction, you will also attract trustworthy people in your circle.
If you want to know who is trustworthy with everything is someone who has been around long enough to be tested. Not like a game of testing them with my trust. But with life comes many challenges of ups and downs. I can count on my fingers who have been there for me through it all, when I’m sad, happy, broke, rich, and so on.
Being trustworthy is also accepting other people for who they are and placing no judgment. If my trustworthy friends judged me ten years ago, hey—even two years ago— they wouldn’t still be my friends. They put enough faith and trust in our relationship that they knew I was a friend to stick around for.
Author | Psychotherapist
Untrustworthy people say one thing and do another
For the most part, except for sociopaths, it’s not difficult to identify people who are untrustworthy if you pay attention. The problem is that many people rationalize the behavior of untrustworthy people and then get blindsided because they want to believe that someone is honest and worthy of being trusted.
The place to start is to identify what traits make someone trustworthy.
Their words match their deeds and intentions; they follow through, are reliable and dependable. They tell the truth because they value truth, not because they fear getting caught or punished. They are truthful because they want others to be honest with them. Trustworthy people are honest with themselves.
Untrustworthy people say one thing and do another and send mixed messages because the truth is fungible to them.
They don’t follow through and then lie about why they didn’t. You can count on them because they do what is to their own benefit, not yours. They lack empathy, are manipulative, and lie to themselves.
The best way to identify an untrustworthy person is to trust your gut. If you think you’re not getting the whole story, feel manipulated, or think something is fishy, you have probably encountered someone not worthy of your trust. Follow their behavioral patterns, and you will learn the truth about them.
Kim Leatherdale, LPC, ATR-BC, DCC, NCC
See how they view the world and the people around them
A solid way to know how a person acts is to see how they view the world and the people around them. In this case, someone who is untrustworthy is likely to question how honest others are. They are more likely to believe others are deceitful or harp on how every example of how others are dishonest. It is an extension of the old adage “A cheater lives in a world of cheats.“
What we ourselves do, we think most other people do too.
Another way to know if someone is untrustworthy is to watch how they treat boundaries and commitments. If they think it is okay to “change their mind” or break commitments regularly, they don’t believe their word matters. This may not be intentionally mean; they just don’t recognize how important it is to be consistent. Whatever the reason, it still means they are likely to break your trust.
Lastly, an obvious way to know if someone is trustworthy is to see how they treat secrets. If you see or hear them sharing things that you know or suspect were told in confidence, it is a clear sign the person is not responsible for sensitive information.
Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, M.D.
General Practitioner, Prescription Doctor
The visual movements they make
One of the biggest and most obvious signs of an untrustworthy person is the visual movements they make; this has been backed up by psychological research, people who are lying often use their hands to distract away from their lips.
Alongside body language, the reason for deceiving others is focused on psychological reasoning. People lie because they believe they have more to gain from lying than telling the truth. Mares and Turvey (2018) have placed lies into two categories.
“Lies may be divided into two distinct motivational categories: prosocial lies that are constructed to benefit others; and antisocial lies that are selfish.”
And although there is truth to this, there is a real concern when we can no longer see the clear difference of prosocial and antisocial lies. The lies become an everyday occurrence just because it will become easier to live with the lie rather than answer for any consequence that truth might bring.
Dr. Lindsay Israel
Board Certified Psychiatrist | Chief Medical Officer & Medical Director, Success TMS
An untrustworthy person will be inconsistent with reality
They’ll either attempt to believe the lie themselves or create a perception of what they want you to believe as true.
An untrustworthy person might utilize a defense mechanism called projection. This is when a person accuses someone of demonstrating negative undesirable emotions, rather than recognizing or admitting that it is an emotion they themselves are experiencing. This is typically a subconscious process, but an untrustworthy person will knowingly use this process as a means to manipulate others into believing them.
Dr. Hans Watson
Psychiatrist, University Elite PLLC
In general, a trustworthy person shares an equal amount of personal information as they receive from others. Here are some examples of what I mean:
- If an individual (excluding professional relationships like therapy) inquires about your personal information but is unwilling to offer the same information back, this is a red flag that they are a risk of being untrustworthy.
- Other signs of someone who is not likely trustworthy is having a secret part of their personal life. This includes hidden social media accounts, hidden bank accounts, etc.
Co-founder, The Brightspot Trust
Ask yourself, “Is this person credible?” Credibility is crucial to earning trust. What credibility signals is this person transmitting?
We all send credibility signals with each of our interactions, so look for clues. Our credibility can change depending on the context, as do the credibility signals that are most relevant. For example, I’ll trust my mom with everything from gardening advice to health tips, but I don’t trust her when it comes to tech support (sorry mom!).
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to uncover a person’s credibility signals:
- Does this person look and act the part?
From our first impression, we start to ask, “Can I trust this person?” and look for clues in their appearance. Does this person’s attire match the circumstance? What about their body language and demeanor? Do they seem confident in this context? Does their language suit the circumstance?
- Are they competent?
What’s key is how skilled the person is in the context where you’re seeking to trust them. As credibility is context-dependent, this person doesn’t need to be competent at everything.
- Can I depend on this person?
Do you believe they will come through? You can look for hints in how they do with managing commitments, proactively communicating, and with their history in both starting and finishing tasks and projects.
- Do they have integrity?
Are they someone who says and then does? Does this person come across as authentic and genuine? Do you get the impression that this person consistently shows up in a way that is aligned with their values? Do they seem to know what their values are?
- Are they honest, even when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient?
Is this person truthful in word and deed? When hard talks come up, do they say what they mean? Even the occasional white lie can dim a person’s credibility. It makes it difficult for others to know when that person is being forthright and when they are being misleading.
- Are they willing to be wrong?
Credibility is not about perfection. It’s about authenticity. Does this person take accountability? Do they have the humility to admit when they’re wrong? Do they change their mind as they learn objective information?
- Do they treat others – me included – with care and dignity?
Are they courteous? Do they treat others with respect, especially if social norms might suggest they don’t have to? If a person treats others poorly, even if that person is highly competent, their lack of care creates a barrier to connection and trust.
- Do they have a proven track record?
Do they have a history of past success in the context at hand or a related one? Do they have a history of performing at a high standard and delivering meaningful results?
- Are they connected to trustworthy people, organizations, and communities?
A person can be viewed as more – or less – credible depending on their relationships and affiliations. Are they associated with a reputable network or association? Do they hold respected credentials in a relevant area? Were they recommended to you by someone you trust?
Jazz Musician | Writer
People who lie are often very good at it
They either believe their own lies or have worked hard to develop their skills at deception. It can be very difficult to catch these people in an outright falsehood, and yet their untruths can still damage you.
I’d suggest not trying to trick or catch these people in a lie. Even if you succeed, they will not admit to having lied. Instead, learn to spot them early and get out.
The first time someone says they will do something, and does not do it, put yourself on high alert. Watch for a second time, and when it happens, do not engage or ask for explanations. The odds are, if it happens twice, it’s a habitual thing, and you should end the relationship, or at least reduce it, so you are not vulnerable.
Even if this person does lots of great things for you and tells the truth most of the time, at their core, they cannot be trusted. Eventually, it will bite you.