How To Know If Someone Is For Real or Not? 14 Clues That Give Away A Pretender


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Dealing with a pretender can be a mentally, emotionally, and even psychologically draining thing, which can also end up taking a toll on your mental health. The truth is people don’t always reveal their true intentions. That is why it’s important to know the signs that you’re dealing with someone who is fake to protect yourself from those pretenders.

There are a million reasons why you might feel inferior to others and none of them are good. Unless you are in a dependent situation in which a superior abuses his or her power or is blatantly insensitive (which is a different subject altogether), it is not the other’s fault.

Just because someone occupies a higher rank in a hierarchy, you do not automatically have to feel inferior. A lower rank is —often temporarily—a fact; a feeling is one possible response to this fact. There are plenty of other possible responses.

You can, for example:

  • Try to topple an undeserving person.
  • Rejoice and congratulate a deserving person.
  • Work hard to rise yourself.
  • Make a clever plan to leave the hierarchy.
  • Express your discontent artistically.
  • Put it in perspective; think of what matters most in your life.
  • Laugh it off; it’s just a feeling.
  • Accept the world and breathe into your inner peace.

Related:20 Useful Psychological Tricks That’ll Give You An Edge When Dealing With People

It falls under your responsibility to find out the triggers of your felt subordination. But here lies the problem. You might not be able to figure out just why the other makes you feel so bad. Afraid that people are not created equal after all and that you are indeed an inferior human being, you might look in all the wrong places.

I call such fears ghosts. You should know that it takes courage to face and embrace them. Your happiness depends on discovering that you, like all people, belong to this creation and can draw peace from this discovery (see Part III in A Unified Theory of Happiness). 

On the other hand, you might just rush to the wrong conclusion. The person to whom you feel inferior, might not even be better or better off in any way. He or she might just be wringing it and faking his or her way through life. Some pretenders are easier to spot than others.

Many actually believe that they are rich when wearing a designer item or driving a car they cannot afford; smart when speaking in convoluted sentences; confident when bragging, beautiful when hiding behind a mask; the kind when showing off; witty when being insensitive and loud; scientific when citing an avalanche of studies; modest when asking to be praised.

How do you know when someone is or isn’t “the real deal”? Once you can spot a pretender, you might just spare yourself the feeling of inferiority. Here are 14 clues that give away the pretender.

14 Clues You Are Dealing With A Pretender

Clues Dealing With Pretender infographics
How To Know If Someone Is For Real Or Not? 14 Clues That Give Away A Pretender

1. Lying 

To keep up a facade, a pretender must make up things as he or she goes. While plenty of people use white lies to get along socially—which I do not recommend—a pretender uses inconsistencies or blatant lies to get an advantage. For many years, a German postman successfully pretended to be a psychiatrist by making up not only a degree but by citing fake studies and making up concepts.

Before you let yourself be bedazzled and bamboozled, take notice, confront if appropriate, and keep your distance. 

2. Appearing Overly Secure

Most pretenders make up for the insecure foundation on which they stand with an overly secure appearance. Others are supposed to be impressed by his or her confidence. While speaking self-assuredly is a great and learnable trait, being overly so is annoying to people and can give away the pretender.

Dealing With A Pretender or fake people
How To Know If Someone Is For Real Or Not? 14 Clues That Give Away A Pretender

3. Speaking Loudly

True, some pretenders speak quietly to avoid exposure. But many hard-core pretenders speak loudly to squelch any doubts in those who might sense their weak foundation. Do not let yourself be swayed by volume. In the end, it’s all hot air. 

4. Distracting

When a pretender is afraid of being exposed, he or she might quickly change the subject. This behavior is also a symptom of short attention spans or plain defensiveness. I am sure we are all familiar with the latter.

But take note if the other will not return to the subject with repeated and, more important, respectful attempts, especially when also displaying the following clues.

Related: 7 Tips On How To Deal With Fake People In Our Lives

5. Name-Calling

Unless used creatively, name-calling is not acceptable for cultured adults. As many people react emotionally to such behavior, the pretender gets away with murdering the truth about him or herself in the meantime. Name-calling is a fabulous distraction and a definite red flag.

6. Dropping Names

People who have nothing to say make sure others know who they know. It’s a popular way to make an impression, but if it happens often, you might just deal with a pretender.

7. Belittling Others

Pretenders belittle others to reinforce the hierarchy. While some nasty people take pleasure in condescension, which too is an unacceptable disgrace, a pretender resorts to such behavior when feeling threatened. Beware!

8. Self-Praise

All people need to be acknowledged for their good actions, but pretenders must make up for the fact that good actions are few and far between. Self-praise makes up for it, especially when they:

9. Exaggerating 

What of a pretender is not exaggerated? Their behavior drips with grandiose assertions and ornamental embellishments. If they had gold, they would pour gold over their words.

10. Offering Little Substance

Pretenders do not know the details and complexities. If they did, they would not be pretenders.

11. Contradicting Themselves

Pretenders do not only tell lies, but they also embody them. They might say they are rational, but act erratically and instinctively. They do not display competence but talk about it all the time. They might demand loyalty while cheating. If it weren’t so harmful, it would be funny. 

Related: The Absolute Narcissist’s Playbook: 60+ Tricks For Pretending They Win

12. Little Time for Others

Pretenders have all the answers; questions would give them away. Many people lack the ability to listen—see also Listen to MeBut for the pretender, listening is a weakness, which must be avoided.

13. Hostility

Timid pretenders exist, but most must aggressively defend the fantasy to keep up appearances. What better way to do so than to attack a person who might expose them? Hostility is also a way to distract from lacking the asset in question.

Also, when everything fails, the pretender projects his or her hostility onto the other. It is your job not to identify with the projection.

Dealing with a pretender
How To Know If Someone Is For Real Or Not? 14 Clues That Give Away A Pretender

14. Disliking of Experts

The number one enemy of the pretender is the expert. A person dashing truly competent or blessed people may just be incompetent, feeling empty and devoid.

These clues are not meant to help judge others prematurely, but to notice patterns. To be happy, it is important to relate to people with an open and kind heart. But not to fantasies, especially when they are meant to make you feel inferior. 

© 2019 Andrea F. Polard, PsyD. All Rights Reserved.


1) Andrea F. Polard (2012). A Unified Theory of Happiness: An East-Meets-West Approach to Fully Loving Your Life. Chapter Seven: Confidence, pp. 125-152.

Written By Andrea F. Polard   
Originally Appeared In Psychology Today
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How To Know If Someone Is For Real Or Not? 14 Clues That Give Away A Pretender
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How To Know If Someone Is For Real Or Not? 14 Clues That Give Away A Pretender

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