Common Traits to Look for When Spotting a Sadist

Author Tracy Smith
Updated on April 10, 2024

Colloquially, the term sadist describes a person who derives sexual enjoyment and satisfaction from inflicting pain, retribution, and shame on others. The word is derived from an 18th-century Frenchman, Marquis de Sade, who was famous for penning aggressive, malicious, and ruthless literature about sexuality. Sade was said to endorse aggression in sexuality and thus, sadism historically referred to a situation where a person gained sexual pleasure from causing another pain. 

Spotting a Sadist

Clinically, sadist refers to someone diagnosed with sexual sadism disorder, a condition which falls under the category of paraphilic disorders; a set of conditions that involve intense and recurring sexual urges that are atypical. Throughout time, the definition of sadism broadened in its definition, and no longer solely applies to sexuality. Today’s understanding of a sadist refers to an individual who feels pleasure from causing others to experience pain or suffering, even outside the context of a sexual engagement.

Many erroneously equate sadists with criminals, rapists, and serial killers, but this is often not the case. Sadists are actually not likely to perform criminal or dangerous acts where there is a possibility of punishment or societal disapproval. They appear to function like regular people and walk amongst us in everyday life. 

Sadists show an overall lack of empathy, and an internal motivation to harm others, and can often be involved in incidents of bullying and coercion. They hurt others emotionally, mentally, or physically, and enjoy chipping away at a person’s self-esteem and confidence. Thankfully, it is fairly easy to spot a sadist before getting romantically involved with them.

Traits of a Sadist

The following signs and characteristics are commonly found among those that may be classified as sadistic.


Sadists will utilize cruelty, aggression, force, or threats to obtain power and dominance while lacking remorse and compassion. They will also be cruel simply because they find it humorous and a productive way to pass the time. Sadists are constantly scheming, calculating, and manipulative in relationships with people they are close with. Power and dominance are part of the adrenaline rush that they experience when they are mean to others.


Sadists cannot hide their vicious and manipulative tendencies and prey upon those who are willing to give them a chance. Some people may initially give sadists the benefit of the doubt and try to teach and instill empathy but will quickly realize that their efforts are futile. 

Lack of Empathy

Sadists consistently make cruel and passive-aggressive jokes, utilizing sarcasm to weaken a person’s confidence and self-esteem. Not only are they not remorseful or empathetic, but they enjoy watching others cry and in pain. Often you will just get a gut feeling that another person is getting pleasure out of your discomfort. 

Enjoys Trolling

Sadists can often be found trying to cause chaos by trolling the Internet and engaging in cyber-bullying. Cyberbullying utilizes technology, social media, and electronic forms of communication to intimidate and bully.

In Summary

Although sadists are everywhere among us, they thankfully can be spotted and avoided fairly easily. Keep a general lookout for those who are malicious and spiteful, who lack empathy, and who manipulate and scheme for pure personal enjoyment. If you believe that someone close to you may have sadistic tendencies, it’s advised to set up an evaluation by a psychologist or psychiatrist. There are therapy modalities and medication treatments that can help.


Author Tracy Smith

Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for a Community YMCA. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents.

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