7 Traits Of A Difficult Person, According To The "Difficult Person Test"
There are so many personality tests out there, some more complex and some more straightforward. From the Myers-Briggs test (which can shed light on how one perceives the world and makes decisions) to the Erotic Blueprints (an arousal map that reveals one's primary erotic language) to even broader frameworks like astrology, it can be fun to dabble in these and see if they match up with who you consider yourself to be in the world—or even use them as friendly guides that point to places that could use some work or development. The so-called Difficult Person Test is another personality assessment that might help you do just that.
What is the difficult person test?
The Difficult Person Test is an online quiz designed to determine whether someone is difficult to get along with, inspired by personality research1 led by clinical psychologist Chelsea Sleep. The test measures seven specific traits: callousness, grandiosity, aggressiveness, suspicion, manipulativeness, dominance, and risk-taking.
The test was created by a website called IDRlabs. IDR stands for Individual Differences Research, and they claim to create tests based on peer-reviewed scientific research. However, they state that they're not associated with any specific researchers or research institutions, and Sleep has told other media outlets that she wasn't involved in creating the Difficult Person Test.
Nonetheless, building upon the work of Sleep and her colleagues, the test has risen in popularity in recent months thanks to social media.
How to take the test.
The only place to take the Difficult Person Test (at least, the specific one that's gone viral) is the IDRlabs website.
The 7 traits of a difficult person.
In the study referenced by the test, Sleep and her colleagues at the University of Georgia studied the structure of antagonism and key factors that might result in someone being viewed as antagonistic.
The team doesn't actually label these traits as "difficult," notes Joshua D. Miller, Ph.D., a personality researcher and University of Georgia psychology professor who supervised Sleep's research, in an interview with mindbodygreen (Sleep was not available for comment).
"We call it disagreeableness—it is a spectrum that spans antagonism to agreeableness," he says.
That being said, let's break down the seven traits that the IDRlabs test considers difficult:
Callousness is defined as being insensitive, with a cruel disregard for others. This quality may make others feel unsafe or defensive around the person exuding callousness. "It can be annoying for people to constantly be callous if it psychologically wounds the receiver," says Miller.
Grandiosity involves an unrealistic sense of superiority over others, which might lead to bragging, being dismissive of others, or believing one is above ordinary rules and limits. Notably, research has shown2 that grandiose tendencies aren't pointing to healthy self-esteem but rather an assertion of superiority in which a person considers themselves unique and better than others. This trait is also a hallmark of narcissism, and it can fracture relationships and harm one's well-being.
Hostile, violent, or forceful behavior can all be linked to aggressiveness. Those who run on aggression often do not seek to get along, seek harmony, or seek peace with other people.
Miller gives a good example of when aggressiveness might be appropriate and when it could backfire: "In my academic work, I could argue with people in my field and be disagreeable without a lot of trouble or costs—but if I behave that way at home and in other contexts in a pervasive manner, it would be closer to something we might consider a problem."
Suspicion relates to suspecting something is wrong without proof or on slight evidence. There are instances when it could be helpful to be cautious with one's trust, but when suspicious tendencies spiral out of control, issues such as pseudoscience and conspiracies may arise and be of harm to others.
Dominance relates to having power and influence over others. Though these traits can be used altruistically, a dominant personality can also quickly veer toward extreme antagonism and therefore be difficult to get along with. For example, dealing with a dominant personality can be a challenging feat if it's your boss who's not well-versed in emotional intelligence.
Finally, if you're willing to take risky action in the hope of a desired result, you might consider yourself a risk-taker. There are myriad benefits to risk-taking, but if one does not consider how their impulsive actions may affect those around them—or may be of danger to themselves—risk-taking can swiftly become destructive and chaotically difficult.
Notably, though, Miller doesn't think risk-taking should be included in the list. "The paper that this is based on does not include risk-taking in this construct," he tells mbg. "It comes out because other papers include it."
Is the test legitimate?
Yes and no. The Difficult Person Test is based on peer-reviewed research, but the researchers behind the study in question weren't involved in the development of IDRlabs' online test.
In their study, Sleep, Miller, and their colleagues sought to gain a more nuanced understanding of the structure of personality. Their research examined the structure of antagonism and was based on commonly used measures of pathological personality traits, and it involved 532 participants from a large southeastern university. Their findings demonstrated how antagonism unfolds as a trait at varying levels of specificity and intensity.
One of the main points Miller emphasizes is that antagonist traits become a problem if they are fixed. "Flexible personality is healthy personality," he explains. "You want your personality to shift to some degree based on the circumstance. If you cannot shift your personality to meet certain needs, it's a problem. [In other words], if you're difficult in every setting, it could be considered a disorder if the problems are pervasive, persistent, and long-standing."
GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor at PsychPoint, adds that difficult people can often express that they do not care how their behavior affects others. "[Difficult people] believe it is OK to be careless with other people's boundaries and will often reject responsibility for their actions and try to overpower others," Guarino tells mbg. This is where radical honesty with oneself and willingness to change and be flexible is paramount.
Furthermore, Miller notes that people could be difficult for a lot of reasons outside of the context of antagonism. "Emotional dysregulation could be 'difficult' for someone who needs constant reassurance," he says. "There are a lot of reasons that someone is difficult. That doesn't mean they're an asshole."
So, in taking The Difficult Person Test, it is not necessarily helpful to be attached to your results or think that they are set in stone. Rather, it might be helpful to use the results as a friendly guide that can help illuminate areas within that you may not have been aware of or that may need adjustment. It's also helpful to note that no matter your results, implementing flexibility and joyful effort in approaching personality tendencies is a robustly effective approach. On the other hand, shame and judgment never help with personal progress.
The 3 dark personality types, aka the "Dark Triad."
The Difficult Person Test research relates to the "Dark Triad" of dark personality types in psychology—narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy—because antagonism is the core of these three personality types.
According to Miller, narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy all share the tendency to callousness, ruthlessness, and the intense focus on one's needs at the expense of others. "Psychopathy is the most pathologized," he explains. "The combination of intense impulsivity and intense disagreeableness is the least adaptive and unhelpful in all settings." (He notes, however, that he hates the term "Dark Triad" because he believes it misrepresents these traits.)
Guarino expands on the three traits, saying "Narcissistic behaviors, such as an inflated ego and a sense of entitlement, can often be seen in difficult people. Machiavellianism is also seen in difficult people through patterns of suspicion, manipulation, and aggression. Finally, psychopathic behaviors are behaviors that indicate a lack of empathy for others, which can be seen in difficult people through impulsivity, risk-taking behaviors, and insensitivity and carelessness when dealing with people's feelings."
What to do if you're a difficult person.
So, if the Difficult Person Test (or other people) tells you you're difficult, or if you just suspect you might be a difficult person, where do you go from there?
According to Guarino, while difficult people may carry traits of the dark triad, they often are not intending to be difficult or may not be happy with their difficult personality. "Difficult people may not want to be this way but do not know how to get themselves out of their own cycles of difficult behavior," she explains.
If you want to address your difficult behaviors and learn how to manage and improve them, Guarino suggests that it is best to speak with a therapist. "A mental health therapist will help you learn how these difficult behaviors developed and what purpose they serve for you," she explains. "From there, your therapist will be able to help you learn healthier coping skills and behaviors to use in place of your difficult behaviors that are causing stress for you and your loved ones." They will also be able to teach you stress tolerance skills that can help minimize reactivity.
Miller also emphasizes that you have to have the motivation to change first—no one else is going to do this work for you. It is oftentimes a painful journey to shift seemingly ingrained personality traits, which is why people doing this work are quite brave.
Along with potentially seeking support from a mental health professional, Miller also suggests "faking it until you make it" in order to reduce or mitigate natural default behaviors. "Try to show warmth/regard for others even if you don't feel it," he says. "Express sympathy even if you don't feel empathy—try to behave in nicer and less difficult ways and see if this is actually improving your life." In seeing evidence of overall improvement both with relationship to self and interpersonally, motivation will increase.
If you end up taking the Difficult Person Test and get some results that indicate disposition to these antagonistic traits, don't fret. The fact that you're even participating in the test shows that you're trying to get to know yourself better and be more collaborative and kind to yourself and others around you. Plus, some of these traits indeed can be channeled altruistically with practice, mental health insight, and emotional intelligence. Knowing yourself and your tendencies is the first step toward living in harmony and balance in any kind of relationship.
Georgina Berbari is a multidisciplinary artist focusing on photography and writing. Through these mediums, she creates works exploring the human body, sexuality, nature and psychology. Her work has been featured in the Hecksher Museum of Art on Long Island, ZEUM Magazine, Women’s Health, Bustle, SHAPE, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. She is a Master's graduate of the creative writing program at Columbia University and a Yoga Alliance RYT-200 yoga and meditation instructor.