'I'm a Bad Person:' Why You Might Feel This Way

Depressed asian woman sitting on sofa holding a cushion

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Most people have done things that they regret. Nobody is perfect, and making mistakes is part of life. Sometimes these regrets can leave you wondering if you are a bad person. It can be a distressing thought, but it is not necessarily uncommon. Many people question the things they've done and what those actions say about them.

The good news is that examining your actions often means that you care about treating other people in positive ways. It also indicates that you have the self-reflection, insight, and awareness to make a change if you aren't satisfied with who you are or who you've been in the past.

Wondering if you are a bad person isn't always a fleeting thought or existential question; it can be a sign of a mental health condition such as depression. In that case, it is important to be aware of the symptoms to watch for so that you can seek help.

This article explores what you should do if you find yourself thinking, "I'm a bad person." It covers some signs that you might have a problem and what you can change.

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What Does "Bad Person" Mean?

Labeling yourself a "bad person" is often a judgment that stems from your value system. These values arise from the beliefs you've formed through your upbringing and experiences, but they are also heavily influenced by the culture you live in. The expectations for what it means to be "good" can vary depending on the society and culture in which you live.

There is no single, simple definition for what it means to be a "bad person." It is a highly subjective judgment, and no matter how you define it, there will be people who think differently than you. It is also often dependent on factors such as your values, belief systems, and religious background.

One person might define a "bad person" as someone who engages in harmful or destructive behaviors. Another person might define a bad person as an individual who doesn't care about other people, regardless of the type of actions they engage in.

The Dark Factor of Personality

According to some researchers, there is a certain pattern of traits that make up what is referred to as the "dark factor of personality" or D-factor. People who exhibit these characteristics often engage in actions that are harmful to other people. Such traits include:

  • Entitlement
  • Immorality
  • Neuroticism
  • Psychopathy
  • Sadism
  • Self-centeredness
  • Self-interest
  • Spitefulness

These traits share the connection that they are all focused on pursuing one's interest at the cost of other people's happiness, health, and well-being. People who have these traits disregard others and do whatever it takes to fulfill their desires and wants at the expense of other people.

Signs You Might Have a Problem

There are some indicators that you might want to consider how you treat others. A few signs that you might need to evaluate your actions include:

Lack of Apologies or Remorse

Hurt feelings happen from time to time. It is normal to lash out, act thoughtlessly, or say things in the heat of the moment that cause other people pain. How you respond to those actions can say a lot about who you are as a person.

If you experience feelings of remorse when you hurt someone and you can apologize for the pain you have caused, it indicates that you care about the feelings of the people around you. It also means that you are willing to reflect on your actions and make amends when needed.

But if you are not willing to do those things or struggle to admit that you've harmed others, it may be a sign of a deeper problem.

Self-Centered Behaviors

There is nothing wrong with putting your own needs and interests first sometimes. Taking care of yourself is crucial, and neglecting your own needs can lead to unhappiness and poor well-being.

However, if you're always thinking about yourself and your own needs, and you never consider the feelings or welfare of others, it may indicate a problem that you should address. It is particularly damaging if you neglect the needs of the people you are close to, such as your partner, children, other family members, or friends. 

Empathy is an important ability that helps you understand other people and share their pain. A lack of empathy for other people can signify that you need to take steps to change how you treat others.

Manipulation, Exploitation, and Dishonesty

Always taking advantage of others or using them for your own gain is a definite sign of a problem. Putting other people down and engaging in gaslighting is often a form of manipulation and exploitation.

If you're always telling lies, big or small, it may indicate that you need to evaluate your behavior and make a change. People who engage in exploitive or destructive behaviors typically have no problem lying to get what they want. While everyone tells lies from time to time, it can indicate a more serious problem when it is chronic, pervasive, and does not lead to any feelings of remorse or regret.

Recap

Certain patterns of behavior can be harmful and destructive. Some of these behaviors include self-centeredness, dishonesty, manipulation, and exploitation. 

Causes to Consider

The question of why people do bad things has been the subject of scrutiny among religious scholars, philosophers, psychologists, and doctors for thousands of years. The answers to the questions are vast and varied, ranging from biology to parenting to social pressures.

If you sometimes feel like a bad person, it can be helpful to consider some of the factors that might be contributing to these feelings. Some influences might include your personality, upbringing, life experiences, and environment.

Personality

Certain personality traits can sometimes affect how you feel about yourself. For example, neuroticism is one of the core dimensions of personality. People who have high levels of this trait sometimes tend to feel negative about themselves, others, and the world in general. 

People who have high levels of the D-factor traits such as self-centeredness, neuroticism, and sadism also tend to have a severe disregard for the well-being of others.

Experiences 

Your upbringing and life experiences also play an important role in how you perceive your own actions. Your earliest experiences in life involved watching caregivers and other adults, and how their behaviors and the value systems they raised you in served as a model for how you feel and act today.

Of course, other experiences and influences also play a role. Peers, social pressures, culture, media influences, and your individual experiences have also shaped how you relate to the other people in your life. 

Adverse experiences may contribute to an overall negative outlook on life, ultimately impacting how you engage with others. 

Talking to a mental health professional can be a helpful way to untangle and better understand some of these influences. By working with a therapist, you can process your experiences, examine how they influence your behavior today, and develop new skills that will help you engage with others in a healthier, more meaningful way.

Mental Health Conditions

Some mental health conditions such as antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, or borderline personality disorder can lead to problems with empathy, relationships, behaviors, and self-perceptions. If you have one of these conditions, getting a diagnosis is an important first step. Treatments may include medications and therapy to change thought patterns and social interactions. 

However, it is also essential to be aware that feeling like a bad person can also be an indicator of depression or anxiety. 

People who are depressed may have symptoms such as feelings of guilt and lack of self-worth. In some cases, people with the condition can feel fundamentally bad or that the world would be better off without them.

It is important to recognize that feeling like a bad person can sometimes be a symptom of depression. Sometimes this feeling is accompanied by other symptoms such as low mood, decreased interest in activities, loss of pleasure, fatigue, irritability, social withdrawal, and a lack of motivation. In that case, it is crucial to seek help. 

Talk to your doctor about what you are experiencing. They can assess your symptoms, make a diagnosis, and recommend treatments that can help relieve your symptoms.

Recap

Personality traits and past experiences can play a role in how you feel about yourself and others. In some cases, feeling like a bad person can be a sign of depression or anxiety.

Steps You Can Take to Feel Better

Feeling like you are a bad person can be distressing. In addition to talking to a mental health professional, there are steps that you can take to be better and feel better about who you are and how you relate to others.

  • Treat others with respect: Work on showing kindness and respect to others. Being nice to people can be a great place to start. Approaching others with kindness can also lead to more positive social interactions, which can be helpful for forming new social relationships.
  • Find ways to help others: Research has found that helping others often helps people feel better about themselves. You can start by doing good deeds in your daily life or volunteering to support an organization that you care about.
  • Practice forgiveness: Being able to forgive isn't always easy, but research has found that it can have many mental health benefits. People who can forgive experience more positive emotions, less stress, better relationships with others, and feel a greater sense of purpose in life. Show yourself compassion by learning how to forgive yourself. It can be a positive first step toward improving how you feel about who you are as a person.
  • Think positively: Maintaining a more optimistic mindset may help you interact more positively with other people and feel better about yourself. Pay attention to the types of negative thinking that contribute to feeling like you are a bad person and look for ways to replace those thought patterns with more positive ones.

It is also important to remember that labeling yourself and others can have negative consequences. Believing that such qualities are innate and unchangeable, in particular, can limit your ability and motivation to make positive changes in your life.

Even if you have moments where you feel negatively about yourself, avoid labeling yourself as a "bad person." Everyone makes mistakes, has bad days, and has things they'd like to change. Show yourself compassion.

Remind yourself that even if you've made mistakes, you are not defined by them. There are things that you can do to make a change and improve how you feel about yourself or about others.

How to Get Help

If you've been struggling with feeling like you are a bad person, there are steps that you can take to get help and make a change in your life. Start by talking to your healthcare provider or mental health professional. They can evaluate your symptoms and help determine if there may be an underlying problem, such as a personality disorder, contributing to behaviors that make you feel bad about yourself and your interactions with others. 

If feeling like you are a bad person is accompanied by other mental health symptoms related to depression or anxiety, it is vital to get help. A mental health professional can recommend treatments, such as psychotherapy and medications, that can relieve your symptoms and improve your self-perception.

Summary

It isn't uncommon for people to feel like they are bad or to regret their actions from time to time. The definition of what constitutes a "bad person" is subjective. Certain patterns of personality traits, including narcissism, sadism, and self-centeredness, are often associated with a disregard for the well-being of others.

Personality and experiences can play a role, but mental health conditions can also affect how people feel about themselves.

A Word From Verywell

Feeling like a bad person often indicates that you are capable of empathy, self-awareness, and remorse. If you've done things that you regret or that make you feel like a bad person, there are steps that you can take to change your behaviors, make amends, and improve how you feel about yourself.

Engaging in behaviors that exploit or disregard others is harmful and needs to be addressed. If you suspect that your actions are harming your relationships, talking to a therapist is a good place to start.

But if these feelings are accompanied by other symptoms such as changes in mood, motivation, and energy levels, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider. In such cases, it might be a sign of depression. Depression can make it difficult to enjoy your life to the fullest, but effective treatments are available that can improve your outlook and well-being.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.