How to Spot a Sociopath: 16 Key Behavioral Characteristics that Define Sociopaths/Psychopaths and Others with Antisocial Disorders
Have you ever wished you could figure out all the people you come in contact with only a few steps, just by observing them and their behavior?
It would surely be great to know if that new romantic interest really cares about you or has other motives, to notice any signs that your neighbour is not to be trusted, and generally recognize potentially dangerous people in your surroundings, this including psychopaths.
Yes, you read that right, psychopaths. You may think that the chances of running into this type of people in your life are pretty low, right?
If you do, the statistics will surprise you. Dr Robert Hare, a researcher in the field of criminal psychology and the creator of the commonly used Psychopathy checklist, estimates that psychopaths make up 1% of the general population.
Even though it may not seem as much, 1% of the world’s population is roughly 70 million people.
So, there is a chance of you running into a psychopath in your lifetime.
This is why we would like to educate you on what exactly are antisocial personality disorders, how you can recognize these persons suffering, and what you can do when encountering them.
WHAT ARE ANTISOCIAL PERSONALITY DISORDERS?
You will probably agree that the first thing that comes to mind after hearing the words “psychopath” or “sociopath” are brutal serial killers, as seen in numbers of thriller movies we often watch.
You know, the crazy-eyed, insane loner that tortures innocent people for no obvious reason, only to gain personal satisfaction.
In reality, you probably won’t be able to recognize psychopaths and sociopaths right off the bat.
Instead of behaving like described movie villains, they will most likely seem like any other person, or they could even be more charming and charismatic than most people.
So, if that’s the case, how hard is it to spot them?
Well, it’s definitely not easy, but our task today will be to help you differentiate the basic characteristics of persons with antisocial personality disorders so that you can notice what kind of person you’re dealing with.
First of all, what are personality disorders?
Simply put, these conditions are defined as mental health states that have an effect on how a person sees other people, how they may think and feel about them or how they connect to them.
People with personality disorders have a hard time comprehending situations and connecting with others, which can cause serious difficulties in many areas of life – social, romantic and professional.
Antisocial Personality Disorder or ASPD is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as a personality disorder manifested through repeated behaviour of violating or disregarding the rights of other people, and it is an especially difficult type of personality disorder.
The same Association classifies psychopathy and sociopathy into the group of antisocial personality disorders.
This is because ASPD varies from person to person and can have a spectrum of symptoms.
can range from infrequent bad behaviour to more serious, harmful actions that cause significant harm to others.
Exactly those severe, dangerous forms of this disorder are referred to as sociopathy or psychopathy.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOCIOPATHS AND PSYCHOPATHS
Think about it. You have certainly used the term “psychopath” and/or “sociopath” before.
Did you use it correctly? Did you really understand the traits that these words represent?
you’re not sure, you are probably not alone. The two terms are often mixed up, and it’s not surprising.
Even in scientific literature, for example in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, these two disorders are not precisely defined.
As said before, they are rather looked at as varieties of antisocial personality disorders.
After all, they have many shared characteristics. The key ones are:
- indifference for laws and social rules
- lack of empathy and indifference for the rights and feelings of others
- lack of any remorse or guilt
- tendency for violence and aggression
But, in spite of both being serious and potentially dangerous conditions, and having a number of same traits, there are ways to distinguish psychopaths and sociopaths from one another.
Now it’s our task to bring you the differences between the two.
First, let’s look at the statistics.
There is a difference when it comes to the frequency of both groups in the population.
Only 1% of the general population is made up out of psychopaths, as opposed to 4% of sociopaths, so you can expect the chances of running into a sociopath to be far higher than those of meeting a psychopath in your lifetime.
The next thing that differentiates these two disorders is their origin. You maybe think that a person has to be born with some kind of mental anomaly to become a troublesome individual in their later years.
Well, that is true when it comes to psychopaths.
Studies have shown that genetics play the most important role in the formation of a psychopath, with the inheritability of the trait of up to 60 per cent. In other words, they are simply born that way.
On the other hand, the most important factor when it comes to the origin of a sociopath is the environment.
In that case, a traumatic event or an unhappy childhood can cause the development of the illness.
Even though you may consider psychopaths and sociopaths as manic, careless individuals, there are some differences when it comes to the extent to which they are able to control their behaviour.
A sociopath is prone to acting without forethought and is generally more spontaneous than a psychopath, who is in control of his or her actions, and displays high levels of manipulation.
Considering the mentioned differences in the level of impulsivity, it is not weird that sociopaths tend to leave clues and evidence behind after they have committed the crime, opposed to the calculated operations of a psychopath, who will rarely allow themselves the mistake of not cleaning up behind themselves.
As calculated as they are, psychopaths will gladly take part in frauds.
As said before, these two disorders have a shared trait of lacking empathy, so they are unable to fully understand the feelings and needs of other persons. They are simply unable to place themselves in another person’s position.
But, there are differences between the two when it comes to the level of empathy they can experience.
Sociopaths are even able to form social bonds or romantic relationships with other people, while a psychopath can’t create any type of relationship with people, so they won’t feel any remorse or guilt after hurting someone.
Generally speaking, both of these conditions are far from easy, and the individuals suffering from these two disorders can be challenging, if not extremely dangerous to be around.
Considering the fact that sociopaths tend to have a better response to therapy then psychopaths, and having in mind that psychopaths are far more careless and cunning individuals, we will present you with the guide on identifying if you are dealing with someone who has psychopathic tendencies.
SPOTTING THE PSYCHOPATH
Now we will examine all the clues you should look for if you suspect you have come across a psychopath.
One guide commonly used when diagnosing the psychopathic tendencies of a person is the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R).
This method is widely accepted as the best way of evaluating if the subject has psychopathic tendencies, and if so, to what extent.
Here we will present you with 16 key characteristics out of this 20 traits list that we feel are useful in determining if the person in question is a psychopath or not.
1. Slick and Superficial Charm
Have you ever met someone and thought that they had the most charismatic personality?
No matter what they talked about, everyone in the room would listen, and they just seem so likeable and fun to be around? Sounds like a friend or romantic partner anyone would like to have.
There’s the catch. A psychopath will do anything to gain your trust, including getting you to like them through putting on a mask of a normal, charming person.
And what is worse, this is no problem for them, since they are born actors.
2. Over-Exaggerated Self-Perception
When estimating if someone has psychopathic tendencies, look at how they see themselves.
Psychopaths tend to have a grandiose estimation of self-worth, thinking that they are better than you, and in fact, better than everyone.
You will never hear them talk bad about themselves – they feel as they are the best in any aspect as if they are levels above others.
Most psychopaths possess some narcissistic traits, although not all narcissists are psychopaths.
The shared traits of the two groups are, of course, the false superiority complex, but also calculated charm, conceit and manipulation.
The belief that they are better than anyone else justifies, only to them of course, the mistreatment and exploitation of people that they look at as inferior.
3. Pathological Lying
Have you noticed that the person lies compulsively, either to prove a point or get some desired result or for no apparent reason?
Do they lie even when there would be no consequences of telling the truth, and makeup stories even when they have no clear benefit from telling them?
This is how you will recognize a pathological liar.
Of course, not all pathological liars are psychopaths, but all psychopaths tend to be pathological liars, so keep an eye of the stories that don’t add up.
That is if you can even tell they’re lying, since psychopaths have no problem with staying calm and collected, and they sometimes even believe their own lies.
Knowing what you want and going after it is something very important and normal human behaviour.
But, how you go after your goals is what separates a psychopath from an individual.
When it comes to psychopaths, they know no boundaries.
They will lie, make you feel sorry for them, deceive you and use whatever it takes, just to get what they want.
Look for signs – if you feel like the person is leading you on, saying just what you would like to hear and acts suspiciously friendly just so they can have something from you, you are being manipulated.
5. No Remorse, No Guilt
As mentioned before, one of the characteristics sociopaths and psychopaths share is the lack of remorse or guilt.
Researchers have concluded that the cause of that is the fact that they have a lower number of cells in the prefrontal cortex – the region of the brain in charge of understanding the feelings of others and ethics.
Emotional response to events that other people would find deeply traumatizing, like deaths or injuries, are almost non-existent, and they simply wouldn’t feel bad for causing anyone trouble with their actions.
Don’t expect to notice psychopaths feeling these deep emotions because they simply don’t have them.
6. Shallow Effect
Let’s face it – one of the most “human” characteristics is emotions.
Joy, happiness, sadness, anger and jealousy are only a few, and sometimes we’re feeling these emotions so deeply that we simply can’t control them.
That’s where psychopaths are different from normal people. They just don’t feel as deep as others. “Shallow effect” is the term explaining this condition. Psychopaths do feel, but just not deeply and only for short durations of time.
It is interesting that this effect is probably linked to the anatomy of the brain since brain scans of individuals diagnosed with psychopathy show decreased activity in areas of that are normally activated when feeling fear, sadness and other negative emotions.
7. Lack of Empathy
Neural response regarding empathy has also been tested with psychopathic patients, by looking at how different parts of the brain react when these persons are imagining someone else being in pain.
The brain regions associated with the feeling of empathy, that would show response in people with no psychopathic tendencies, simply weren’t activated in psychopaths.
This research concluded that psychopaths lack empathy, failing to understand the troubles of other people.
Don’t be surprised with no reaction to your problems when sharing them with a sociopath. They have no ability to put themselves in your shoes.
8. Parasitic Lifestyle
Psychopaths are egocentric by nature.
They don’t care about no one’s needs but their own and will adopt a parasitic lifestyle, exploiting others for their own sake.
This is reflected through intentional manipulation of others, feeding off of them to fulfill their needs, without thinking twice about what “the host” may lose.
9. Sexual Promiscuity
The reason that psychopaths engage frequently in promiscuous sex is that it boosts their ego, gives them the feeling of power or simply cures their boredom.
Also, sex, especially with a person that meets them for the first time, gives them the opportunity to access another person when they’re in the most vulnerable state.
This allows the psychopath to take more advantage of someone, achieving their goals.
Especially susceptible to be seduced by a psychopath are lonely people, so in case you’re convinced there is “something off” about your potential love interest, trust your instincts and don’t ignore the signs.
10. Juvenile Delinquency
One more sign that you’re dealing with a psychopath is them having a troubled childhood since researchers have found a connection between problematic young people and psychopathic tendencies later in life.
If you can, check if the person had a case of delinquent behaviour in their youth, because it can be a disposition for psychopathy.
Since they think only about their own needs, it is no surprise that a psychopath will act impulsively, giving no thought to the consequences of their wrong-doings.
They do anything they want and when they want it, and to them, that is everything that matters.
That’s why you should look out for sudden changes in behaviour and impulse actions when suspecting you have come across a psychopath.
As mentioned, the world of the psychopath revolves just around them, and this is why they possess no sense of responsibility for anything they may decide on, or for the consequences of those decisions.
Don’t be surprised if this kind of person never admits to making a mistake, since they firmly see nothing wrong with anything they’re doing.
13. Need for Stimulation
Boredom is often present in the lives of psychopaths.
The reason they feel like that all the time, and get bored easily is because of how intense the stimulation they need in order to start feeling anything is.
Because of this condition, they are constantly in search of the stimulation, and experience boredom as a restless feeling, which can cause them to act aggressively in pursuit of something to cure it.
And there is nothing scarier than a bored psychopath, right?
14. No Realistic Long-Term Goals
Are you noticing that a person has set unrealistic long-term goals, or that they have trouble planning for the future?
This is also a characteristic of psychopaths since some research has shown that persons suffering from this condition have a hard time following any life plans they may come up with, or they even show total lack of plans and seem to be perfectly fine with having no big scheme for their life.
15. Poor Behavioural Controls
Psychopaths often have weak inhibitory controls when it comes to their behaviour, meaning that they have little power over their actions.
It is typical for them to act violently out of nowhere – one minute they can be perfectly calm, and in another, they are irritated, annoyed and even aggressive.
These reactions are often occurring without a warning, and it doesn’t take much provoking to trigger them.
They could be laughing with you, and then burst into attack mode without a warning. Once again, they have no remorse or shame, so they won’t feel guilty for the temper tantrums they have caused.
16. Many Short-Term Marriages
One thing you should also consider when looking for clues that determine that someone is a psychopath is their relationships.
Psychopaths have trouble bonding with people, including romantic partners, which leads to failure of the marriage.
Of course, they will never take the blame for the relationship not working out, since they, as mentioned before, feel no responsibility for anything that happens to them.
Our advice is to listen to the way the person talks about previous relationships – putting the blame on the other person and re-marrying a couple of times are definitely bad signs and can indicate deeper personality issues.
It is probably clear to you now that the Hollywood image of a psychopath is far from the truth. In modern times, they are not the mass murderers as portrayed in movies, instead, they can appear as highly functional, successful people.
They are causing harm indirectly, mostly to those who are closest to them, engaging in relationships only to manipulate and then leave the person confused by their lack of empathy and remorse.
Even though murderers shouldn’t be the first thing popping into your mind when it comes to this condition, the psychopathic disorder can be a dangerous thing.
People suffering from it lack empathy, they can be impulsive and careless, all of which can lead to potentially dangerous situations.
After all, it is estimated that between 15 and 25 per cent of all prisoners qualifies for the diagnosis of psychopathy, and psychopathic tendencies are often linked to violent behaviour, delinquency and crime.
Unfortunately, this condition is difficult to treat, since people afflicted by it generally have no motivation to seek treatment, and because all of the efforts put in treatment of this personality disorder brought little or no effort.
All and all, in case you suspect to know a person with psychopathic tendencies, it is good to be able to recognize the signs and keep your distance.
Hopefully, throughout this guide, we managed to better explain to you what antisocial personality disorders are, how to differentiate sociopathy from psychopathy and what the key characteristics of a psychopath are.
Keep in mind that a person having some of the traits mentioned earlier doesn’t make them a psychopath, and only a professional can diagnose one.
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