The fact that psychopaths are relatively common in our society may be shocking to most people, but psychopaths are common, and they could be your neighbor, your friend, or even your partner.
When most people think about psychopaths, they think about the extreme cases that we are all familiar with (Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jr., etc.), but just as with any other personality disorder (antisocial personality disorder) or anything else in life, the less extreme cases are more prevalent in our society.
Another common misconception, is that psychopaths and sociopaths are male. Female sociopaths are just as prevalent.
It may be hard to tell if you are dealing with a psychopath, because they are masters at hiding their true selves. They understand how “normal people” are supposed to act, but they are not capable of truly being normal, so they learn how to mimic the actions and reactions of normal people.
It is important to note that the terms psychopath and sociopath are basically the same thing - but whatever you call them, read on so that you do not get sucked into their madness.
What is a Psychopath?
Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) has further broken the term down and streamlined it in to the term “antisocial personality disorder,” the best definition of a psychopath is the one most of us already know.
A psychopath is a person who completely lacks empathy, yet they have the ability to appear normal.
Stop for just a minute, and think about how life would be if you lacked the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and be understanding, be sensitive to the needs and feelings of other human beings, or be objective when communicating with others…
Horrible isn’t it? However, such is the true nature of a psychopath, and as you can imagine - it can be the makings of a true monster.
Warning Signs of a Psychopath
Hervey M. Cleckly was a psychiatrist and a pioneer in the field of psychopathy; the following are his 16 indicators of a psychopath:
- Considerable superficial charm and average or above average intelligence
- Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking
- Absence of anxiety or other "neurotic" symptoms considerable poise, calmness, and verbal facility
- Unreliability, disregard for obligations no sense of responsibility, in matters of little and great import.
- Untruthfulness and insincerity
- Antisocial behavior which is inadequately motivated and poorly planned, seeming to stem from an inexplicable impulsiveness.
- Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior
- Poor judgment and failure to learn from experience
- Pathological egocentricity - total self-centeredness, incapacity for real love and attachment
- No deep or lasting emotions
- Lack of any true insight, complete inability to see themselves as others do
- Ingratitude for any special considerations, act of kindness, and trust
- Fantastic and objectionable behavior, after drinking and sometimes even when not drinking--vulgarity, rudeness, quick mood shifts, pranks
- No history of genuine suicide attempts
- An impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated sex life
- Failure to have a life plan and to live in any ordered way, unless it is one promoting self-defeat
Mental health professionals often use the Hare Psychopathy Checklist in order to asses psychopathy:
Factor 1: Personality "Aggressive narcissism"
- Glibness/superficial charm
- Grandiose sense of self-worth
- Pathological lying
- Cunning/manipulative (Manipulation is their trademark)
- Lack of remorse or guilt (They are often capable of violence)
- Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
- Callous/lack of empathy
- Failure to accept responsibility for own actions (Whatever the problem is, it is always someone else’s fault)
Factor 2: Case history "Socially deviant lifestyle"
- Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
- Parasitic lifestyle (They constantly take from others, and give nothing in return; money, love, time, etc.)
- Poor behavioral control
- Lack of realistic long-term goals
- Juvenile delinquency
- Early behavior problems
- Revocation of conditional release
To put it in plain terms, these people do not have a conscious or feelings, they wreak havoc in the lives of everyone within their reach (their parents, children, friends, etc.), and they constantly burn bridges and screw up opportunities in their lives.
To make matters worse, they are often heavy drinkers, they often have a criminal past and violent behavior, and they usually minimize or rationalize their shortcomings.
They often claim they do not care about what other people think about them because it is more important what a person thinks about oneself - this may be true, but this is NOT their real reason, in reality, psychopaths simply do not have the capacity to care about anyone else’s thoughts and feelings.
What to do if you are Involved with a Psychopath
First of all, don’t blame yourself, and do not beat yourself up for not knowing the person is a psychopath. It should be stressed that these people are masters of disguise and they are generally likeable by everyone they meet - at first. People who only know them in passing (co-workers, neighbors, teachers, etc.) will probably never know the true nature of a psychopath.
If you fear that you may be involved with a psychopath, the first thing to do is go to a quiet place, and think hard about the following questions:
1. Do you often feel used by the person?
2. Have you often suspected that he/she does not truly care about you?
3. Does the person lie or deceive you in any way?
4. Does he/she tend to make contradictory statements? (Further, does the person get illogical and argumentative when you call him/her out on the contradiction?)
5. Does he/she tend to constantly take from you and not give back much? (Is he/she constantly borrowing money from you, taking up your time, hogging conversations and not really caring to hear your input)
6. Does this person often try to make you feel sorry for him/her?
7. Does he/she try to make you feel guilty?
8. Do you sometimes feel he/she is taking advantage of your willingness to help him/her?
9. Does he/she seem to live in chaos, lack motivation, and lack any realistic life goals?
10. Does he/she use a lot of flattery?
11. Does he/she make you feel worried?
12. Does he/she give you the impression you owe him/her?
13. Does this person have a gambling problem, abuse drugs; is he/she an alcoholic?
13. Does he chronically fail to take responsibility for harming others? Does he blame everyone and everything but himself?
If you can say yes to many of these questions, you may be dealing with a psychopath. Even if this person isn’t clinically a psychopath or sociopath, you are definitely dealing with a person who is not good for you and is detrimental to your mental health. Whatever you want to call this type of person, get away from him/her, and do not look back!
Unfortunately, the outlook does not look good for psychopaths. There is no documented form of therapy or medical treatment to “cure” or even curtail these people; you cannot “fix” a psychopath. Some evidence exists that psychopaths tend to “mellow out” with age, but there is no current treatment for their behavior.
The best thing to do is cut all ties with this person, and do not be tempted to try to “beat them at their own game,” because you will lose. You cannot win an emotional spar with someone who does not have any feelings, and remember, if you have observed this person display feelings, it was probably an act, and even if it was genuine, it was certainly short-lived - do not be fooled.
If this person is someone you truly love, my heart goes out to you. You have to love yourself more than you love anyone else, and this may be one of the hardest lessons to learn for someone who is intimately involved with a psychopath.
When you get away from this person, and get over him/her completely, you may feel like the person isn’t human, or he/she is some kind of demon or entity, or something. Know that he/she is real, and there are plenty more of them out there, so watch your step, heed the warning signs, and always rely on your instincts.
Want to Know More?
- How to deal with common everyday sociopaths. (article)
Adam Khan is the author of the books, "Principles For Personal Growth" and "Self-Help Stuff That Works," and creator of the blogs, CrushPessimism.com, and MoodRaiser.com
- American Psychological Association Criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder (Psychopaths)
Psychopathy and the DSMIV Criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder - Journal of Abnormal Psychology August 1991 Vol. 100, No. 3, 391-39
steve on March 13, 2015:
I've got a pscho who has just moved in next door, trouble has already started, the authority's have been sucker punched and are looking at me as a trouble maker I now have support from a more understanding medical experts but they are worried what I would do if I met this sicko in the street. How should I react and not get arrested
temptor94 on February 21, 2015:
Great article with wonderful explanation! Specially loved the questions you have put for how to know if you are involved with a psychopath. Voted up.
Anon on February 06, 2013:
If you feel guilty about something, please contemplate that sociopaths do everything they can do MANIPULATE YOUR EMOTIONS. They are incapable of true emotions themselves, so this is all they can do to pull themselves out of a DULL, SHORT-SIGHTED AND BORING LIFE.
Become a grey rock (google it).
jason on July 30, 2012:
my female cousin and girlfriend turned out to be psychopaths and started prostituting themselves for drugs together all the while playing a mind game on me making me think I was the problem. So I go to counseling, I get help, while she's out partying and whoring around haha. I had been researching personality disorders for a while since we had been living together things got weird after a month or so.. she had contact with my Mom (who never stays out of my business) and my mother told her I was thinking she was borderline or something of the sort. BUT, low and behold I come across the description of psychopathy and BAM, girls fav movie was Silence of the Lambs, read books on Ted Bundy, had a fascination with horror and drama.. fuck my life, I tried to get her to go to church and get help and in the end, NOTHING WORKS DO NOT TRY IT, I was manipulated into selling most of my belonings to pay bills and go on vacations to "fix" our relationship LOL.. now broke and living at my Mother's house. NOT FUN I was doing really well for myself and my ex and cousin were both envious as hell and knew they were screwing their lives up so wanted to bring me down with them. Now my ex is engaged to a new guy although I think he is a psychopath too as it seems they have an open relationship, so that will probably end up working out just fine, while my cousin is on her own still being a hooker.. OH and my cuz makes out to my entire family that I AM the crazy one haha. just stay away from these people. RUN RUN RUN RUN that is all you can do if you live with them or are intimately involved just cut your losses, I know they make you feel on top of the world but it is ALL A LIE, everything that comes out of their mouth is a lie, they love you, soul mate, never met anyone so perfect, it's all bullshit, because in reality they ENVY you and are jealous that you are an actual human being with a REAL life and REAL friends and people who truly care about you, where as for them, nobody cares, only temporarily while they have their masks on, which eventually wear off over time and the people involved figure it out and run. RUN !!
Coraline on May 24, 2012:
Once you realize they're a sociopath it frees you but at the same time takes you down at the knees. Now I know for a year he faked every emotion. It all makes sense and makes it impossible to stay with him. But I'm grieving painfully at loving what wasn't even real. It feels like being raped.
justanothersucker on May 09, 2012:
I have been in a relationship with a female sociopath on and off for 2 years now. I have tried to get away but keep getting sucked back in because I truly love her. I am fighting to stay away from her and she pulls me back in. It is the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. Please be careful and never do what I have done.
Ashantina on February 14, 2012:
Dr Hare has done extensive research on sociopaths and wrote a book called 'Without Conscience'.
justmesuzanne from Texas on November 29, 2011:
Very thorough explanation! Voted up and interesting! :)