The condition of psychopathy may be one of the most misunderstood disorders, although it is frequently represented in movies, books, and other media. Psychopathy is a complex issue. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, psychopathy is a subset of antisocial personality disorder. Others have argued that psychopathy is a completely separate condition. In either case, it is estimated that between .2 percent and 2 percent of the population fit the criteria for a psychopath, and it is well-documented that men are much more likely to have psychopathic characteristics than women. This means that out of 100 people you know, one is fairly likely to be a psychopath.
Psychopaths tend to be much more criminally active throughout their life than other types of offenders, and are more violent, overall, than non-psychopaths. Interestingly, according to Business Insider, studies conducted by Canadian forensic psychologist Robert Hare indicate that while somewhere around 1 percent of the overall population may be categorized as a psychopath, among the financial services industry, that number jumps to 10 percent. Typically, these “financial psychopaths” work on Wall Street, and may lack empathy or interest in the feelings or thoughts of others, although, on the surface, they can display an abundance of intelligence, credentials, charisma, and charm.
Spotting the Psychopath in Your Life
Psychopaths most often look just like anyone else, however, the odds are that you or someone you know has encountered one of these social predators. What is important to remember is that while some psychopaths could certainly fit the bill of a deranged (probably imprisoned) murderer, most psychopaths are more likely to be a co-worker, a friend, your ex, or a family member. What these people may have in common is they constantly leave you feeling confused, doubting your own abilities and intuition. Psychopaths—along with sociopaths and narcissists—have one thing in common. They are all able to make a mentally healthy person feel crazy. Below are some traits which can help you spot a psychopath:
- Superficially Charming – They are almost universally superficially charming, able to make their “target” feel special. This charm, however, is almost never real. The true psychopath is a chameleon—a shapeshifter who is a master at fitting their personality to the needs of the individual. If you solicited a description of the psychopath from 30 different people who knew him or her, you might find that you receive significantly different descriptions. To the shy, reticent person, the psychopath adjusts his charm, toning it down to meet that person’s individual needs, and to the extrovert, he dials up the charm and exuberance.
- Turn People Against Each Other – Psychopaths will try to turn people against one another, through gossip and “poison,” which makes each person feel suspicious of the others. This will not be obvious, rather will be done using sad, “poor me” stories and fake concern to alter your perception of the other person. If it seems you are disliking other people whom you would previously have had no reason to have an opinion about—good or bad—then look at the psychopath spreading gossip.
- Intentionally Cause Chaos – As an extension of the above, the psychopath will go out of their way to intentionally cause chaos among others, they will play the innocent, blaming everyone else for their reaction. In other words, the psychopath will work hard to provoke you, then when you legitimately react, he will act the innocent, informing you he will not have this discussion with you while you are so emotional, or smugly saying “Look at you, flipping out—I just can’t talk to you about anything.” The goal of the psychopath is to make you believe you are the hypersensitive nutcase. If your psychopath is in your workplace—beware. The goal of painting you as a hypersensitive nutcase is to diminish your credibility, handily turning others against you. In relationships, the psychopath will tell you about other relationships in which the person was just always “overreacting” or “always jumping on me for no reason” as a method of garnering sympathy. If you think a co-worker, spouse or partner is constantly baiting you into an argument, then acting like they are totally surprised when you react—beware.
- No Shame or Guilt – Psychopaths see no shame or guilt even when the person’s behavior was obviously hurtful. Normal people feel significant levels of guilt, remorse, even shame when they manipulate others, steal, cheat or lie. The psychopath is aware their behavior hurt the other person—they simply don’t care. In fact, you will almost never receive an apology from a psychopath, and if you do, it is only because they want something from you, or to save face in front of others.
- Lying seem to be a way of life – The psychopath will tell a lie even when the truth would have actually been a better story. You may feel there is no motive for the lies—and you would be right. The psychopath becomes so used to shifting personalities and stories to fit the target, they simply do not know what the real truth is. If you are brave enough to call a psychopath out on an obvious lie, be prepared to have the entire situation turned back on you, with accusations that you are just paranoid and suspicious. By the time the psychopath is done, you will be questioning yourself, wondering whether the lie really was a lie after all (it was).
- Create Doubt – Even though you know, on an intellectual level, that you are not the one at fault, the psychopath will make you begin to doubt yourself. It is likely you were presented with a near-perfect person at the beginning of the friendship or relationship, making it hard to reconcile the person you are now seeing with the first. The psychopath—even though he may manipulate, con, lie, cheat and steal—will convince you that you are the problem, you are the one with issues, you are the “bad” one. Creating self-doubt among others is a key tool of the psychopath. After all, if you are doubting yourself, you don’t have time to be doubting the psychopath.
- Change Allegiances Quickly – The psychopath can change allegiances on a dime, with no second thoughts involved. When you met the psychopath you likely felt an instant connection and trust in the person, however the longer you know the psychopath, the more you will realize everyone who meets the person feels that same instant connection and trust—until they don’t. There is no loyalty, no love, no attachment possible in the true psychopath who will leave a trail of destruction behind, always blaming the victim.
- Winning and Money is Everything – Psychopaths place a high premium on “winning,” money and power, and may have little regard for social or moral rules as they manipulate and lie to others. While the manipulation of a psychopath may be to achieve personal gain, often it is simply an impulse that the psychopath is unable to control, or simply for fun, just because they can. If you have seen or read Gone Girl, then look at the traits exhibited by the main character, Amy Dunne, who goes to great lengths to victimize the men in her life, manipulating all those around her.
- Lacks Empathy or Conscience – If you feel a person in your life lacks empathy or seems to have no conscience, you may have met a psychopath. While most of us have that little voice inside which tells us we are doing something we shouldn’t, the psychopath does not hear that voice, and because of this, he or she can easily engage in behaviors most of us will not. As an example, if someone angers or hurts us, most of us may think for a moment, “Oh, I could just strangle him!” While we may think this, the vast majority of us will never act on such a thought. The psychopath, on the other hand, will have little compunction about acting on such thoughts, so long as he believes he won’t get caught. In other words, there is no conscience, only a fear of getting caught, and there is no empathy for the other person.
- Low Impulse Control – Because of low impulse control, the psychopath may be quick to exhibit aggression or even violence. The psychopath is more likely to have a number of casual sex partners and more likely to engage in risky behaviors than the “average” person.
- Narcissists – People who are psychopaths also tend to be narcissists, with an over-inflated sense of their own achievements and personal qualities. The psychopath is unlikely to see any of his or her own flaws, rather tends to project those flaws on those around them. As an example, a narcissist who believes, deep down, that he is not smart enough, may constantly belittle those around him, calling them “stupid,” and making fun of their lack of intellect. The narcissist—and the psychopath—will go out of his way to seek out compliments. On the flip side of this, when faced with any type of criticism, the response is likely to be rage and revenge. What others may perceive as constructive criticism, the psychopath will see as a declaration of war.
- Unable to Get Along – The psychopath has a long history of being unable to get along with others—although they will always insist it is the other person’s fault, not their own. Because of this, psychopaths tend to place themselves in positions of authority where they can “boss” others, working over them rather than beside them.
- Never Feel Guilty – The psychopath is unlikely to feel guilt over anything—even when their bad behavior seriously impacts others. This lack of empathy prevents the psychopath from putting themselves in another’s shoes or seeing things from another perspective.
- Manipulates Your Emotions – Once the psychopath has gained your trust, he will begin to manipulate your emotions with a goal of making you feel guilty or simply to get you to do what he wants you to do. The psychopath is a master at getting you to tell him things in confidence—then using those confessions against you down the line.
- Early Behavioral Problems – It is highly likely the psychopath had early behavioral problems in childhood, even to the point where they had no compunction about hurting animals or lying to avoid getting into trouble. The International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology published a study which found those with high psychopathic traits began engaging in criminal activities early in life.
- Rules Don’t Apply to Them – The psychopath believes rules apply to everyone but them. In short, the psychopath believes they are above any rules and are so “special,” they are not held to the same standards as everyone else.
- Walking Contradiction – The psychopath tends to be a walking contradiction—a tough bravado, “been-there-done-that (better than anyone else) attitude with a false innocence that is calculated to draw the psychopath’s victims into the web.
- Users and Takers – While many people may be users and takers without being a psychopath, the psychopath is definitely a user and a taker.
- Feigns Emotions – Although a psychopath is a master at feigning emotion, in reality, the psychopath has very shallow emotions or virtually no emotions at all. Most psychopaths learned at an early age that others expected them to exhibit certain emotions at certain times, therefore they learned to fake these emotions. In reality, other than rage, the psychopath tends to feel few true emotions. This elevated level of anger can manifest in rage-induced aggression and even adult temper tantrums. Those living with a psychopath may feel they constantly “walk on eggshells,” never knowing what statement or behavior will set off rage in the psychopath.
- Easily Bored – The psychopath is easily bored, therefore needs almost constant stimulation and excitement in their life. If no such excitement is present, the psychopath can easily create his own drama.
If you have been romantically involved with a psychopath, you were likely left feeling emotionally battered and bruised, unsure of yourself, and unsure of your own self-worth. The psychopath tends to leave romantic partners in a constant tailspin, even to the point where they start wondering if they are the crazy one. It can be extremely difficult to disengage from a psychopath—until they themselves want to disengage, then they will dismiss you from their lives without a second thought.