Most often, psychopaths are defined as people who display certain characteristics. These characters are
- self-absorbed behavior
- moral deprivation
- absence of emotions
- a complete lack of empathy
However, this is a loose definition of psychopath. Psychopaths have many more characteristics than just the ones listed above. If you want to understand the exact characteristics, you are at the right place. Keep on reading to find out how to identify if the person you have been interacting with is a psychopath.
Who are defined as psychopaths?
Unfortunately, there is no gold standard test for identifying a psychopath or falls on the psychopathy spectrum. Many characteristics of psychopathy also overlap with characteristics of anti-social personality disorder.
An anti-social personality disorder is a broad term that describes a mental health issue. The person repeatedly acts out and breaks laws and rules as frequently as possible. The percentage of people with anti-social personality disorder who also have psychopathy is fairly low.
Who are psychopaths?
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In this article, I will focus on the most common characteristics of psychopaths and how to recognize if the person in front of you is one.
Is there a personality test to identify psychopaths?
In the US, around 1.2% of adult men and 0.7% of adult women display traits that are in concordance with the psychopathy spectrum. However, when they checked these traits in US prison inmates, the percentage of people who showed psychopathy traits rose to levels of 15% to 25%.
The traits of psychopathy also depend on a person’s socioeconomic status, gender, race, and culture. However, this does not mean that you will come across psychopaths only in prison. Psychopaths can be found anywhere, from high-paying executive jobs to prison inmates. In certain cases, psychopathic traits may be genetic, while in other cases, psychopaths may be a derived trait depending on the life circumstances, repressed childhood trauma, and various other factors.
This is the reason behind the struggle psychologists face when it comes to designing one personality test to identify psychopathy in a person. For over a decade, psychologists have assessed psychopathic behavior in two types of populations:
- People in forensic and clinical settings
- Inpatients in mental health settings
These two groups showed a difference in psychopathic behavior. This has led to different ways of assessing and conceptualization of psychopathic behavior.
Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-V)
In the first two editions of DSM, psychopathy was a part. However, some experts worried that a diagnosis of psychopathy would cause stigma among people. Others worried that clinicians would not be able to diagnose psychopathy accurately. This is why despite having psychopaths in the first two editions of the DSM, it is not a part of the third. Instead of psychopathy, the third edition of DSM has a section on anti-social personality disorder.
Anti-social personality disorder (ASPD) focuses primarily on the psychopath behavioral aspects like
- Violations of others rights
However, they did not put much emphasis on the other aspects of psychopaths like
- Absence of remorse
With this type of diagnostic criteria, only one-third of the population having psychopathy got diagnosed with ASPD, while the others were left undetected.
To come up with a proper diagnostic test for psychopaths, researchers are analyzing the differences and commonalities amongst individuals most likely to be psychopaths in different settings. As per the latest research, psychopathy is not just one disorder; it is a spectrum. Psychopathy can be viewed as the exhibition of traits that are present in varying degrees throughout the population.
The triarchic model
Currently, a triarchic model has been proposed to define psychopaths. This model focus on three traits:
This indicates the behavior associated with the absence of accountability, high levels of impulsiveness, sudden behavioral changes, and finally, distrust towards others.
This umbrella term involves all traits that relate to the absence of empathy, contempt towards others, and the presence of explosive predatory behavior.
This trait signifies the presence of social assurance, dominance, adventurousness, and emotional resilience.
Since the three categories of traits mentioned above are separable from one another, they allow for a much better understanding of the psychopathy spectrum. This has also opened doors for the employment of new theories and assessment methods.
Psychopathic tests that are currently in use
Even though the Internet is full of tests for psychopathy, there are two tests that are currently in use for the identification of psychopaths. These are:
Psychopathy checklist-revised (PCL-R)
The psychopathy checklist-revised is most often used to identify if the specific individual displays behavior and traits that are positive indicators of psychopathy. This test is performed with a review of the person’s available records (medical information and police records) and a semi-structured interview. Most often, this test is used to identify if there is a chance that the criminal may conduct the same crime again and their chances of rehabilitation.
The psychopathic personality inventory (PPL)
This is an alternative test to identifying psychopathy. This test was introduced in 1996. This assessment is often used to identify psychopathic traits in non-criminal populations. However, this test is also used for students in the university.
The most common traits of psychopaths
Psychopathic behavior can greatly vary from one person to the next. Some psychopaths may be murderers, serial killers, or sex offenothers’ders. However, others may be successful and hold high authority positions. Understanding if a person is a psychopath comes down to the identification of the traits.
One crucial thing that you must understand here is that there is a difference between people who are actually psychopaths and those who exhibit traits of psychopathic behavior. People can exhibit psychopathic behavior without being full-fledged psychopaths.
It is not necessary that a person who shows traits of psychopathy will engage in psychopathic behavior. The real definition of psychopath involves the display of psychopathic traits along with anti-social behavior cues.
Related post: How to deal with a psychopathic mother?
Some common traits exhibited by psychopaths are:
- Anti-social behavior
- Absence of emotions
- Absence of guilt or remorse
- Superficial charm and charismatic behavior
- Devoid of empathy towards others
Studies have shown that over 29% of the population exhibits psychopathic traits. However, only 0.6% actually fall in the psychopath category.
Most common signs you are interacting with a psychopath
Superficial charisma and charm
Psychopaths are a very charming and persuasive nature. They can turn on their charisma like a light bulb. This is especially true in the case of female psychopaths. Female psychopaths display many more emotional and social traits compared to their male counterparts. Even though psychopaths lack the ability to truly feel empathy towards anyone, they can still display it like pro-social behaviors like false sympathy, kindness, and flattery towards others. Psychopaths use this to get what they want from others. However, they cannot keep the act up constantly. Eventually, others realize that cruelty and coldness lie underneath that mask of charisma and charm.
Unnecessarily cruel with a mean streak
Once the façade of goodness wears off, the psychopaths start to demonstrate their true nature of meanness and cruelty. Biting commands, gossip, lashing out at others in an aggressive manner, laughing when someone is hurt or embarrassed, mean behavior and cruelty are specific hallmark signs of psychopathic behavior. Psychopaths can also go to any extent to get what they want. This includes a complete disregard for other’s rights.
Exaggerations, dishonesty, and lies
Psychopaths are pathological liars. They will do anything to get their way. They may even start to exaggerate the truth, lie constantly, manipulate others, etc. Since psychopaths also have narcissistic tendencies, they always have to be the center of attention. Normal people would feel worried about getting caught when lying, but the lack of conscience in psychopaths makes it very easy for them to have a guilt-free life. Deception is another common symptom of psychopathy. It is a symptom of anti-social personality disorder. It can show up as a person displaying fake remorse, care, empathy, or concern towards others.
Absence of accountability
If you know someone who constantly prefers to play the blame game, there is a huge chance that the person might be displaying psychopathic behavior Even if a psychopath has committed the most violent, heinous, and cruel act, they will never take responsibility for their wrongdoings. Instead, they will blame everyone else for their behavior, make excuses, justify their actions, etc. The lack of morals, empathy and conscience leads to an absence of a moral compass in such people. Therefore, they do not have a sense of right or wrong like others.
The need for control, power, and dominance.
Psychopaths enjoy dominating others. They will seek out positions of authority and power so that they can control other people. As per the latest research, psychopaths are much more likely to look for positions of leadership in the corporate world. Such bosses would constantly bark orders at their subordinates and will not listen to even valid excuses. They would want the work done within a specific time. If it is not done, they will not abstain from humiliating the person in front of the entire team.
They enjoy the suffering of others.
Sadistic is a word that specifically describes gaining a sense of pleasure from the suffering of others. In general, psychopaths derive a feeling of pleasure from the pain of others. They feel an adrenaline rush, get excited and have a sense of supremacy over others. This does not necessarily mean that every psychopath you meet will be sadistic. However, this is not an uncommon trait amongst psychopaths. This is probably why psychopaths have more tendency toward sexual and violent crimes.
Since there is an absence of the normal emotional wiring in psychopaths, they need activities that are not normal to feel excited, happy, or get an adrenaline rush. Psychopaths are less impulsive than sociopaths since they are not driven by strong-willed emotions. However, their dull emotional response causes them to look for more thrilling adventures. This is probably why there are most psychopath offenders in sexual promiscuity, crime, violence, alcohol and drug use.
Complete disregard for laws and rules
Psychopaths have their own ethics. They do not follow the ethics of society. Thus, they behave in illegal or immoral ways. Their behavior may include minor offenses like profanity or inappropriate comments in public places. However, it can extend to serious offenses like violence and crime. This does not mean that every psychopath will be a violent criminal. However, a high percentage of people engaging in serious crimes have been observed to turn out as psychopaths.
No regard for consequences
Everyone is afraid of getting caught if they engage in criminalistic behavior. However, in psychopaths, emotional and mental wiring is not the same as a normal person. Psychopaths have abnormalities in the regions of the brain that are responsible for the creation of fear responses. Irregularity is also present in other areas of the brain. These sections are related to long-term decision-making and impulse control. Thus, psychopaths are impulsive and do not fear consequences like normal people.
Callous, detached, and cold
As I mentioned before, psychopaths do not have a proper emotional wiring like a normal human being. This is probably the reason why most psychopaths give off an aura of being completely callous and cold. The improper wiring of the psychopathic brain causes them to have limited human emotions. This makes It’s less likely that such people will exhibit or even experience powerful emotions. If people are upset, sad, excited, or anxious, a psychopath may feel completely detached.
Repressed childhood trauma
Even though psychopathy, can be diagnosed only after 18 years, the signs start much earlier. Most often, such people start displaying psychopathic behavior by early adolescence or even during childhood. In most psychopaths, you will notice conduct disorders before 15 years of age. If it is a severe case, you may even start observing behavioral issues by the time the kid reaches ten years of age. Certain common psychopathic behavior signals in childhood include:
- getting into fights
- cruelty towards animals
- a complete disregard towards authority.
Psychopaths leave a trail of broken relationships
Psychopaths cannot empathize with others. This is why it so hard for them to connect with anyone. They cannot maintain or even form close relationships with people. They will use their persuasive powers, charismatic behavior, and charm to make people like them. However, they cannot hold the attraction for long. Thus, most psychopaths have a trail of broken relationships behind them. They may also have many enemies. These are mostly people whom the psychopaths have previously hurt, betrayed, or used for their own gains.
Exploiting others for self-gain
As I mentioned before, psychopaths will go to any length to use another person if this means they will gain something from it. They are always in pursuit of wealth, power, fame, and so forth. There is no length to which a psychopath will not go to get what they want. Their road to success leaves a lot of casualties behind. However, as psychopaths score negatively in emotional health, they do not feel remorse. A psychopath will not hesitate to throw someone else under the bus or climb on someone else’s shoulder to get ahead, even if this someone else has helped them a lot.
Strategic planning and extremely calculated
Their is one common difference between sociopaths and psychopaths. Sociopaths are driven by their emotions while psychopaths are cold, calculated people. This makes psychopaths much more dangerous because no one can predict what is going on in their heads. Psychopaths tend to make detailed plans about how to manipulate others, exploit them, or take advantage of others. These people might be their friends or acquaintances who might be kind, generous, and trusting. Despite being less patient, psychopaths show less impulsiveness compared to sociopaths.
Absence of conscience
As I mentioned before, if a psychopath has to throw someone else under the bus, they will not feel remorse. They do not care about the consequences. They only care about what they want. Since psychopaths do not fear anything, they do not fear feeling guilty, getting caught, etc. They also do not learn from their mistakes.
Abnormal thinking patterns
The abnormal thing pattern is a very common characteristic of psychopathic behavior. Psychopaths have a brain that has a different type of wiring than other normal individuals. Therefore, they can make odd, weird, or strange comments in normal conversation. If, you observe closely, you will notice that they don’t care about anyone else except themselves.
Loss of interest and small attention span
This is not a very well-known sign of psychopathic behavior. However, psychopaths suffer from symptoms of ADHD or ADD. They can easily become bored with common tasks and activities. Thus, psychopaths are always looking to do something exciting or entertaining. Even if a project or task seems very important to them, there is a chance that they may quickly lose interest. This can cause a pattern of abandoning obligations, irresponsive decision-making, and leaving projects before completing.
However, if a psychopath is planning their climb on the social ladder or business ladder, they can be very calculative and manipulative and can exercise a lot of patience. Under such circumstances, they will not lose their focus on the prize they have targeted.
Violent tendencies, aggression, and abuse
This is possibly one of the most dangerous symptoms of psychopathy. Psychopaths with tendency towards abuse engage in aggression and violence. Unfortunately, many psychopaths who have violent tendencies will cause re-offense even after being treatment, rehabilitation, or serving prison time.
Psychopaths are oppositional and hostile
Another common trait of psychopathy is the presence of an oppositional and hostile demeanor. Even though psychopaths come off as extremely friendly, charming, and kind. This is only during the initial phases. When their nature is uncovered, the other person realizes that they are much more aggressive. Psychopaths hold sexist, racist, misogynistic views towards other people. They treat others in an unkind or hostile manner just for fun. Their is not one kind bone in their body. They are combative, argumentative and look for confrontation and conflict.
Marvel at deception
Psychopaths are exceptionally skillful at deception. Psychopaths are not only pathological liars. They are also masters of deception, truth distortions, gaslighting, and other tactics that will allow them to emotionally manipulate the other person. Unfortunately, psychopaths also use these tactics during their treatment. This way they can fool the treatment providers and counselors into believing that their psychopathic tendencies have improved.
Final thoughts on psychopaths
Psychopathy or psychopathology is the severe version of the anti-social personality disorder. Anti-social personality disorder affects approximately 3% of the male population and one person of the female population in the US. A very small percentage of people who suffer from a ASPD are psychopathic. Such people are much more prone to committing violence, harmful acts, and crimes.
Since the severity of psychopathy is extreme, people are advised to limit their contact with psychopaths. This will reduce your chances of falling prey. Understanding the symptoms and signs of psychopathy can help you identify the person in your life is a psychopath. If you are worried about your loved one displaying psychopathy, take them to a therapist. Make sure that the therapist has prior knowledge and experience of anti-social personality disorder.
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Why do you think psychopathy occurs? Have you ever met a psychopath? What traits did they show from the above-mentioned ones? Are there any other traits that you have noticed in psychopaths? Please mention your experiences and comments in the comments. If you have any queries about this blog post or any other, feel free to reach out to me on any of my social media channels. You can also reach out to me by putting your queries in the comment section or by email. I will be happy to help.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Unfortunately, there is no cure for psychopathy. No talk therapy can change the behavior of the person or make them care. There is no pill that can induce empathy in psychopaths.
If you are asking this question as a friend, then the answer is NO. For a psychopath, it is most often, out of sight, out of mind. However, psychopaths do harbor feelings towards their family members. Loss of such people can deeply impact the psychopath.
This will depend on the range of psychopathy the psychopath is a part of. If the psychopath falls on the lower side of the spectrum, they are more likely to fall in love than those who are on the higher end of the spectrum.
Some of psychopathy has been observed to be genetic. However there are schools of thoughts favoring and against this notion. Some experts say psychopaths are born while other say life circumstances and challenges lead to the formation of psychopath.