Sometimes we’re unlucky enough to meet someone who lacks empathy and has, at one time or another, taken advantage of or even hurt others.
They can be so ruthless in their actions that there’s no other way to describe them except perhaps a “psychopath”.
If you’ve got a sneaking suspicion that someone you know (or even yourself) is a psychopath, read on. And if you recognize these 7 signs, you’re dealing with a psychopath.
When you think of the word “psychopath”, what (or who) comes to mind? I’ve asked a number of people, and the answers differed from each other:
Ted Bundy. The Joker.
One who feels no guilt. One who hurts people on purpose.
But how can you spot such people?
Learning these signs could help you avoid them or stay in control of any situation even in their presence.
Psychopath or sociopath?
Before we dive in, we will discuss the key differences between a psychopath and a sociopath (something that many of us tend to interchange).
The term “psychopath” describes a person who tends to be violent, impulsive, and commit crimes.
They usually suffer from an extreme form of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), which highlights a disregard for and violation of others’ rights.
This person has no close relationships and likes harming others.
A sociopath also suffers from severe ASPD, but a psychopath even more so.
A sociopath has only a limited ability to empathize with others; they are emotionally volatile and only have a few close relationships. They are also willing to harm or use others for personal gain.
Despite their similarities, we’ll be focusing more on the former.
If you recognize these 7 signs, you’re dealing with a psychopath.
1) Ability to be charming and charismatic
Psychopaths are able to attract people through charm, persuasion, and charisma and are very good at mimicking behaviors like kindness and sympathy.
They usually employ these traits to achieve their desired ends. Yet over time, these initial behaviors will melt away.
Perhaps a prime example of this characteristic is serial killer Ted Bundy, who I’m sure you’ve heard of.
If you’re not a fan of true crime, Ted Bundy was smart and sociable, especially in his college years. This also allowed him to attract a number of women, 27 of whom he confessed to brutalizing and killing (although it is believed that he was responsible for hundreds more).
Even during his trial, he was a celebrity of sorts thanks to that charm and intelligence drawing in the public eye.
But combined with the other characteristics, if you recognize these signs, you’re dealing with a psychopath.
2) Cruelty or meanness
The capacity to be cruel is among the distinctive signs of a psychopath.
They find joy in the humiliation of other people; they may also lash out or make hurtful comments.
This applies to physical harm too: a study examining the relationship between animal abuse and psychopathy found that people who have tortured an animal had the highest psychopathy score (on the Psychopathic Personality Traits Scale).
It also echoed other studies in discovering that animal abusers had more psychopathic traits than non-abusers.
Popular psychopaths such as Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and John Wayne Gacy have been depicted by the media as having harmed animals, particularly in their younger years.
This isn’t really surprising, as animal abuse is a strong indicator of violence towards people.
People who abuse animals are more likely to commit crimes and be diagnosed with ASPD.
Finally, children who torture animals often show “callous, unemotional traits” and are usually victims or observers of abuse in the home.
These are signs that you’re dealing with a psychopath.
3) Cold or detached manner
Another sign of psychopathic tendencies is being outwardly cold or detached.
They show no guilt or conscience and are unconcerned with how their actions impact other people.
Sure, they could keep up normal appearances in order to hide criminal behavior, but there truly is no feeling of remorse.
This likely relates to their lack of empathy–they are indifferent to those in pain.
A study suggested that this detachment may also be influenced by their inability or difficulty in experiencing emotions in a complex situation.
They can experience or have emotional responses, but may ignore them if it appears to get in the way of achieving their personal goals.
4) Tendency to deceive
If you are around somebody who has shown themselves to be prone to lying, trickery, or similar behavior, take note, because this is a psychopathic tendency.
Psychopaths are very good at lying. They lie to get the upper hand and these lies could vary in the form they take.
They could tell a distorted or incomplete version of the truth or outright lie, in an attempt to cast themselves in a better light. Their charm may help them sell their lies, thus enabling them to manipulate others.
It’s important to note that pathological lying differs from the kind of lying we’ve all done at one time or another.
Pathological lying is a pattern where someone lies or makes up stories with no apparent reason.
The severity and frequency characterize this kind of lying and psychopaths do it in order to deceive and control others.
5) Disregard for the law
As you might have guessed, a psychopath doesn’t do well at following rules.
One source suggests that this is because psychopaths need stimulation; they like the thrill of getting away with the forbidden or the thrill of getting caught.
Meanwhile, a study suggested that psychopaths do understand between right and wrong but just don’t care.
6) Lack of long-term goals
To understand this sign, let’s recall that psychopathy stems from ASPD.
According to the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition), ASPD can manifest impulsivity and lack of responsibility or future planning.
Indeed, someone who shows psychopathic tendencies has a hard time setting goals and doing the work necessary to reach them.
If they do have goals, they are unrealistic and they do not do any planning to achieve them.
A study cited an interview where a jailed psychopath said that he was going to become a chef, surgeon, pilot, and architect. And yet, he had no qualifications for any of these things, making them appear to be more of fantasies than actionable goals.
That same study also said that psychopaths experience a construct (called “time inefficacy”) where they are not content because they have no control over the passage of time.
Simply put, they “feel stuck in the present.”
Maybe it’s what history tells us, or maybe it’s the perception media offers to the public, but violence has become nearly synonymous with psychopathy.
In fact, past instances of violence are used as a predictor of the likelihood that a psychopath or criminal would commit violent acts again. Their impulsivity also plays a role in the violence they exhibit.
However, it’s important to remember that not ALL psychopaths are violent.
On the contrary, there are “successful psychopaths”, indicating that some people are better at controlling their impulses.
They are so-called successful based on the path their lives have taken: they might be a CEO, a lawyer, or some other professional.
In these cases, traits such as manipulation and grandiosity are far greater than their antisocial traits.
The bottom line
Psychopaths, whether we know it or not, exist in our society. They might even be someone we know–a relative, a friend, a colleague, or a superior.
What we do know for sure is that if they are psychopaths, their behavior can affect your mental and emotional well-being.
Hopefully, next time you see these 7 signs, you’ll be aware that you’re dealing with a psychopath and take steps to protect yourself.