Here’s the rub: psychopaths are all over the place. It’s estimated that as much as 5% of the global population could possess psychopathic traits, which cause them to be dangerous to those around them. But before you barricade yourself in your home let’s first learn what this really means because psychopathy is one of the most over-dramatized mental conditions and its true definition has become quite blurred.
Psychopathy is defined as “ a person suffering from chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behavior”, however it is not a recognized psychological disorder. Instead, it is classed as a subcategory or extension of Antisocial Personality Disorder although there is still debate about whether or not the two are synonymous with each other.
But is there a way to tell if someone is a psychopath? Maybe. The Hare Psychopathy Checklist is an assessment tool that can be used to assess the presence of psychopathic tendencies. It was developed in the 1970s by Canadian psychologist Robert D. Hare. The checklist consists of 20 items, which each carry a potential score between zero and two points, adding up to a score out of 40. In the United States, a person who scores above 30 is considered psychopathic, but in the United Kingdom, it is 25. Fun fact: Paul Bernardo, a Canadian serial killer, scored 35/40 on this test.
Today we’ll look at some of the traits described in this checklist.
15. They’re Extremely Charming, But Only Superficially
How can you tell charm from superficial charm? It’s very hard to tell the difference because while they look the same, the one is honest and the other is deceptive. A psychopath knows that in order to get people close enough to manipulate and exploit, he or she needs to be charming. They may display high-level social skills, but this is all superficial charm and glibness– you’re just a means to an end.
When they succeed in charming someone, that person lowers their emotional defences and that’s when the psychopath will begin to become harmful and destructive. There are no good intentions because they are unable to consider the emotions of those around them; another trait we’ll be looking at. Now, there are many ways one can be destructive, and someone who displays this trait isn’t necessarily trying to murder you. Although, Ted Bundy, the serial killer, is an excellent example of someone who displayed this trait.
14. They Have An Over-Exaggerated Sense Of Self-Worth
Psychopaths fully believe that they are superior human beings. No one can tell them anything or give them advice because they believe that they are far more intelligent than the rest of us. This is why they believe it is okay to use others in order to get what they want– because they are more powerful and in thus more deserving. This can be dangerous when they do hold a position of power, for example, in a business setting, as they can cause untold emotional damage to their subordinates.
Exaggerated feelings of self-importance and a lack of compassion are also the hallmarks of another mental health disorder known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This disorder is often associated with psychopathy, and those who have it spend an abnormal amount of time thinking about how to achieve success and power.
13. You’ll See A Lot Of Pathological Lying
Pathological lying, which is also known as pseudologia fantastica and mythomania (fun names aren’t they?), is a behavior where an individual constantly tells lies. But it’s no laughing matter. Sometimes the person may be aware that they are lying, but in other cases, they actually believe their own mistruths. This type of lying can be associated with disorders like psychopathy, but it can also be a stand-alone behavior– so not every liar you encounter is a psychopath.
With psychopaths, the lying is generally dazzling and awe-inspiring– yet still believable (though sometimes only just)– and paints the person in a better light. They may use this to enhance their image by making themselves out to be successful or some type of hero or use it to make them seem like a victim. All of this is part of the deceptiveness.
12. They’re Masters Of Manipulation
Most psychopaths are able to detach themselves from conventional views of morality and therefore have no problem using deception to manipulate those around them in order to use them for their own means. This could be for financial, personal or professional gain.
They can be manipulative in various different ways– they may tell lies, or share false secrets to gain trust with others. They might play people up against each other or they could use shaming or put a person down to keep them under their control. The main word here is ‘power’. Because of their over-inflated sense of self, because they feel they are superior, they see no problem with conning and deceiving people for their own means. A perfect example of this in entertainment is the character Hannibal Lector– a psychopathic psychiatrist who gains the trust of his patients and then exploits it.
11. They Feel Absolutely No Remorse For The Pain They Cause
Someone suffering from psychopathy has a very limited range of feelings and they are almost unable to feel empathy for those around them. They display a distinct lack of compassion for pain and suffering– even when they are the cause of this hurt. They may come across as bright, vibrant, and charming people, but under the surface, they are as cold as ice. This is commonly known as a ‘cloak of sanity’– a face they put on for the world. This limited emotional range is referred to as a shallow affect.
Psychopaths display a lack of empathy which in turn leads to this lack of remorse– it’s not possible to feel guilty if you are unable to sympathize or mentally put yourself in another person’s shoes. This is especially scary when considering reform and rehabilitation. How do you help someone who doesn’t believe there is anything to fix?
10. They’re Promiscuous In The Bedroom
Now, we all know a few people like this, but there’s no need for concern– not everyone who likes to play the field is a psychopath in disguise (but they could be…). None of the individual behaviors on this list alone is enough to brand someone as being psychopathic, instead they should always be considered together with other signs.
Because of their inability to feel compassion for others, it is very hard for true psychopaths to form meaningful human relationships. Instead, they will have numerous affairs and choose sexual partners indiscriminately, sometimes even having numerous relationships at the same time. Their charm makes it easy for them to attract partners and you’ll sometimes find them discussing their sexual exploits with tremendous pride. Think of the infamous movie psycho Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) with his seemingly insatiable appetite for sex.
9. They Fail To Accept Responsibility For Their Actions
A person with true psychopathic tendencies will find it difficult to take responsibility– either for the actions they take or the things they leave undone. Because they have such a high opinion of themselves, they fail to see why they should have duties, and because they cannot emphasize they cannot comprehend the effects of their actions on those around them. They will often deny responsibility by trying to manipulate others and will either lie, get aggressive, or charm their way out of the situation when challenged.
This failure to accept responsibility can be seen clearly feeding into other psychopathic traits such as promiscuous sexual relations, a parasitic lifestyle, and criminal acts. A person like this will always try to shift or reassign blame, no matter how small or insignificant the case, and displays no desire to change.
8. They’re Bored Easily
Here we can look at Patrick Bateman again as a prime example of how psychopaths are prone to boredom– always needing to take things to the next level. Remember how Patrick sadistically experiments with the blonde prostitute– seeing how far he can take things? How he charms her into coming with him again, and then finally tries to kill her? This is just how destructive boredom can become in the psychopath.
It’s believed that psychopaths have lower levels of biological arousal, which causes them to suffer from psychopathic boredom; the things that will stimulate and excite a regular person just don’t phase the psychopath. Anything from winning a challenge to sex to murder has no effect on them and they’re constantly seeking out something that will give them a rush. They describe this as a constant feeling of restlessness. This alone is not the problem– the problem comes in when this boredom is combined with low impulse control, which can cause them to act out in aggressive and destructive ways instead of finding healthy outlets.
7. They Live A Parasitic Lifestyle
A parasite is an organism which feeds off another without offering anything in return– think of a blood-sucking tick, for example. Now, while some psychopaths hold professional, occasionally even high-pressure, jobs, others prefer to leech off the kindheartedness of the people around them. A person suffering from psychopathy may lack the skills needed to hold down a job. They could have low self-discipline when it comes to responsibilities as well as a lack of motivation.
What the person will then do is find someone like a family member or friend and spin them a story about being down on their luck. In these versions, all the misfortune will be blamed on someone else– for example, “It’s not my fault I lost my job; my boss hates me.” They will then intentionally exploit the person financially until it’s time to move on to leech off someone else. This is known as a parasitic lifestyle.
6. They Lack Realistic Long-Term Goals
Some psychopaths can have very successful careers, but having a career is not always synonymous with having long-term goals. According to a study done by psychologist Kevin Dutton people with psychopathic traits tend to gravitate towards certain jobs, including CEO, lawyer, TV personality, salesperson, surgeon, chef and civil servant. All of these jobs strangely include interacting with others, but as we’ve already learned, psychopaths are good at deception.
However, throughout their lives, most people who suffer from psychopathy will be unable to develop long-term plans, let alone execute them. There are many reasons for this including impulsiveness and a tendency towards boredom. You’ll often find them leading aimless lives, in some cases even a nomadic type of lifestyle, drifting from job to job, relationship to relationship, and place to place.
5. They’re Impulsive
To be impulsive is to do something without planning or considering the outcomes. A certain amount of impulsiveness is a good thing– it keeps life exciting, but there are times when it can be destructive– for example, quitting a job when you have no other source of income or having unprotected sex. Psychopaths struggle with reflection and even if they are able to anticipate negative outcomes, they often just don’t care.
Psychopaths suffer from poor impulse control and find it difficult, if not impossible, to resist frustrations (hence the lack of long-term goals– when something gets difficult, they just quit), urges (for food, sex, drink, violence) and temptations. This causes them to act in ways that mainstream society would consider to be unpredictable and reckless.
4. They’re Unable To Control Their Behavior
Closely linked with impulsivity is a psychopath’s tendency to exhibit poor behavioral control. Because of their low tolerance, they will often have problems with controlling their behavior, especially when they feel irritated or annoyed, and even more so when something is not going their way. Instead of considering their own role in the issue, they tend to lash out either aggressively or passive-aggressively (using manipulation or thinly veiled threats). In relationships, this could lead to emotional and psychical abuse as they cannot adequately control their anger and temper and are prone to acting in haste, without considering those around them and the consequences of their actions.
When questioned at a later stage about their behavior they will instinctively shift the blame– “you pushed me to this”, “it’s not my fault I got so mad”— because they are unable to assume responsibility.
3. They Show Behavioral Problems From A Young Age
Psychopaths all start out as children, but usually before they even reach their teens there are clues about their true nature. While all children are curious and prone to acting out and occasionally get themselves into trouble, those with psychopathic tendencies are prone to a variety of disturbing behaviors, usually before the age of 13. These may include multiple attempts to run away from home, using alcohol or drugs, sniffing glue, sexual activity or sexual misconduct, vandalism, lying and cheating, stealing, pyromania, and even abuse of animals and other children.
Jeffrey Dahmer, the cannibalistic serial killer, was diagnosed as having a psychotic disorder, as well as Borderline Personality Disorder and Schizotypal Personality disorder. Those who remember him as a child described him as a loner who was fascinated with killing and dismembering animals.
2. They Have A History Of Juvenile Delinquency
Because they suffer from low impulse control and boredom, young psychopaths will often find themselves in trouble with the law, committing illegal acts before they reach the age where typical criminal prosecution is possible. These crimes are more often than not centered around exploitation (such as stealing), manipulation, or aggression, resulting in violent crimes. Most times these acts are committed on impulse rather than being premeditated, although it is not impossible for them to plan criminal acts.
In psychopaths, this tendency towards juvenile delinquency is driven by a lack of concern or regard for the safety and feelings of others, a sense of superiority and a failure to accept responsibility. Often, the crimes will start out small, but gradually become worse and more violent the older the offender becomes; presumably due to their increasing efforts to experience some form of thrill.
1. There’s No Limit To The Crimes They’re Willing To Commit
Criminal versatility refers to someone who commits different types of crimes on an ongoing basis. Obviously, not every career criminal can be classified as a psychopath– this would need to be considered along with the other traits we’ve mentioned in this list and together with the results from Hare’s checklist; not to mention a whole slew of other diagnostic criteria (so don’t worry, chances are you’re not a psychopath… and if you were, you wouldn’t care).
Psychopaths see themselves as being smarter than everyone else and often take great pride in their crimes, especially when they get away with them. It’s easier for them to commit crimes due to their lack of empathy for the victims. These can range anywhere from white collar crimes all the way up to murder and sexual offenses. They can excel in crimes like fraud due to their ability to charm and gain the trust of other people. They’re basically made for crime.