You Probably Know a Psychopath

You Probably Know a Psychopath

Last update: 27 May, 2017

Some commit mass murders, others plan serial killings. Some are your neighbors, friends, partners, or mayors, and maybe they never do anything repulsive publicly, but privately they do. Whether it’s through schemes, derision, indifference, evasion of responsibility, or minimization of other people’s achievements, they try to assert themselves all the same.

This is what you call a psychopath, and even though it’s hard to believe, there are many of them out there. Some can be found in the slums abusing animals, and others can be found finalizing your mortgage at the bank. Some are portrayed masterfully on the big screen, like Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, and others act with equal mastery behind the cameras. 

Psychopaths go completely unnoticed in societies like ours, in which aggression, individualism, egocentrism, fake charm, and indifference or coldness towards other people’s pain are socially approved behaviors that lead to success. So if you want to defend yourself from them, the first thing you have to do is know how to identify them.

What is a psychopath?

Authors like Hervey Cleckley, Cooke and Michie, Robert Hare, and Blackburn have attempted to outline the principal characteristics of psychopaths, which we’ll talk more about below.

In summary, all of their research, as well as more recent studies, suggest that some people are predisposed towards psychopathy. This tendency is motivated by the nervous system. In psychopaths, the prefrontal lobe and the amygdala are less prepared to interpret emotional cues and make decisions that consider the long-term well-being of oneself and others.

One’s environment can promote antisocial habits and beliefs, which brings these innate characteristics to life. This shows that even if someone has a biological predisposition, if they’re raised in a society with values where success isn’t based on appearance, violence, manipulation, and false morals, they’re very unlikely to develop this tendency. They might even reverse it.

There are also psychopaths who make themselves that way. That is, they don’t have any sort of genetic predisposition, but they end up developing these characteristics from living in a highly disturbing environment. And then there are other more skeptical, pessimistic theories that indicate that psychopathy develops starting at age 3-5, and that environment doesn’t have that much influence on it.

Characteristics of a psychopath

It is estimated that 1 or 2 percent of the population is a complete psychopath. The ratio of men to women is 5 to 1. They are found primarily in the world of crime, but are also integrated into society in professions that are based on appearance and pretending, like politics, business, or big spiritual movements with purely economical interests.

They tend to be outwardly charming and quite intelligent. There are different classifications of psychopaths according to various authors:

Diagnostic criteria according to Cleckley

Cleckley indicates the following as diagnostic criteria for psychopathy:

  • Superficial charm and notable intelligence
  • Absence of hallucinations or other signs of irrational thought
  • Absence of neuroses
  • Untrustworthy vibe
  • Deceitfulness or insincerity
  • Inability to experience remorse or shame
  • Antisocial behavior without apparent justification
  • Lack of judgement and difficulty learning from experience
  • Pathological egocentrism and inability to love
  • Habitual lack of basic affective reactions
  • Specific loss of intuition
  • Insensitivity in ordinary interpersonal relationships
  • Exaggerated or obnoxious behaviors under the influence of alcohol, or sometimes without it
  • Threats of suicide that are rarely carried out
  • Impersonal, frivolous, and unstable sex life
  • Inability to follow any sort of life plan
puppet on strings

Characteristics of a psychopath according to Robert Hare

Psychologist and researcher Robert Hare outlines the following as psychopathological characteristics:

  • Extraordinary verbal skill and superficial charm
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Constant need for stimuli, bored easily
  • Pathological lying 
  • Malicious and manipulative behavior
  • Lack of guilt or any type of remorse
  • Shallow, superficial emotions and emotional responses
  • Cruelty, insensitivity, lack of empathy
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Lack of control over their behavior
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • History of behavior problems since childhood
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsive attitude
  • Irresponsible behavior
  • Pathological inability to accept responsibility for their own actions
  • Multiple short-lasting marriages
  • Tendency towards juvenile delinquency
  • Violating parole
  • Criminal behavior

Characteristics of psychopathy according to Blackburn

Blackburn defines four subtypes of psychopaths:

  • Primary psychopaths (P: impulsive, aggressive, hostile, extroverted, confident, non-anxious). In this group, you find mainly narcissistic, histrionic, and antisocial people.
  • Secondary psychopaths (S: hostile, impulsive, aggresive, socially anxious, socially isolated, grouchy, low self-esteem). In this category you find antisocial, avoidant, schizoid, dependent, and paranoid people.
  • Controlling psychopaths (C: defensive, controlling, sociable, non-anxious). This group shows fewer signs of personality disorders.
  • Inhibited psychopaths (I: timid, isolated, controlling, moderately anxious, low self-esteem). Here you find schizoid, schizotypical, and passive-aggressive people, but they score low on antisociality.
devil man

Psychopaths according to Cooke and Michie

Cooke and Michie believe psychopaths display:

  • Arrogance, interpersonal manipulation
  • Affective indifference
  • Impulsivity, irresponsible behavior

How to detect and protect yourself from a psychopath

If one or more psychopaths were to verbally, physically, or sexually assault you alone or in a group, unfortunately there is little you can do to defend yourself. There have sadly been more than just one, two, or three known cases of multiple rape in which the victim couldn’t do anything to defend themselves.

In these cases, we’re talking about a psychopathic group mentality, which is often magnified by drugs and alcohol. Not only do they commit a brutal act of violence, but afterwards they act with complete coldness, even making jokes about what happened.

Our society has an important challenge: to portray psychopaths as emotional failures, rather than associating their characteristics with success.

However, there are some situations in which you can detect a psychopath and distance yourself from them, whether it’s at work, in the beginning of an emotional relationship, or in a presidential campaign.

The key is to become aware of their elaborate manipulation by using a simple strategy: prove that nothing they say corresponds with what they do, that they’re indifferent towards other people’s suffering, that their emotional relationships are damaged despite how they’d like it to seem, and that they’re cold and selfish.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.