When you hear the word psychopath, chances are you’re thinking about knife-wielding men with a crazed look in their eyes at all times. This is the usual portrayal we’re shown by popular culture, so it makes sense that this is people’s definition of the word. But it’s not that simple. In fact, you could be in the presence of a psychopath and not even know it.

What Is A Psychopath

Let’s clear the air first: what is a psychopath? Is it different from a sociopath?

Here’s a short history lesson. In the early 1800s, doctors working with mental patients noticed that, while they appeared normal on the outside, they had what they called a ‘mental depravity’. These doctors noticed that they didn’t seem to possess any sense of ethics or of the rights of other people. In the 1900s, the term ‘psychopath’ was applied to these patients. It was changed to ‘sociopath’ to reflect the damage that they do to society [1].

Researchers have gone back to using the term psychopath to refer to a more serious disorder, linked to genetics, creating more dangerous individuals, while continuing to use ‘sociopath’ to refer to less dangerous people who are more a  product of their environment, including their upbringing [1].

One more key difference between psychopaths and sociopaths is whether they have a conscience. That little voice in their head that tells them when they’re doing something wrong. Psychopaths don’t have that, they use and manipulate people to their will and feel nothing. A sociopath does typically have a conscience, but it’s weak and doesn’t stop them from doing what they want. What’s important to remember is that both lack empathy [2].

How To Spot A Psychopath


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Like we said before, when people think psychopaths, they think axe-wielding murderers. In reality, psychopaths appear to look just like us. While the number of psychopaths in prison is overrepresented (only about 25% of inmates make the requirements to be labeled a psychopath), research suggests that a sizeable number of psychopaths walk around us every day [3].

This doesn’t mean that you need to lock yourself up at home for fear of being attacked; one of the biggest myths about psychopaths are that they are all violent [3].

If you’re still a little uneasy, here are 8 ways to tell if someone may be a psychopath [4]:

1. They feel no guilt

Psychopaths feel no guilt about their actions. They will do what they please to get what they want, and never feel bad about it.

2. They don’t feel empathy.

A psychopath isn’t able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and understand their emotions. What they are capable of doing however, is mimic empathy or sympathy, which they learned from observing others.

3. They enjoy making people feel guilty.

Psychopaths love to play with people’s emotions. It’s how they can manipulate people into doing what they want. They pick up on small details about you to gain your trust, and use that information to guilt trip you and cash in on favors.

4. They only value themselves.

The whole world could be going up in flames, but as long as they’re ok, they couldn’t care less.

5. They think they’re better than everyone else.

Psychopaths view themselves as superior to everyone around them, that’s how they get away without feeling any guilt. They feel almost omnipotent, above everything and everyone.

6. They’re liars.

They’ll lie about everything, even if it has no benefit to them. It gives them a false sense of power that they can’t get enough of.

7. They are generally well-liked.

While it sounds terrible, the sad fact is that psychopaths are able to get along with almost anyone. They are friendly and approachable, nothing like you might see in movies or tv.

8. They don’t take responsibility for their actions.

This is how they can be manipulative and feel no guilt. They feel no responsibility for what they do. Ever.

Now, while you think you might think you know someone who matches this criteria, there is actually a much more scientific checklist known as the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R), developed by Robert Hare and his colleagues [1]. This is really the only way to truly determine if someone is a psychopath, and chances are if you think you know someone like this, they’re really just a big jerk.

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