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Profile of Psychopath vs Sociopath, and how you can tell if you’re in a relationship with one

Posted by E on February 11, 2012

Chances are, we have all encountered psychopaths in our lives, but not thought of them as so simply because when the word psychopath comes up, we think of serial killers and completely dysfunctional social rejects, not successful heads of corporations and even a boyfriend/girlfriend.

Even worse, the definition is often blurred even within the psychiatric community, with the terms sociopath and psychopath being used interchangeably. Even the very definition of psychopathology appears to evolve with each updated rendition of the DSM manual, the de facto bible of the psychiatric industry.

I’m going to take the leap and call it for what it is: for all intents and purposes, psychopaths and sociopaths are the same. They both lack emotional empathy, and are chronic liars and manipulators. They may differ only in the extent of their pathology, and as far as I’m concerned, that difference is not sufficient enough to bother differentiating them.

Now, if you know me you’ll also know that I tend to sit somewhat on the edges of the anti-psychiatry camp, in the sense that I believe too much of natural human behaviour has been syndromized and classified as mental illness when really it was just an excuse for intolerant social mores to enforce discrimination against the marginalized – case in point, homosexuality being diagnosed as an illness until the late 1970s, or the diagnosis for hysteria as a front for patronizing, patriarchal Victorian norms. And of course I am concerned now about young children being classified as ADD and Ritalinized into submission while their small brains are still developing.

However, I also recognize that brains, as transmitters of emotion and interpreters of reality, can be damaged biochemically – as a chronic sufferer of depression, I have personally witnessed how SSRIs have improved the quality of my life, albeit temporarily, hence I am not going to whole-heartedly bash the field of psychiatry. Not in its entirety, at least.

Recent research is also showing increased evidence of biological components in psychopathology – the reduction of mirror neurons in the part of the brain responsible for empathy and emotions. In other words, lack of empathy and “coldness” can be passed on from parent to child.

So how do you know if you have a psychopath (i.e. a sociopath) in your life? How can you tell if your best friend or partner might exhibit signs of this pathology? I’ve assembled a quick checklist to help clarify the profile of this type of person.

Psychopathy is defined by a pattern of interpersonal relationships, emotion, and behavior. The syndrome can be summarized as a cluster of related symptoms:

  • Glib and superficial
  • Egocentric and grandiose
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Lack of empathy
  • Deceitful and manipulative
  • Shallow emotions
  • Impulsive
  • Poor behavior controls
  • Need for excitement
  • Lack of responsibility

Lack of empathy

Psychopaths possess a general lack of empathy. At an extreme they are simply unable to understand the emotional states of other people, except in a purely detached, intellectual sense. Other people are thus little more than objects for their personal gratification. This callousness extends to everybody, family or strangers alike. They neglect other people’s needs and desire and can casually inflict cruelty. A normal, empathic person experiences distress when he observes another human in pain, but the unempathic psychopath feels nothing. Psychopaths are thus capable of stunning acts of cruelty because they are not restrained by any unpleasant reaction to their victims’ suffering.

 PROFILE OF A PSYCHOPATH

  • Glibness and Superficial Charm
  • Manipulative and Conning
    • They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.
    • Grandiose Sense of Self
    • Feels entitled to certain things as “their right.”
    • Pathological Lying
      • Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis.
      • Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
      • A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.
      • Shallow Emotions
      • When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.
      • Incapacity for Love
      • Need for Stimulation
      • Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.
      • Callousness/Lack of Empathy
        • Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others’ feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.
        • Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
          • Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.
          • Irresponsibility/Unreliability
            • Not concerned about wrecking others’ lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.
            • Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them
            • Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them
            • Authoritarian
            • Secretive
            • Paranoid
            • Conventional appearance
            • Incapable of real human attachment to another 

Psychopaths have only a shallow range of emotions and lack guilt. They often see themselves as victims, and lack remorse or the ability to empathize with others.

 For a psychopath, a romantic relationship is just another opportunity to find a trusting partner who will buy into the lies. It’s primarily why a psychopath rarely stays in a relationship for the long term, and often is involved with three or four partners at once. To a psychopath, everything about a relationship is a game.

In the romance department, psychopaths have an ability to gain your affection quickly, disarming you with words, intriguing you with grandiose plans. If they cheat you’ll forgive them, and one day when they’ve gone too far, they’ll leave you with a broken heart. By then they’ll have a new player for their game.

 Where everyone occasionally tells a white lie, a psychopath’s lying is compulsive. Most of us experience some degree of guilt about lying, preventing us from exhibiting such behavior on a regular basis. Psychopaths don’t discriminate who it is they lie to or cheat. There’s no distinction between friend and family.

Anyway, I hope this entry will help provide you with additional clarity in terms of what defines a psychopath. It is estimated that psychopaths make up as high as 4% of the population, which results in millions of people around us who reflect these psychological traits. If you suspect that someone close to you is a psychopath, remember that by the time they reach their teenage years the behaviour has become permanent. You cannot change who they are – you can only protect yourself and walk away from damaging relationships with such emotionally-disturbed, cruel and emotionally-harmful people.

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