Psychopaths are mysterious figures in the perplexing world of human behavior, often misjudged by the very people they encounter daily.
We imagine psychopaths (“psychos”) as parasites, who we can easily recognize as people with cold hearts and cold eyes.
But some of them may behave as normal people and hide in plain sight, perhaps as long-term friends.
Spotting the warning signs of a psychopath can help you grasp the true nature of this potentially harmful person and guard yourself against their toxic influence.
Are there some key traits and behaviors that can point out early the signs of a psychopath?
10 Warning Signs of A Psychopath
To navigate a world with toxic people masquerading as friends, you must learn to spot the psychopathic people.
Here are the 10 warning signs of a psychopath:
1. Superficial Charm
Based on extensive research, psychopaths are known for their superficial charm and charisma, which allows them to easily connect with people.
They are frequently smooth talkers and persuasive, making it difficult to see through their facade.
They are experts at pretending to feel emotions and fitting into social situations, which lets them hide their non-empathic, manipulative nature. This makes them hard to spot, like many covert narcissists.
A striking feature of much of the antisocial behaviour shown by individuals with psychopathy is that it is mostly instrumental in nature, i.e., goal-directed towards achieving money, sexual opportunities or increased status.— Cornell, Warren, & Hawk, 1996
2. Grandiose Self-Worth
A psychopath may exhibit a grandiose sense of self-importance.
Their egos are typically larger than their real selves, and they think are extraordinary and superior to everyone else. This makes them believe they deserve special treatment.
This grandiosity also makes them highly sensitive to criticism. They just cannot accept the truth that they can be less than perfect.
Keeping this in mind can help you avoid giving them strong negative feedback and protect yourself from their “reptilian” response.
3. Pathological Lying
One of the defining traits of a psychopath is their tendency to lie excessively, called pathological lying.
They often lie and add fake details to whatever they say for no clear reason. They may do so to check if they can manipulate others or to amuse themselves by fooling others.
Over time, people stop trusting anything they say as their lies get exposed.
Pathological lying, deception, and manipulation are the key features of the psychopath.— Robert Hare & Adelle Forth
Avoid falling victim to the beautiful lies of a psychopath.
4. Manipulative Behavior
Psychopaths are experts at manipulating people.
They use charm, dishonesty, and scare tactics to control others and achieve their nefarious objectives.
What makes them even more dangerous is that they often aren’t concerned about the well-being of the people they manipulate.
Don’t fall a victim to their cunning and heartless schemes.
5. Lack of Remorse or Guilt
One clear sign of psychopathy is a lack of remorse or guilt.
Psychopaths don’t feel bad about the harm they cause to others, and they often seem indifferent or unconcerned when facing consequences.
This emotional detachment lets them carry on with their harmful actions without being weighed down by guilt or regret. This makes them highly dangerous to interact with over the long term.
(Do you know why a life of “No Regrets” is such a bad idea?)
6. Shallow Emotional Response
Psychopaths have shallow emotional responses.
This makes it hard for them to genuinely feel or express deep emotions like love, fear, or sadness.
People around them usually find their interactions and expectations go unfulfilled. They don’t quite feel your sadness or happiness.
Their lack of emotional depth often results in superficial relationships, making it difficult to form lasting, meaningful bonds with them.
Knowing a psychopath is often like having a hollow emotional bond.
7. Callousness and Lack of Empathy
Callousness and a lack of empathy are typical traits of psychopaths.
They struggle to understand or care about other people’s feelings, which often makes them seem cold and heartless.
This inability to feel moved by others’ emotions often leads to inexplicably selfish actions.
In turn, their blatant self-serving actions, disregarding how others feel and what contributes to their well-being, distance others from them.
Callousness is a person’s insensitivity and indifference to the feelings, suffering, or needs of others.
8. Failure to Accept Responsibility
Psychopaths are notorious for refusing to accept responsibility for their actions.
They often blame others for their own failures and wrongdoings, never admitting their part in causing harm.
This blame-shifting behavior makes them resistant to learning from their mistakes and making amends, further straining their personal and professional relationships.
It is hard to have the psychopath on your team and trust them to own up when they screw up.
9. Impulsive Behavior
Impulsiveness is another typical trait of a psychopath.
They often act on a whim, not thinking about the consequences or potential ramifications of their actions.
This impulsive behavior makes them unpredictable and less trustworthy, especially in high-stakes or high-risk situations.
Their actions can frequently have unexpectedly dangerous outcomes. So, people often feel insecure around them, never fully knowing how they would react in a given circumstance.
Lastly, psychopaths are more likely to engage in criminal or antisocial activities compared to the general population.
This inclination toward lawlessness can range from white-collar crimes to more violent offenses, and may stem from their lack of empathy and disregard for societal norms.
20 Clinical Signs of A Psychopath: Testing The Nature of Psychopathy (PCL-R)
Psychopathy is not an official term in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). One widely used tool to diagnose if psychopathic traits are present is the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), developed by Dr. Robert Hare.
The PCL-R consists of 20 items, which are scored on a three-point scale (0 = not present, 1 = somewhat present, 2 = definitely present).
Here is a list of the 20 items that can help their clinical identification:
- Glib and superficial charm
- Grandiose sense of self-worth
- Need for stimulation or proneness to boredom
- Pathological lying
- Cunning and manipulative behavior
- Lack of remorse or guilt
- Shallow affect (superficial emotional responses)
- Callousness and lack of empathy
- Parasitic lifestyle
- Poor behavioral controls
- Promiscuous sexual behavior
- Early behavior problems
- Lack of realistic, long-term goals
- Failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions
- Many short-term marital relationships
- Juvenile delinquency
- Revocation of conditional release (e.g., parole violations)
- Criminal versatility (engaging in diverse types of criminal activities)
It is worth noting that the PCL-R should only be administered and scored by trained professionals, as it requires a comprehensive evaluation of an individual’s history, behavior, and characteristics.
7 Red Flags To Watch For When Dealing With Psychopathy
Psychopathy is a personality deviation with these 7 most crucial red flags:
- They lack empathy, remorse, and guilt, exhibiting persistent antisocial behavior.
- They target kind and empathic people, at least in their early days, with their superficial charm.
- They have impulsivity, uncontrolled anger, low tolerance for boredom, and intense egocentricity.
- Are almost always dishonest, enabling them to freely exploit and deceive others for personal gain.
- Show behavior issues from an early age, like cheating, stealing, bullying, and vandalizing property.
- Often display a cold, aloof demeanor, due to their inability to connect with the emotions of others.
- Have a flagrant disdain for safety and responsibility, and may show malignant narcissistic tendencies.
Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) and psychopathy share some similarities in terms of behavior, but ASPD people have a pervasive pattern of disregard for the rights of others, often beginning in adolescence. Many of them may show traits of psychopathy, but not all psychopaths meet the full criteria for ASPD.
What are the 4 types of psychopaths?
There can be four possible types of psychopaths: primary, secondary, distempered, and narcissistic.
1. Primary psychopaths are often thought of as born psychopaths.
2. Secondary psychopaths often have a history of childhood abuse or trauma.
3. Distempered ones often have strong sex drives and can get sudden fits of rage or frenzy.
4. Narcissistic psychopaths have a grandiose sense of self-importance, need to be praised, and lack empathy.
Stay vigilant. Psychopaths can seriously impact your mental well-being if you regularly interact with them.
Knowing how they act and think can help you make better decisions when dealing with them. However, not all “psychos” show all the traits listed above, and many may well mask their giveaway signs.
Ask an expert for help if you suspect someone you know might be a psychopath.
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Author Bio: Written and researched by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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