How to Spot a Sociopath (wikihow)
Two Parts: Reading the Signs & Getting Away
A sociopath can be defined as a person who has Antisocial Personality Disorder. This disorder is characterized by a disregard for the feelings of others, a lack of remorse or shame, manipulative behavior, unchecked egocentricity, and the ability to lie in order to achieve one’s goals. Sociopaths can be dangerous at worst or simply very difficult to deal with, and it’s important to know if you’ve found yourself with a sociopath, whether it’s someone you’re dating or an impossible coworker. If you want to know how to spot a sociopath, then you have to pay careful attention to what the person says or does. See Step 1 to get started.
Part 1 of 2: Reading the Signs
Spot a Sociopath Step 1.jpg1
Look for a lack of shame. Most sociopaths can commit vile actions and not feel the least bit of remorse. Such actions may include physical abuse or public humiliation of others. If the person is a true sociopath, then he or she will feel no remorse about hurting others, lying, manipulating people, or just generally acting in an unacceptable way.
When a sociopath does something wrong, he or she is likely to accept none of the blame and to blame others instead.
Sociopaths are willing to hurt whomever whenever if it means that they will achieve their goals. This is why many sociopaths are highly successful people.
Sociopaths may be cruel to animals and will show absolutely no remorse for that, either.
Spot a Sociopath Step 2.jpg2
See if the person is constantly lying. Sociopaths are perfectly comfortable going through their lives telling a series of lies. In fact, true sociopaths are uncomfortable when they are telling the truth. If they are finally caught in a lie, then they will continue to lie and backpedal to cover up the lies. If they are really on the verge of being caught in a major, major lie, though, they may then wildly confess everything in order to maintain your loyalty.
Sociopaths love to lie about their pasts, too. Look for inconsistencies in their stories.
Some sociopaths will go to great lengths to make you believe their lies. For example, a sociopath may pretend to leave “to go to work” every single day even if that person is unemployed.
Many sociopaths are delusional to the point where they believe that their lies are the truth. For example, Charles Manson once said, “I’ve never killed anyone! I don’t need to kill anyone!” (He said this in reference to the fact that his followers killed someone and not he himself.)
Spot a Sociopath Step 3.jpg3
See if they are able to stay eerily calm in spite of circumstances. A sociopath can experience a highly emotional event without displaying the least bit of emotion, at least on the surface (silent scorn). They often respond to “good news” with cold blank stares. Sociopaths don’t register events the same way as non-sociopaths and may barely react in dangerous or scary situations.
If you find yourself flustered or panicked and the person you’re with looks barely perturbed, then he or she may not register an event as seriously as you do.
Check to see if the person has ever seemed anxious or nervous, especially in situations that should naturally cause this behavior. Though some people are more even-keeled than others, most people demonstrate some form of anxiety eventually.
Studies show that sociopaths do not demonstrate anxiety when shown disturbing images or when they’re given small electrical shocks, while non-sociopaths do register anxiety and fear in these situations.
Spot a Sociopath Step 4.jpg4
See if they are extremely charming — at first. Sociopaths are great at charming people, because they know how to get what they want. Charming people know how to make people feel special, to ask people the right questions about themselves, and to generally be perceived as fun, likable, and interesting. Truly charming people possess the ability to charm almost anyone, from little kids to old ladies. If the person is incredibly charming at first glance, while his or her later behavior scares or confuses you, then you may have a sociopath on your hands.
You can think of sociopaths as con artists who always have a secret agenda. They need to know how to charm people in order to get what they want. To advance their goals, they first have to blend in with the crowd, which means they need to know how to smile, greet people, and make people feel comfortable.
Although many sociopaths can be extremely charming, they harbor strong antisocial inclinations and can exist in isolation (without feeling deprived) for weeks at a time.
Many sociopaths are so charming that they have a glow about them and even oftentimes radiate sexuality.
Spot a Sociopath Step 5.jpg5
See if the person is exceptionally intelligent. Some of the famous sociopaths possess a strong mental acumen and can perform well in academics/skill without cracking a book. If they apply themselves they obtain perfect grades. However, sociopaths use their intelligence in order to manipulate and hurt people, instead of to help them. Their extreme intelligence is part of what makes them so dangerous, because they will often be several steps ahead of people who are on to them and are able to cover their tracks.
Many of the most notorious serial killers had very high IQ’s; this is part of the reason that they were able to evade the police for so long.
Spot a Sociopath Step 6.jpg6
See if the person is manipulative. Sociopaths understand human weakness and exploit it maximally. Once determined, they can manipulate individuals to do just about anything. Sociopaths prey on weak people and often stay away from equally strong people; they look for people who are sad, insecure, or looking for a meaning in life because they know that these people are soft targets. Check to see if the person is great at getting other people to do what he or she wants.
True sociopaths will slowly gain dominance and control over a person without the person realizing it. They like to be in control of every situation and are uncomfortable being around other strong people.
See if the person is completely comfortable deceiving people and blatantly telling lies to get what he or she wants.
Spot a Sociopath Step 7.jpg7
Look for signs of violent behavior. As children some sociopaths torture defenseless animals such as frogs, kittens, or puppies, or even defenseless people. (This behavior can surface in adulthood, but then damage is delivered via mental and emotional abuse.) The person may also be violent toward other people or may get enraged and punch walls, throw objects on the floor, or demonstrate other angry behavior.
If you have the sense that, while the person is outwardly calm, he or she can snap and get violent at any moment, then he or she may be demonstrating sociopathic behavior.
Spot a Sociopath Step 8.jpg8
See if the person has a huge ego. Sociopaths often have delusions of grandeur and think they are the greatest people in the world. They will be completely unresponsive to criticism and have an extremely inflated sense of self. They will also have a huge sense of entitlement, thinking that they deserve to have amazing things to happen to them, even after little effort.
They may also have a completely unrealistic view of their own abilities; for example, they may think that they are extremely talented at singing or dancing, when in reality, they possess almost no skills in these fields.
The person may also think he or she is better than everyone around him or her, without evidence that he or she is superior.
The person may also be completely narcissistic. Thus, the person is far more interested in talking about him or herself than hearing what others have to say. Also, the person spends a great deal of time staring in the mirror rather than observing others in the world. The person, in general, doesn’t want to hear what anyone else has to say.
Spot a Sociopath Step 9.jpg9
See if the person makes uninterrupted eye contact. Sociopaths are known for giving intense uninterrupted eye contact. The person stares because he or she is completely comfortable staring at people to make them uncomfortable. Staring at others intently is a way to further his or her own means. In her memoir, Confessions of a Sociopath, M. E. Thomas talks about her frequent tactic of giving people long, uninterrupted stares to get what she wants.
Spot a Sociopath Step 10.jpg10
Face reading. Face tells a lot about personality. Every feature in the face has some story to tell. If one is careful about face readings, then it’s easy to distinguish between a normal person and sociopath. Eyes are a good way to know the mental state of a person.
Spot a Sociopath Step 11.jpg11
See if the person has few real friends. Though not everyone gets lucky in the friends lottery, your guard should go up if the person has virtually no real friends. He or she may have lackeys, people who hang around him just to get bossed around, or people who hover around him to try to mooch off of him, but try to see if the person has any meaningful connections with people. If the person has almost no friends, then there’s a high chance that there’s something wrong with him or her, unless he’s very shy or has another compelling reason to lack friends.
This goes for family members, too. If the person isn’t in touch with any family members and never talks about them, there may be a problem, too. Of course, that person may have other reasons for not talking to these people, such as having a difficult childhood.
Look for a lack of connection to the past. If the person has virtually no friends from high school, college, or any past part of his or her life, then he or she may be a sociopath as well.
Spot a Sociopath Step 12.jpg12
See if the person likes to isolate you. Sociopaths like to meet people and to move fast and come in close. This is so you don’t have a chance to pull back or change your mind. You may find that, after just a few weeks, the sociopath is acting very intensely around you, if you’re romantically involved. He or she may even make you feel like you’re soul mates because he or she is so good at reading people that he or she can say exactly what you want to hear. Ultimately, the sociopath will want to have you all to him or herself instead of “sharing” you with the world.
If you’re dating, the sociopath will quickly try to get you to stop hanging out with your friends, because he or she will feel threatened by them. He or she will make excuses for not hanging out with your friends, saying things like, “They don’t really get you like I do” or “They never gave me a chance,” trying to make you feel like everyone is against you and that you should spend all of your time with him or her.
Spot a Sociopath Step 13.jpg13
See if the person is immature. Sociopaths do not learn from their mistakes and repeat the same ones again and again. Therefore, they do not grow or develop as much as other people do. Look for immature behavior that may be hidden underneath the person’s veneer of charisma and charm. Here is some behavior to look for:
Extreme Selfishness. The person may want everything for him or herself at any cost. With this comes an unwillingness to share.
A huge ego. The person may be so obsessed with him or herself that he or she doesn’t care for others at all.
Neediness. The person may want you to be there for him or her whenever you are wanted.
Unready for responsibilities. The person may not be prepared or able to deal with or be given any form of meaningful responsibility. They will either pass any work off onto others and take credit whilst excusing failure, or will avoid responsibility entirely.
Part 2 of 2: Getting Away
Don’t give them anything they want from you. When dealing with sociopaths be as boring as possible to not feed the sociopath’s need for excitement. Sociopaths are easily bored. This includes not giving them emotional entertainment. Remain calm when talking to them. Don’t get excited or argue with them. Also pretend that you have nothing that the sociopath may want. Pretend that you lost your money, had your things already stolen, etc. Whatever it is that you provide for them, find an excuse — in a non-emotional, non-confrontational way — to not be able to provide it any more
Spot a Sociopath Step 14.jpg2
Stay away if you can. Once you’ve confirmed that the person is a full-blown sociopath, then it’s best to avoid that person as much as you can. If that person is a co-worker or in your friend group, then you may not be able to completely avoid him or her, but try to steer clear as much as humanly possible. Remember that a sociopath may be able to detect that you’re trying to distance yourself and may want to reel you in even more as a result; stay strong and be determined to spend as little time with this person as possible.
This doesn’t mean you should be openly mean or hostile; this can actually put you in a dangerous situation.
Don’t tell the person, “I know you’re a sociopath.” This can enrage the person or make him or her even more determined to win you over. You don’t want the person to know that you’re onto him or her; just stay as removed as possible without being rude.
Spot a Sociopath Step 15.jpg3
Be immune to the sociopath’s charms. The sociopath may want to charm you and to win you over with gifts, compliments, or stories meant to cast him or her in a favorable light. But remember that once you’ve determined that this person is a full-on sociopath, there’s no turning back. No amount of charming behavior or lies can win you back over to the dark side. Don’t let the person flatter you into giving him or her a second chance. You’re smarter than that.
Don’t give in. The sociopath may even trick you into feeling sorry for him or her, talking about how alone he or she feels, or how important you are to him or her. But if this person is really as lying and manipulative as you determined him or her to be, then there’s no way you can have true sympathy for him or her, beyond being sorry that this person is suffering from a mental disorder.
Spot a Sociopath Step 16.jpg4
If you’re dating the person, then get out as quickly as possible. If you happen to be dating the person who is a sociopath, then you have to get out as quickly and safely as you can. The longer you wait, the worse things will be, and the more likely you’ll be to get sucked in to that person’s line of thinking. If you need to end the relationship, then you have to tell the person as soon and as quickly as you can; there’s no need to say you want to end the relationship because you think the person is sociopathic.
Remember that there’s a difference between a person being really careless and being a sociopath. You may call someone a sociopath just because he’s treated you poorly or acts really selfish, but this may just be a sign of poor character. A full-on sociopath really does not care about what anyone thinks or feels — whatsoever.
If you’re in a truly controlling or manipulative relationship, then you may not want to end it by yourself. You may need to do it over the phone or have a friend there to help you if you need to pick up your belongings. A sociopath may not take no for an answer. If you try to end the relationship, the sociopath may go to desperate and even violent measures to get you to stay.
Spot a Sociopath Step 17.jpg5
Warn others. Though you don’t need to go around broadcasting the fact that the person is sociopath to all of the world (unless the person is really a danger to others), you should consider warning people in that person’s circle. Definitely, warn others who are considering dating ‘the person’. Don’t anger ‘the person’ by telling everyone he or she is a sociopath. However, if a situation presents itself where a potential victim really needs to be warned, don’t be afraid to say what you think.
Take this on a case-by-case basis. If the person is a higher up at your company, then yeah, you probably shouldn’t go around warning people. But you should stay away as much as you can.
Think for yourself. Sociopaths prey on people who have trouble thinking for themselves or who are looking for too much guidance. The best way you can make yourself immune to the sociopath’s charms or to not be susceptible to meeting future sociopaths is to make sure that you know who you are and are able to develop your own ideas and to see the world through your own eyes. Sociopaths stay away from strong-minded people and original thinkers because they know they’ll have a hard time controlling them.
Though it can take a lifetime to truly think for yourself, making an effort to be informed about current events, to understand multiple perspectives of any situation, and to spend time with people whose beliefs are different from yours can go a long way in helping you become a truly original thinker.
Part of it has to do with confidence. If you’re confident in yourself, you’ll have more confidence in your ideas. And you’ll be much more likely to scare away any sociopaths who come your way!
Give up fear of the sociopath. Instead, use your own thinking skills (as previously noted) and use reason and calmness to respond. For starters, a sociopath can fake everything, including all the listed items above, so if this person is pretending, there is little point playing up to a hollow cut-out. Second, sociopaths are intelligent and this may well be a source of your own distress, trying to keep up or make a pretense at being as clever or as knowing, or more likely, dodging their overwhelming need to make their own intelligence or cleverness the center of everything. If you give up fearing the sociopath, and stop trying to be better than or at the same level as the sociopath, but rather, become far more accepting of your own self and appreciate what makes you worthy and valuable, a sociopath will have a hard time manipulating you. The majority of sociopaths are not killers, sadists or monsters; they’re human beings who need to be handled with care. They do not choose to be a sociopath just as you don’t choose to be a victim of their wiles. However, you can make it harder or easier for a sociopath to manipulate your weaker self, so the choice lies with you. Educate yourself about the means through which human beings manipulate and mistreat one another and arm yourself with the methods by which you undermine such treatment and get on with your own life.
This is not to say the sociopath will appreciate you showing your strong self and refusing to be taken in. However, the sociopath will stop expending energy on you and making further attempts to manipulate you because he or she will know you will call them out on it, every single time. That gets to be boring, and no sociopath likes boredom.
Some scientists believe that sociopaths suffer from damage to the prefrontal cortex which regulates emotions and morality, etc.
Sociopaths tend to blame the victim for their shortcomings. They can never admit to fault and instead attack the victim. Key factor in any DSM diagnosis.
Most are aware of their need to hide cold traits, and are good actors (have adapted to being different) so most of this based on overt behavior is only true for unintelligent, young, or low functioning sociopaths (who do not conceal cruel traits/grossly anti-social behavior).
Some experts say that a great number of sociopaths were also child abuse sufferers.
Sociopathic behavior is strongly inherited, so look at problems in the family as a clue to a person’s real personality.
You know that sociopaths are going to lie about their past, so take most of what they say with a grain of salt. Instead, look for any consistencies in any of their stories. Generally, there will be one or two details among all their fabrications that generally remain the same. This could either be the truth, or something they’ve said so often they think it’s the truth.
If a person is “too good to be true”, they probably are. This is the case for any DSM diagnosis, including sociopathy, borderline, and narcissism.
Sociopaths often know how to make others believe they are the victim while actually being the aggressor.
This type of person will tell you things to get you to forgive them and then say they never told you.
This is a tactic to play mind games.
Realize that they may try to manipulate you, and learn to spot when they’re trying. Otherwise, they could make you do stuff you don’t want to.
Be immune to their charm. This just goes without saying.
Sociopaths are great liars because they have no conscience. So they will use all excuses for their actions in order to avoid being discovered for who they really are.
Although not all sociopaths are violent, it is best to distance yourself from these people on any emotional, friendship level.
Sociopaths are less prone to emotion and so can use your emotion against you. It is most effective to deal with people in terms they understand; so, if you must deal with a sociopath, leave your emotions/feelings at the door or they will control you.
Sociopathic tendencies can often be confused with that of conditions such as aspergers or vice versa. The key difference is that sociopaths lack conscience, whereas people with aspergers simply lack theory of mind.
Don’t let them know that you’re on to them. While this could go different ways depending on the sociopath, it’s still best that they don’t know that you know.
Sources and Citations
(Disclaimer: Only the Mayo Clinic is an actual medical source and the rest are merely opinion and hearsay by news aggregates. For a definitive discussion on sociopaths or if you feel you might be one, please seek a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist in your country of residence.)