We’re all familiar with the famous villains in movies and TV such as Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs,” Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller, “Psycho,” Dexter Morgan in the Showtime series “Dexter.” In real life, we’ve read about the horrific murders committed by the likes of two executed serial killers from the 1970s: Theodore (Ted) Bundy, killer, rapist and necrophile, and John Wayne Gacy, Jr., who murdered 33 boys.
What these characters and individuals all have in common is that they’re psychopaths. Most people don’t have to deal with a psychopath on an everyday basis, although some of us have the unfortunate experience of having had to do so. From a personal perspective, and drawing on a wealth of psychological insight from experts, here’s how to recognize a psychopath.
Psychopaths are extraordinarily manipulative.
Think about the psychopaths you’ve seen and read about. While normal people wonder how anyone can come under the sway of such heinous individuals, the sad truth is the common psychopathic characteristic of manipulation. Psychopaths are extraordinarily manipulative.
Quick to read others well, they’re always ready to exploit any weaknesses.
Sizing you up in an instant, often upon first meeting, psychopaths will then quickly exploit any weakness or vulnerability they’ve found. Indeed, psychopaths have a laser-like ability to identify a person’s soft spot, capitalizing on another’s “big heart” or willingness to fall for a tall scheme, a quick win, a big score. In personal relationships, a psychopath will gather all kinds of information about you, only to use it against you later.
They are amazingly charming.
You’ll never meet a more charming person than a psychopath. While not everyone who’s charming is a psychopath, however, every psychopath has the ability to charm you right away. In fact, their charm is a hallmark characteristic.
A psychopath will hurt you, and you’ll never see it coming.
Having read you well and knowing your weaknesses and vulnerabilities, a psychopath may not immediately act on this information. He or she will, however, use what’s been gathered against you in the future.
Neighbors, friends and co-workers may react in disbelief after learning about someone they know who’s ultimately revealed as a psychopathic personality. The psychopath’s victims never see it coming.
They tell you what you want to hear.
Someone who has had close interaction with a psychopath for a period of time eventually finds out that this person has been using them all along. In intimate relationships, a psychopath is adroit at telling his or her partner exactly what the other wants to hear. In fact, because they’re so charming and know the person so well, the victim has no clue about the true intentions of their supposed partner, or spouse. The loved ones and family members of some psychopathic killers often claim that they never saw any indications of evil, as difficult as that is to believe.
They have no conscience.
A conscience implies a sense of morality, whereas a psychopath has none. Someone who lacks a conscience can readily behave in unconscionable ways, and psychopaths plot and device scenarios where they carry out their heinous acts with a fervor and glee that normal human beings cannot begin to fathom. Psychopaths are emotionally unresponsive to the crimes they commit.
Fear is an alien concept to the psychopath.
Much research on the emotional ability of psychopaths had postulated that someone with this diagnosable psychiatric disorder was incapable of fear. More recent research, however, found that psychopaths may feel fear, even though they have trouble in automatic detecting and responding to fear.
Psychopaths have an inconsistent work history.
The history of psychopaths is littered with inconsistent work stints. They rarely stay at a single job very long. Whether they’re fired or quit, they quickly move on to something else. They’re also easily able to explain why they changed jobs so frequently and do so with such seeming plausibility that their stories are believed and accepted.
Their eyes are dead and lifeless.
Look carefully at the eyes of the notorious serial killers like Bundy, Gacy and others. Caught on video and in photographs, the images reveal a chilling aspect of every psychopath: dead, flat, lifeless eyes. It’s like there’s no one there behind those eyes, a being who inhabits a body but has no real humanity. This, despite being externally cheerful, charming, upbeat and positive.
Psychopaths often speak in a monotone voice.
It’s almost impossible to rile the psychopath enough to get him or her to raise their voice. Another common trait is that psychopaths routinely speak in a monotone voice. The rise and fall of inflection in most people’s verbal delivery is a sign of emotion. A psychopath doesn’t care and has no real emotion.
They lack empathy.
Empathy is a positive emotion, something you’ll never find in a psychopath. They simply cannot feel another’s pain, nor do they care to. As editor J. Reid Maloy writes in The Mark of Cain: Psychoanalytic Insight and the Psychopath, psychopaths display emotional detachment, severe narcissistic psychopathology, and minimal anxiety.
They will, however, respond to displays of extreme anger and fear, because they can exploit those emotions, not that they ever feel bad about causing them. On the contrary, they relish doing so.
Supremely arrogant, psychopaths feel they’re entitled.
No matter their upbringing, whether it was disadvantaged or privileged, psychopaths go through life feeling entitled. They’re due to be above others because this is the way they see themselves. Every word, as well as thought and action that comes from them stems from this feeling of entitlement. As such, psychopaths are extraordinarily arrogant.
Rules don’t apply to the psychopath.
Following the rules or obeying the laws of society is not something a psychopath pays any heed to. Indeed, psychopaths believe the rules don’t apply to them. They have a history of blatantly flaunting the rules, often deliberately doing something illegal just for the thrill of it, to get away with it, to show how superior they are from the rest of society.
If they get caught, psychopaths seem unconcerned with the consequences.
If apprehended or caught in a lie, committing an illegal act, horrific crime or behaving unconscionably, psychopaths don’t care about the consequences. Many psychopaths react to getting caught as the price of doing business. It’s all about the gain, taking the risk to maximize rewards. If there’s a penalty, that’s only for now, it won’t last forever, nor will any consequence deter further bad acts by the psychopath.
They’re adept at lying to your face.
Who can lie to you with a straight face and you believe every word of it? At the top of the list is the true psychopath. Extremely deceitful, they’re able to lie this way because they feel entitled, they’re arrogant, rules don’t apply, they lack empathy, and they know what to say to get what they want. In fact, they’re skilled liars, often spinning elaborate tales that draw in victims. They’re also easily able to keep track of their lies, and spin yet more lies if confronted about the veracity of something he or she said.
As children, psychopaths often are violent toward siblings, commit other violent acts.
The psychopathic traits begin early for psychopaths, including a history of violence toward siblings and others, and killing animals early for the fun of it. Indeed, unlike sociopaths, whose behavior is learned, psychopaths are born that way.
They’re all about dominating and controlling others.
Summing up, a psychopath exists solely to dominate and control others. The more he or she can discover a weakness or vulnerability, the more likely the psychopath will take advantage in subsequent action. Interestingly, some highly successful business leaders may display a benign form of psychopathy known as “fearless dominance.”