Psychopaths, how do you identify them?

“There are people who are so emotionally disconnected and they function as if other people are objects to be manipulated and destroyed without any concern.” - Dr Robert Hare, criminal psychologist

In the collective mind, psychopaths are generally represented as being some serial killers or some people able to torture another persons without having any kind of empathy or remorse. It’s true, but psychopaths don’t necessary have to kill or to be violent to be psychopaths, because they have other distinctive features that characterize them, most of the times being hard to identify them.


  1. First of all, they are charming. Very charming. They easily interact with those around them, they  know how to make conversation, they tell stories (credible stories) that put them in a favorable light or where they seem "heroes" or "benefactors." They know how to make themselves be pleasant (at least at the beginning), and sometimes they're extremely nice. No one says that courtesy would be a bad thing, but excessive courtesy and "kindness" should make us think. Of course, these qualities are not real, but only mimicked in order to build certain appearances, to hide who they really are. They want to get into others’ good graces and they know very well what attitudes and behaviors to adopt in order to do that.Psychopaths find it difficult to create authentic relationships based on feelings or attachment, instead they have superficial relationships that they maintain through manipulation and whose purpose is to gain maximum of benefits with minimal effort and involvement. The others are simple tools the psychopath uses to achieve his goals.
  2. So, their main interaction tool is manipulation. They are experts in manipulating others to do what they want - they gain their sympathy and trust, flatter them, praise them, compliment them, or make them feel guilty, ashamed so that most of the time they get to do things that they wouldn’t normally do or even question their own ability to think and make decisions.They are able to influence another person’s behavior to such an extent that the person doesn’t even realize it, making  him some favors or satisfying certain needs in his own detriment, feeling even sympathy or regret (pity) towards the "poor" psychopath. They deceive others and lie to them without turning a hair for profit or personal pleasure.
  3. They don’t have empathy and compassion - even if they are being nice with others and even offer to help them, looking very honest and authentic, they don’t actually empathize with their problems. Although they realize what another person feels, they feel nothing at an emotional level. Because they can’t connect with others, they can always "turn the knife in the wound" by pushing the most sensitive buttons and taking advantage of those moments of vulnerability. So, they understand what others think and feel but they don’t care so they can use that against them to achieve their goals (even if that means harming others); they are pathologically egocentric and extremely selfish, including to their own family - it doesn’t matter if it’s their own parents, brothers or life partners.
  4. They have no regrets, remorse, or a moral code and that is way they can end up killing, harassing, torturing, terrorizing, lying, deceiving or committing other kind of antisocial acts. Generally, psychopaths are intelligent, strategically planning their actions, anticipating each move and leaving no trace, doing their best to reduce their risks as much as possible. Somehow they feel entitled to hurt others - for pleasure or if this helps them achieve their goals because they are not interested in other people’s suffering anyway, who, by the way, are too sensitive, they deserve it or they are spoiling for fight.They feel no guilt or shame, they have superficial feelings and usually they blame others for their own behaviors making up excuses and justifications for this, posing in victims and making the other one to seem the aggressor, the bad guy.
  5. They think they’re above the law - they feel entitled to do whatever they want and they should be allowed to do so. They don’t think they have  to answer for their own deeds because in their minds they don’t think they will ever be caught, they place themselves above all, disregarding  others and being, in fact, disrespectful. In general, like narcissists, they are arrogant, they think they deserve certain privileges and they are convinced that they are the best, that they know best and deserve the most.

Some psychopaths are diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder and they are characterized by a great level of  aggression that is difficult to control  and / or violence - they are psychically, physically and / or emotionally abusive; they tend to  impulses and they need to be constantly stimulated, therefore they can become dependent on certain substances or activities.

"Functional" psychopaths among us, as Kevin Dutton says in his book "The Wisdom of Psychopaths," are far more likely to succeed professionally than ordinary people because they have certain traits which resemble the set of traits promoted and rewarded by the current capitalist society - emotional detachment, superficial charm, egocentrism, exacerbated independence and  highly concentrated attention. "These are found more frequently in the luxurious meeting rooms than behind bars where the criminals are held. The difference lies in the context in which they have been encouraged to develop these skills: social or antisocial. "


Dr. Ursula Sandner


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