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How to Identify a Psychopath

The Hare Psychopathy Checklist was initially developed to assess the mental condition of people who commit crimes, and it is commonly used to diagnose people who may exhibit the traits and tendencies of a psychopath. Most mental health professionals define a psychopath as a predator who takes advantage of others using charm, deceit, violence and other methods to get what they want. Identify a psychopath by using the Hare Psychopathy Checklist and trusting your own intuition.

Steps

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    Look for glib and superficial charm. A psychopath will put on what professionals refer to as a "mask" of normality that is likable and pleasant. For example, the psychopath may do good deeds to gain his or her victim's trust.[1]
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    Look for a grandiose self-perception.[2] Psychopaths will often believe they are smarter or more powerful than they actually are.
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    Watch for a constant need for stimulation. Stillness, quiet and reflection are not things embraced by psychopaths. They need constant entertainment and activity.
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    Determine if there is pathological lying. A psychopath will tell all sorts of lies, little lies, as well as huge stories intended to mislead.
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    Evaluate the level of manipulation. Psychopaths are identified as cunning and able to get people to do things they might not normally do. They can use guilt, force and other methods to manipulate.
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    Look for any feelings of guilt. An absence of any guilt or remorse is a sign of psychopathy. Psychopaths cannot feel guilt.[3]
    • A psychopath may feign guilt over bad behavior in order to manipulate a person into not becoming angry. For example, they pretend to go into a guilt spiral over hurting their victim, so the victim ends up consoling them instead.
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    Consider the affect or emotional response a person has. Psychopaths have shallow emotional responses and do not react normally to deaths, injuries, or other events that would cause a deep negative response in others.[4]
    • The difference between psychopathic and typical autistic responses is that while autistic people may seem initially numb, they may melt down in distress later or throw themselves into research and ways to help.[5][6] Psychopaths have no deep emotions hiding underneath.
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    Look for a lack of sympathy and compassion. Psychopaths are callous and cannot naturally relate to non-psychopaths.[1]
    • Research shows psychopathy is not as simple as having a total lack of empathy. They do not spontaneously empathize, but can do so on will (to charm others for example), and are capable of cognitive empathy (the ability to naturally read and understand the emotions of others) but have impaired affective empathy (the ability to feel these emotions).[7][8][9]
    • This is another way to distinguish psychopathy from autism—autistic people may lack empathy and seem robotic at times, but they often genuinely care about others and can show deep compassion.
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    Take a look at the person's lifestyle. Psychopaths are often parasitic, meaning they live off other people. They will use others to gain power and resources, and may enter their lives quickly and easily.[1]
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    Observe the person's behavior. The Hare Checklist includes behavioral indicators such as the following: poor behavior control, sexual promiscuity, and early behavior problems.
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    Talk about goals. Psychopaths have unrealistic goals for the long term. Either there are no goals at all, or they are unattainable and based on the exaggerated sense of one's own accomplishments and abilities.
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    Look at whether the person is impulsive or irresponsible. Both of those characteristics are evidence of psychopathy.
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    Consider whether the person cannot accept responsibility. A psychopath will never genuinely admit to being wrong or owning up to mistakes and errors in judgment. When pressed, they may admit to making a mistake, but manipulate others so as to avoid any consequences.
    • Any accusations may be turned back on the accuser, to make the accuser believe that they are being cruel or unfair for making reasonable complaints. Victims may start second-guessing any issues they might want to raise.
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    Examine marital relationships. Some psychopaths have many short-term marriages. They will blame marital problems on their ex-spouses, and never suggest that they played a role in the marriage's failure.
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    Look for a history of juvenile delinquency. Psychopaths tend to exhibit delinquent behaviors in their youth, including aggressive behaviors towards others.
    • They may have shown characteristics of the Macdonald Triad, a set of three indicators in childhood of future aggressive behavior. One of these includes torturing animals.[10] Remember Arthur Schopenhauer's words: "A person who harms or kills animals cannot be a good person at all". Another relevant saying is from a speech of Mahatma Gandhi's: "You know somebody well for their treatment towards their animals".
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    Check for criminal versatility. Psychopaths may commit many types of offenses, and while they might sometimes get caught, the ability to be flexible and get away with committing crimes is an indicator.
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    Check out if a person makes constant use of "the poor fellow's imagery". Psychopaths are experts at manipulating our emotions and insecurities into causing us to view them as "poor injusticed fellows", thus lowering our sentimental guard and rendering us vulnerable for future exploitation. If this psychological resource is continually combined with unacceptable and evil actions, this equals to a powerful alert sign about this person's real nature.
    • They may put on a fake emotional display.[11]
    • The difference between this and anxiety is that an anxious person deeply feels the guilt and helplessness that they express, while a psychopath only does this as a performance. An anxious person will display these symptoms even when it is inconvenient to them, while a psychopath can turn these displays of emotion on and off at will.
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    Pay close attention to their behavior over time. While many psychopaths are good actors and can blend into society, they may slip and reveal problematic personality traits.
    • For example, psychopaths in a workplace may engage in instrumental bullying to further their career goals. They may belittle, humiliate, mistreat, mock, and attack physically (or even kill, in extreme cases) those whom they do not consider useful or who get in their way, and/or to satisfy abnormal psychological needs such as sadism, which may be comorbid with the disorder. Examples of particularly vulnerable victims include the physically disabled, elderly people, and children.

Tips

  • Trust your instincts and intuition. If you believe someone displays the characteristics of a psychopath, put distance between yourself and that person so you are not manipulated or drawn into a relationship that may only cause you pain.
  • Be careful not to confuse psychopathy with other disorders, such as anxiety or autism.

Warnings

  • Resist categorizing someone you do not like as a psychopath simply because they meet 1 or 2 of the characteristics on the Hare checklist. Psychopathy is complicated.[12] It takes a psychiatrist or a qualified mental health practitioner to correctly diagnose someone as a psychopath.

Article Info

Categories: Psychology Studies | Personality Disorders