In college I came across a book called “The Sociopath Next Door,” written by Martha Stout in Barnes & Noble and it immediately drew my attention. I mean, don’t we all want to know if a sociopath or psychopath is living next to us, or even walking nearby?
And just a few days ago I found an article online called “How I discovered I have the brain of a psychopath,” written by James Fallon, a neuroscientist. The book was first published in 2005, and the article was written earlier this month.
So nine years later we are still fascinated with the topic of psychopaths.
Part of the reason could be the fact that we still don’t have many answers. Depending on who you ask, "psychopath" and "sociopath" are either interchangeable terms or completely different.
For example, according to the book “The Sociopath Next Door,” the terms “psychopath,” “sociopath” and “antisocial personality disorder” are used somewhat interchangeably.
Antisocial personality disorder is an actual diagnosable mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
It is briefly defined as “a pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others,” according to the DSM-5, although it is of course much more complicated than that.
There are other personality disorders that also share some traits of sociopaths and psychopaths, such as narcissistic personality disorder.
However, in society we tend to use phrases like “sociopath” or “psychopath” casually to describe someone who lacks a conscience, needs constant stimulation, tends to have social charm and a ”grandiose sense of self-worth,” according to Stout. They tend to lack empathy and affection, and engage in criminal behavior.
Ronald Schouten, MD, and James Silver, JD, are the authors of the book “Almost A Psychopath.” They argue that “psychopathy is a psychological condition in which the individual shows a profound lack of empathy for the feelings of others, a willingness to engage in immoral and antisocial behavior for short-term gains, and extreme egocentricity.”
However, the authors state that psychopaths are not necessarily psychotic or criminals, although many criminals do happen to be psychopaths. Also, they argue that psychopathy is not the same “diagnosis” as antisocial personality disorder, and psychopathy is not an actual mental health diagnosis in the DSM-5.
The authors do suggest that “psychopath” and “sociopath” are basically the same, but have slightly different characteristics. For example, sociopaths are more impulsive and disorganized, but psychopaths tend to be more organized and predatory.
So what are the actual signs of a psychopath or sociopath? Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology, provided via email some traits to look for in your acquaintances (or even family members or friends):
1) They tend to have a charm about them and are quite charismatic as well as intelligent.
2) They are “willing and able to draw people in to get their needs met.”
3) They are inconsistent in their lives. For example, they jump between jobs and residences and have lots of holes in their stories.
4) They’ve lied to you and others multiple times about nearly everything.
5) “They will break all kinds of rules - stealing, lying, cheating - and will do so right in front of you at times.”
6) They feel "entitled and will jump to the head of the line in everything, and have little regard for others.”
7) “They anger quickly and can even leave you feeling scared at such times.”
8) “They rarely express remorse or guilt for bad things they have done. They rarely apologize (or it is empty at best).”
9) “They don't have any really close friends or family members that they have good relationships with - but lots of acquaintances and ‘connections.’”
10) They drive really dangerously by cutting off other people, getting a DUI or not ensuring young passengers in the car are safe.
11) They tend not to adhere to laws, ethics, rules or morality, and violate the rights of others.
12) “Bottom line: they make you feel uncomfortable and unsafe.”
Stout, Martha (2005). The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us. (E-Book).
Schouten, Ronald and Silver, James (2012). Almost A Psychopath: Do I (or Does Someone I Know Have a Problem with Manipulation and Lack of Empathy? (E-Book).
American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Durvasula, Ramani. Email interview. June 25, 2014.
Fallon, James. The Guardian. How I discovered I have the brain of a psychopath. Web. June 25, 2014.
Reviewed June 26, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
Add a Comment18 Comments
When someone makes "glib" comments like, "So, that person lost their child in a fire? Well, they can have more." RUN, do not walk, away. No matter how funny, charming, or exciting the individual might seem, they are not what they seem. They aren't "human," on any level. They have targeted you because you have something that they do not: money, charm, talent, education, sex, beauty, attention, awards, spirituality, conscience, compassion, empathy, etc. And, they hate you for it. So, because they can't create any of these things on their own, they will do anything that they can to tear you down, tear you apart, and leave you wondering what train just ran you over.September 13, 2018 - 8:26pm
I was wondering what was wrong with my spouse. It was only instil I found out we are not legally married did I stumble onto a website that described him down perfectly. People believe him over me. I am no alone in life with no family. He is trying to take advantage of that but I am fighting back now. Going behind his back and doing things he doesn't need to know about. I feel relieved but worried at the same time. Now I have to fight fire with fire. Don't listen to them try to remember they are not mentally right. Try to fix the problem before it is to late.February 6, 2018 - 5:43am
clever people know how to use people to their advantage. Unfortunately the system has changed and the uneducated can be more dangerous. The manners we were taught seem to have disappeared and its ok to be rude to people.December 10, 2016 - 11:52am
I'm a sociopath and have been for 29 years. I have never ever hurt anyone. I am also a mother and have never and will never harm my child. I have been socially withdrawn my entire life yet been told I'm easy to talk to fun to be around. I learned to fit in as a child, growing up under a mother with a degree in psychology who helped me learn the rules of society whether I have a conscious or not, I abide by the law because it's what society has set in place. I was diagnosed at the age of 6 and have taken steps necessary to adapt and thrive in today's society. I'm not perfect, I've manipulated several situations and people in my younger years and as I matured, adapted to a more suitable role model for my child. Growing up, I struggled a lot with various impulses and acts of spontaneity, but through changing and adapting, watching the people around me, I've managed to live a healthy and positive life. I am ever changing and shall remain that way, but never will I hurt someone. It doesn't benefit me, and quite frankly, the idea of blood and gore doesn't get my rocks off. My abnormal obsession is manipulation, the ability to attain what I want, by using others. Obviously, that sort of behavior is frowned upon, and I try my best to blend in and not stand out, so I avoid abnormal behavior as much as possible, but I still enjoy the thrill of a fun mind game. I was the victim of child sexual and physical abuse and I do believe that series of events played a huge part in my personality disorder, but it doesn't make me a monster. I'm a human like everyone else, I just don't have the emotional capability to connect with other people, but I still have the desire to be normal. I am currently working on becoming a Profiler, to stop the people who actually commit the crimes.December 8, 2016 - 3:10pm
I've been guilty of calling my partner "psychotic", because I didn't understand the term.
She has Narcissistic Personality and is Sociopathic - she is also in her late 80s, needs 24 hour care, and no home would take her. She takes away my will to liveFebruary 13, 2016 - 11:14am
Don't worry. You'll get through this. I have a phsycopathic friend and she makes me lose the will to live. She also is my roommate so it makes my life unbearable.
I recently discovered that I suffer from depression and I seriously was thinking about commiting suicide.November 2, 2016 - 9:04am
Are you serious? If so, please move out now and get professional help to cope with your depression before you take such drastic measures.
Regards,November 2, 2016 - 9:33am
I hope things get better for you. That is definitely a combination. Off the subject, since you brought up "psychotic". Always remember; A Psychopath and Sociopath are not clinically insane, nor legally insane, they are not crazy at all, but they will make you feel crazy. They ARE morally insane, as they have little to no conscience at all. Unlike the "Psychotic" (mental illness stemming from psychosis, schizophrenia, brain damage etc.), Psychotic's are legally insane. In rare cases there have been Psychotic-Psychopaths, Ed Gein is a prime example, and a fictional example would be Norman Bates. God Bless You.March 3, 2016 - 5:31pm
There are so many articles on the internet of this type, telling you how to identify a psychopath. So I'm going to help you with this one, so you get it right. A lot of times when people have an argument or a disagreement, one of them may say to the other "You're crazy... You're psycho...". Because they're angry or upset. But most people do not know the meaning of that word. "You're schizo!". People are emotional beings and they sometimes exhibit irrational behavior. Getting angry or upset even yelling or throwing things, while childish, may scare others into labeling you. But they're wrong, you are only human. I used to wonder if someone was schizo... But then I was at a friends house and their uncle was schizo and he held a conversation with the fridge and the dishwasher for 6 hours. A real eye opener. Some of the sweetest kindest people in the world can't hold a job, usually because they let themselves be walked all over, or in the case of social anxiety, because they are afraid to talk to people in authority such as bosses. Because they are afraid, they never explain anything, while others constantly complain to the boss. You'd think the boss would be greatful but usually it bosses direct their focus and anger at the one who is not telling on the others, believing it's all their fault. Sociopaths manipulate people, and lie constantly. Psychopaths murder people. Psychopaths usually have a body somewhere, if they are bad. Good psychopaths raised in a good home, by good parents, on the other hand, become excellent public speakers, policemen, fbi agents, and even firemen. Phrases like "psychopathic tendencies" annoy me, b/c people try to put their inexperienced and limited view of the "crazy" arena on normal people who are angry, or having a bad day. I see a lot where a sad individual has written about his or her psychopath boyfriend/girlfriend on the internet. Maybe the truth is that they are not psycho, maybe they just didn't really love you, or maybe they got to know you and decided you are not the person you claim to be. It does not make them a psychopath, and to demonize someone that way is a bit disconcerting I think, especially by liquor bar and church fence psychologists.September 9, 2015 - 5:52am
spoken like a neutral intelligent human being, though psycho behaviour should not be underestimated. Everyone is a psycho sometimes, only the real ones are all the time. But they can also help for "good". Whatever good means nowadays in a world of sociopathic behaviour - reconnaissance through digital media.February 13, 2016 - 6:22am