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Characteristics Of A Psychopath And The Common Myths About Them

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Characteristics Of A Psychopath And The Common Myths About Them

Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, Dexter Morgan in Dexter, Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. They are all psychopaths.

Psychopaths are usually depicted as serial killers or villains in the entertainment industry. They are antisocial yet powerful, often display threats and put others at peril. How much of this impression is true under the definition of a psychopath?

Here are six characteristics of a psychopath:

  1. Lack of empathy: Psychopaths are callous and coldhearted. They lack the ability to understand and identify other’s emotions.
  2. Egocentric: They are extremely selfish. They live a “parasitic lifestyle”, meaning they habitually rely and exploit on others to maximize their own benefits.
  3. Shallow emotional investment: Without the ability to form emotional relationships, psychopaths only build artificial relationships to manipulate people to benefit themselves.
  4. Superficially charming: Despite an emotional deficiency, psychopaths are great actors. They can bring out the charm and trustworthiness to be likeable, to gain more relationships for further manipulation.
  5. Lack of morals and social consciences: Psychopaths rarely feel any guilt or remorse regarding their behaviors.
  6. Highly calculated: Their actions are well-planned, especially those with huge consequences, like a criminal activity. They tend to act in a way to minimize the risk they will encounter and ensure to not get caught, with multiple contingency plans in mind.

In short, “psychopath” is defined as an amoral person who is amoral with impaired remorse and empathy, and egotistical traits.

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Wait, so how often would I bump into a psychopath?

A research on psychopathic traits[1] results in a surprising yet daunting finding — 5 percent of the general population may possess psychopathic tendencies. Maybe your heart is pounding right now and you want to double check if someone’s lurking around with a machete or chainsaw.

Calm down, let me finish.

Contrary to popular beliefs, psychopaths aren’t always violent.

Yes, there are psychopaths who are criminals, killers, and madmen, like Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs. A psychopathic behavior doesn’t revolve around violence, but focuses on how psychopaths use their apathetic, manipulative, and selfish nature to get what they want.

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It’s time to debunk other myths and misconceptions of psychopaths.

I’m sure some of you are linking people you know while reading the traits of a psychopath earlier in the article. And you are probably eager to learn how to clearly spot a psychopath.

Psychopaths do not occur on a binary level. As much as everyone wants a rubric to separate psychopaths from the population, there are no concrete parameters to measure psychopathy, different than some antisocial behavorial personality like autism. The spectrum of psychopathic tendencies ranges from minor to severe.

There are no any brain imaging or biological test to diagnose a person as a psychopath. The most common device to identify psychopathic tendencies is the psychopathy checklist-revised (PCL-R). The test provides a 20-item list to evaluate the test subject, and will generate a maximum of 40 points with a cutoff at 30 (in the United States) to determine whether a person is psychopathic or not.

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Psychopaths and sociopaths are different.

Sherlock Holmes once said, “I’m not a psychopath, Anderson, I’m a high-functioning sociopath, do your research!” Both disorders are defined as antisocial and often amoral, but what are the differences between them?

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic causes. Researchers believe psychopathy is a genetic predisposition, as psychopaths lack parts of the brain responsible for emotional regulation. On the other hand, sociopaths tend to be stemmed and made by their environment, like childhood trauma, physical or mental abuse.

Well-planned vs. impulsive actions. As mentioned above, psychopaths plan their criminal actions cautiously to avoid bearing the consequences; but sociopaths often act upon their impulse and pay little attention to the risk or impacts of their actions.

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Charming vs. erratic. Psychopaths have the ability to mold themselves to gain trust and relationships. They are able to obtain a long-term job or even a family life, because these are all pieces and pawns for them to move around in the giant chess game. For sociopaths, they lack what their psychopathic counterparts have because of their impulsive and unpredictable actions.

Socially unconscious vs. conscious. As cruel as it sounds, psychopaths are not guilty of what they do. For example, their emotionless selves allow them to intentionally harm someone without holding any remorse. But for sociopaths, they are familiar with societal norms and they are just relatively less socially conscious than the general public. They know they shouldn’t harm someone but it’s not enough to stop their deviant behaviors.

There are female psychopaths too, but they express their psychopathic tendencies differently.

Most of the psychopathic characters you see on TV or movies are male. In reality, the ratio of psychopathic men and women is 20:1. So where are all the female psychopaths?

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After numerous studies and experiments, researchers have found female psychopaths are just as dangerous as sociopaths. The main reason behind such discrepancy in gender ratio is because female psychopaths are harder to identify.

A research[2] suggests men and women with this disorder do not differ in the existence of psychopathic characteristics and traits, but the expression of these personality traits. Female psychopaths display manipulative, deceitful, impulsive characteristics in a way which is typically associated with other mental illnesses. For example, a woman with explosive outbursts, or constantly wants to be the center of attention, you may not immediately associate her actions as psychopathic.

Reference

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Frank Yung

Writer. Storyteller. Foodie.

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Last Updated on November 18, 2021

10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

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10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

We all fall into the trap of judging a person’s character by their appearance. How wrong we are! All too often, the real character of the person only appears when some negative event hits them or you. Then you may see a toxic person emerging from the ruins and it is often a shock.

A truly frightening example is revealed in the book by O’Toole in Bowman called Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Instincts Betray Us. A perfectly respectable, charming, well dressed neighbor was found to have installed a torture chamber in his garage where he was systematically abusing kidnapped women. This is an extreme example, but it does show how we can be totally deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior.

So, what can you do? You want to be able to assess personal qualities when you come into contact with colleagues, fresh acquaintances and new friends who might even become lifelong partners. You want to know if they are:

  • honest
  • reliable
  • competent
  • kind and compassionate
  • capable of taking the blame
  • able to persevere
  • modest and humble
  • pacific and can control anger.

The secret is to reserve judgment and take your time. Observe them in certain situations; look at how they react. Listen to them talking, joking, laughing, explaining, complaining, blaming, praising, ranting, and preaching. Only then will you be able to judge their character. This is not foolproof, but if you follow the 10 ways below, you have a pretty good chance of not ending up in an abusive relationship.

1. Is anger a frequent occurrence?

All too often, angry reactions which may seem to be excessive are a sign that there are underlying issues. Do not think that every person who just snaps and throws his/her weight around mentally and physically is just reacting normally. Everyone has an occasional angry outburst when driving or when things go pear-shaped.

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But if this is almost a daily occurrence, then you need to discover why and maybe avoid that person. Too often, anger will escalate to violent and aggressive behavior. You do not want to be near someone who thinks violence can solve personal or global problems.

2. Can you witness acts of kindness?

How often do you see this person being kind and considerate? Do they give money to beggars, donate to charity, do voluntary work or in some simple way show that they are willing to share the planet with about 7 billion other people?

I was shocked when a guest of mine never showed any kindness to the weak and disadvantaged people in our town. She was ostensibly a religious person, but I began to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs.

“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

Abigail Van Buren

3. How does this person take the blame?

Maybe you know that s/he is responsible for a screw-up in the office or even in not turning up on time for a date. Look at their reaction. If they start blaming other colleagues or the traffic, well, this is an indication that they are not willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.

4. Don’t use Facebook as an indicator.

You will be relieved to know that graphology (the study of that forgotten skill of handwriting) is no longer considered a reliable test of a person’s character. Neither is Facebook stalking, fortunately. A study showed that Facebook use of foul language, sexual innuendo and gossip were not reliable indicators of a candidate’s character or future performance in the workplace.

5. Read their emails.

Now a much better idea is to read the person’s emails. Studies show that the use of the following can indicate certain personality traits:

  • Too many exclamation points may reveal a sunny disposition
  • Frequent errors may indicate apathy
  • Use of smileys is the only way a person can smile at you
  • Use of the third person may reveal a certain formality
  • Too many question marks can show anger
  • Overuse of capital letters is regarded as shouting. They are a definite no-no in netiquette, yet a surprising number of  people still use them.

6. Watch out for the show offs.

Listen to people as they talk. How often do they mention their achievements, promotions, awards and successes? If this happens a lot, it is a sure indication that this person has an over-inflated view of his/her achievements. They are unlikely to be modest or show humility. What a pity!  Another person to avoid.

7. Look for evidence of perseverance.

A powerful indicator of grit and tenacity is when a person persists and never gives up when they really want to achieve a life goal. Look for evidence of them keeping going in spite of enormous difficulties.

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Great achievements by scientists and inventors all bear the hallmark of perseverance. We only have to think of Einstein, Edison (who failed thousands of times) and Nelson Mandela to get inspiration. The US Department of Education is in no doubt about how grit, tenacity and perseverance will be key success factors for youth in the 21st century.

8. Their empathy score is high.

Listen to how they talk about the less fortunate members of our society such as the poor, immigrants and the disabled. Do you notice that they talk in a compassionate way about these people? The fact that they even mention them is a strong indicator of empathy.

People with zero empathy will never talk about the disadvantaged. They will rarely ask you a question about a difficult time or relationship. They will usually steer the conversation back to themselves. These people have zero empathy and in extreme cases, they are psychopaths who never show any feelings towards their victims.

9. Learn how to be socially interactive.

We are social animals and this is what makes us so uniquely human. If a person is isolated or a loner, this may be a negative indicator of their character. You want to meet a person who knows about trust, honesty and loyalty. The only way to practice these great qualities is to actually interact socially. The great advantage is that you can share problems and celebrate success and joy together.

“One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.”

Stendhal

 10. Avoid toxic people.

These people are trying to control others and often are failing to come to terms with their own failures. Typical behavior and conversations may concern:

  • Envy or jealousy
  • Criticism of partners, colleagues and friends
  • Complaining about their own lack of success
  • Blaming others for their own bad luck or failure
  • Obsession with themselves and their problems

Listen to these people talk and you will quickly discover that you need to avoid them at all costs because their negativity will drag you down. In addition, as much as you would like to help them, you are not qualified to do so.

Now, having looked at some of the best ways to judge a person, what about yourself? How do others see you? Why not take Dr. Phil’s quiz and find out. Can you bear it?

Featured photo credit: Jacek Dylag via unsplash.com

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