Psychopath is a term casually thrown around, but it actually has a pretty strict definition.
To be classified as a psychopath you must meet a certain set of criteria as defined by the Hare Psychopathy Checklist.
There are 20 traits associated and evaluated to determine a PCL-R score.
- glib and superficial charm
- grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
- need for stimulation
- pathological lying
- cunning and manipulativeness
- lack of remorse or guilt
- shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
- callousness and lack of empathy
- parasitic lifestyle
- poor behavioural controls
- sexual promiscuity
- early behaviour problems
- lack of realistic long-term goals
- failure to accept responsibility for own actions
- many short-term marital relationships
- juvenile delinquency
- revocation of conditional release
- criminal versatility
So here are a few indicators to look for:
1. They're confident
Way too confident. Irrationally confident.
Dr. William Hirstein wrote in Psychology Today:
The PCL describes sociopaths as possessing a 'grandiose sense of self worth.'
Cleckley speaks frequently of the boastfulness of his patients.
Hare (1993) describes an imprisoned sociopath who believed he was a world class swimmer.
In a 1941 case a father described his psychopath daughter's behaviour as follows:
I can't understand the girl, no matter how hard I try.
It's not that she seems bad or exactly that she means to do wrong.
She can lie with the straightest face, and after she's found in the most outlandish lies she still seems perfectly easy in her own mind.
Hervey M. Cleckle, the psychiatrist, described this in 1941 as a...
...pathologic egocentricity [and incapacity for love].
He did so in a seminal work describing psychopathy through a series of interviews with patients in a locked institution.
This above-quoted definition made it into his "clinical profile" describing 16 behavioural traits he saw as defining a psychopath.
4. Great at conversation
There's a mask that has to fall. They're used to holding a conversation and they're used to making people amenable to their wishes.
Robert Hare, the creator of the psychopathy checklist, wrote in Psychology Today:
Psychopaths are often voluble and verbally facile. They can be amusing and entertaining conversationalists, ready with a clever comeback, and are able to tell unlikely but convincing stories that cast themselves in a good light. They can be very effective in presenting themselves well and are often very likable and charming.
One of my raters described an interview she did with a prisoner: 'I sat down and took out my clipboard,' she said, 'and the first thing this guy told me was what beautiful eyes I had.'
'He managed to work quite a few compliments on my appearance into the interview, so by the time I wrapped things up, I was feeling unusually… well, pretty. I'm a wary person, especially on the job, and can usually spot a phony. When I got back outside, I couldn't believe I'd fallen for a line like that.'
5. Lack of Empathy
A psychopath usually has a profound lack of empathy. They construct a mental and emotional facade of a person.
As one of the final paragraphs of American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis reads:
There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there. It is hard for me to make sense on any given level. Myself is fabricated, an aberration. I am a noncontingent human being. My personality is sketchy and unformed, my heartlessness goes deep and is persistent. My conscience, my pity, my hopes disappeared a long time ago (probably at Harvard) if they ever did exist. There are no more barriers to cross. All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it, I have now surpassed. I still, though, hold on to one single bleak truth: no one is safe, nothing is redeemed.
This sort of reading of a projection of a person is supported by Robert Hare, again in Psychology Today:
They are completely indifferent to the rights and suffering of family and strangers alike. If they do maintain ties, it is only because they see family members as possessions. One of our subjects allowed her boyfriend to sexually molest her five-year-old daughter because "he wore me out. I wasn't ready for more sex that night." The woman found it hard to understand why the authorities took her child into care.
6. A short temper
A short fuse is another symptom of a lack of empathy, but it is upheld by poor behavioural control.
They tend to be impulsive and can respond aggressively to innocuous perceived slights.
Hare recounts an incident in an institution with a psychopath:
For example, an inmate in line for dinner was accidentally bumped by another inmate, whom he proceeded to beat senseless. The attacker then stepped back into line as if nothing had happened.
Despite the fact that he faced solitary confinement as punishment for the infraction, his only comment when asked to explain himself was, 'I was pissed off. He stepped into my space. I did what I had to do.'