Most of us have been around for a while and have a scar or two that could be easily avoided if–only if–we knew whom to trust. We are social creatures in a social world — our success on many different levels and even our psychological well-being largely depend on our ability to meet other people and effectively connect with them.
This world is full of both bad and good people. Sociopaths make about 4 percent of the adult population in the U.S., and that is only one of many psychological disorders! Going to extremes by applying sweeping rules and avoiding people of certain age, sex or race is not only wrong but will also cause us a great deal of anxiety and unhappiness. Before we dive in common sociopath symptoms, you should accept that there is no one clear rule; you should acknowledge that you won’t be able to diagnose sociopathy accurately every single time. Even after learning about all signs of a sociopath, there will be times when your suspicions will be completely wrong, and you will feel bad about it. There might also be times when you will feel completely safe only to be tricked later.
Taking this type of risks and giving the benefit of the doubt is a part of life. Knowing how to handle a sociopath is an important life skill that improves as you learn more about these people.
Sociopath Symptoms According to DSM IV
According to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, antisocial personality disorder can be suspected in presence of three or more of the following characteristics:
- failure to conform to social norms,
- deceitfulness, manipulativeness,
- aggressiveness, irritability,
- disregard for the safety of self or others,
- lack of remorse after having hurt or mistreated another person.
In addition, this pattern should be present since the age of 15, the individual should be at least 18 years old, there should be evidence of conduct disorder with onset before age 15 years, and the occurrence of antisocial behavior should not be exclusively during the course of schizophrenia or manic episode (DSM IV, page 650).
How to Tell If Someone is a Sociopath
In her book The Sociopath Next Door, Dr. Marta Stout defined the pity play as the most reliable sign of a sociopath. There are times when appeal to sympathy is nothing more than a manipulation technique that is used to force us to drop our guard and let the sociopath get away with murder. For example, an abuser who routinely beats his victim may show some signs of remorse and complain that he is too weak to control himself, therefore the victim is expected to forgive. Ironically, pity, guilt, and sympathy are the feelings that sociopaths themselves cannot feel.
Lack of Conscience
The key symptom of a sociopath is a complete lack of conscience, their inability to feel guilt or remorse no matter how much they hurt someone. These people are not concerned with others’ welfare, not even their own family members. Because they have absolutely no internal restraints, the only limitations they have are external such as possibility of being punished by the system. If they are confident they can escape unpunished, they could do anything.
And it doesn’t necessarily have to be something like murder or rape. It doesn’t necessarily have to be power or money. Each sociopath is a unique person and wants different things, and luckily, not every sociopath is a bloodthirsty criminal. The danger they pose to society is limited by what they want. Perhaps they just want to play games all day long or hang out in clubs all night and sleep all day. If you are a sociopath, you could get your family or spouse cover all your basic needs while you do what you love. You will feel no shame or guilt at all, because you have no conscience.
While this is not technically a symptom and it’s not something you will find in books on psychiatry, it’s still worth to note that many sociopaths can be quite charming. They might appear sexier, smarter, more attractive, more fashionable, classier than others. They will often possess a grandiose sense of self-esteem, which may make them even more attractive to some people. These superficial charms help them lure others into their web so that they can take whatever they want.
Need for Stimulation
It was noticed that sociopaths tend to have an unusual need for stimulation, hence the tendency to attempt risky ventures. To make things worse, sociopaths are likely to drag anyone who falls under their spell into this type of activities. If any legal, financial, or physical consequences occur, they almost always fail to acknowledge their responsibility.
Lack of Emotions
Not only sociopaths are unable to sympathize, they are also unable to bond with other people. Unfortunately this may be not immediately obvious as they can be good actors and, whenever that serves their interests, they will put on an act and pretend they are in love.
All these symptoms are typical for people with antisocial personality disorder, and that includes both sociopaths and psychopaths. There is some difference in opinions regarding whether or not the terms sociopath and psychopath should be used interchangeably. There is an opinion that there are some distinct characteristics for each type and we’ve covered that here. You may be also interested in this quick interactive sociopath test.
- The Sociopath Next Door by Dr. Martha Stout