Sociopath Facts

The average person might hear the term "sociopath" and think only of the depictions of serial killers in movies and television shows. While many cold-blooded killers would likely be deemed sociopaths by psychological professionals, you may be just as likely to pass a sociopath on the way to work or run into one at the grocery store.

The American Psychological Association estimates that 3 percent of all males could fall into the category of sociopaths. Many of them are adept at putting on a mask for the world and feigning empathy, so there's a good chance you might know one personally, or have even dated one without realizing it.

Could you be dating a sociopath?

A sociopath is defined as a person who displays antisocial behavior, who has a psychopathic personality and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience. If a person meets the criteria for antisocial personality disorder and feels no guilt at harming others, he or she is often considered a sociopath.

The very nature of the disorder makes it difficult to diagnose, however as sociopaths are very unlikely to seek psychological help or be truthful about their symptoms. This also makes it difficult to accurately estimate the percentage of people who are sociopaths.

While sociopaths can be very charming, and many have learned to cover up their behaviors while dealing with others, a person who is in a close relationship with one is more likely to catch on to certain signs and symptoms. Learn the criteria for diagnosing antisocial personality disorder, as well as the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, and take special care to notice any red flags. Sociopaths can and will engage in relationships, but more often than not, they do not end well.

Diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder

A list of diagnostic criteria exists in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM. Criteria for diagnosing the disorder include:

  • Childhood or teenage symptoms of conduct disorder, including violence, bullying, vandalism, stealing or cruelty to animals
  • Repeatedly breaking the law
  • Repeatedly conning or lying to others
  • Having no regard for personal safety or the safety of others
  • Impulsive and risky behaviors, including gambling, sex or shopping
  • Being irritable and aggressive towards others

Hare Psychopathy Checklist

In addition to the DSM criteria, criminal psychologist Dr. Robert D. Hare's checklist is frequently used to assess psychopathic or sociopathic behavior.

Factor 1 of the list is a collection of personality traits common to sociopaths, including:

  • Glibness or superficial charm
  • Grandiose self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning and manipulation
  • Lack of guilt or remorse
  • Shallow affect, no genuine emotion
  • Callousness, lack of empathy
  • Failure to accept responsibility for actions

Factor 2 includes lifestyle traits common to sociopaths, including:

  • Need for stimulation, proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor self-control
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Early behavior problems
  • Revocation of conditional release

The third category includes relevant information that does not fall into either other category:

  • Promiscuous sexual behavior
  • Many short-term relationships
  • Criminal versatility
  • Acquired behavioral tricks and conditioning in order to deceive

If you believe that you or a loved one are showing symptoms of antisocial personality disorder or meets the criteria of Dr. Hare's checklist, you may want to visit a mental health professional for diagnosis. While these disorders are notoriously difficult to treat, there are options available to help improve some of the symptoms of sociopathy, and it is important to figure out if there are any physical causes behind your symptoms.

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