Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

A psychopath typically refers to a psychologically unstable and egocentric individual who possesses traits of antisocial personality and lacks empathy and remorse. Although highly charismatic and intelligent, they are extremely manipulative, incapable of love, lie pathologically and are prone to criminality.

What Is A Psychopath?

The term ‘psychopath’ describes a person who is callous, irresponsible, untruthful, and highly manipulative, has a lack of remorse and empathy for others, and shows superficial charm. All these personality traits are closely interlinked with the signs and symptoms of antisocial personality disorder. In simple words, a psychopath is a person who is suffering from an antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), but research 1 says that only a few individuals with ASPD are considered to be psychopaths. ASPD 2 is a severe mental health condition characterized by the violation of social rules, disregard for emotions, and rights of others, criminal or antisocial behavior, irresponsible, aggressive, and impulsive nature, and inability to maintain stable relationships.

The personality traits of psychopathic individuals portray them as heartless and cold human beings. However, they also show love and affection to their close ones in their own way. But they experience difficulty in trusting others outside their own comfort zone and it leads to their psychopathic nature and antisocial behavior.

They often seem extremely charming in front of others, but they lack a semblance of a conscience. Many researchers 3 argue that the characteristics can be predicted by a broad range of genetic factors. A 2012 study 4 found that the prevalence of psychopathic personality is around 1% worldwide and males are three times more likely to develop these personality traits.

Understanding Psychopathy

According to a 2015 research paper 5, “Psychopathy is a neuropsychiatric disorder marked by deficient emotional responses, lack of empathy, and poor behavioral controls, commonly resulting in persistent antisocial deviance and criminal behavior.” This study mentioned that such individuals’ cunning and manipulative interpersonal nature has a destructive impact on their work, relationships, and overall well-being.

It has shown that precipitating personality traits of a psychopath mostly become apparent before the age of 10. They are often aware of their own deviant behavior but fail to control or manage it. Though there are some therapy and medication approaches to reduce the severity of the signs, this psychological condition is one of the most difficult to diagnose and largely resistant to treatment.

A study 6 explains that ASPD increases the risk of psychopathic personality, but it is not the specific cause of it. Apart from genetics, brain anatomy and certain environmental factors contribute to the development of these personality traits. Psychopathic individuals often hurt others’ emotions or highly manipulate others for their own benefit. They treat others harshly and show no guilt or remorse for their wrongdoings.

According to 2016 research 7, in personal relationships, they attract others with their superficial charisma before expressing their cruel and uncaring self. They deceive and abuse their close ones depending on different situations and leave their victims traumatized by their utter lack of empathy. Many of the psychopaths are pathological liars 8 and use this negative skill in the desire to gain more power. However, all the other characteristics vary from mild to severe across the population.

Common Psychopathic Personality Traits

Common Psychopathic Personality Traits

The personality traits of psychopaths largely vary from one person to another. It can be possible that a person has several psychopathic traits but is not engaged in any kind of antisocial activities. People who have psychopathic traits and also exhibit antisocial behavior are considered to be psychopaths. The following are some of the common psychopathic personality traits:

  • Superficial charm 9
  • Antisocial behavior 10
  • Pathological lying 11
  • Manipulative nature 12
  • Violation of social rules 13
  • False superior complex
  • Narcissistic personality 14
  • Disregard for others’ rights and emotions 15
  • Impulsive nature 16
  • Unable to differentiate between right and wrong
  • No regret or guilt for wrongdoings
  • Difficulty in showing empathy 17
  • Lack of emotions 18
  • Cold-hearted personality 19
  • Lack of morality
  • Callous or irresponsible nature 20
  • Poor behavioral control
  • Indisciplined lifestyle
  • Unable to maintain long-term relationships
  • Lack of realistic goals
  • Criminal versatility 21
  • Disregard for safety 22
  • Aggressive behavior 23
  • Substance abuse 24

Read More About Narcissism Here

When To See A Doctor

The severity of the above-mentioned signs and traits largely depends on the individuals. Some people with these personality traits are more likely to act upon them more than others with the same traits. One common characteristic of these individuals is that they mostly refuse to seek help from a mental health professional, unless they are suffering from co-occurring physical or psychological problems, such as depression, stress, or poor physical health due to substance misuse.

People who have a loved one with psychopathic traits should convince them to seek medical help and consider therapy and other medication. A person’s psychopathic personality can not only impact their relationships with others but also adversely affect their professional and social life. If anyone observes such personality traits in a loved one, they should gently suggest the person seek medical help to avoid any serious consequences.

Read More About Stress Here

Psychopath vs. Sociopath

The term ‘psychopath’ is often confused with ‘sociopath’ as many researchers believe that there is no significant difference between both terms in clinical settings. The one similarity can be – psychologists don’t officially diagnose someone as a psychopath or sociopath rather they may diagnose someone suffering from ASPD. Many mental health experts suggest that the personality traits of both conditions are closely related to the signs and symptoms of ASPD.

But some researchers argue that there is a significant difference between these two psychological conditions. According to them, psychopaths behave more consistently than sociopaths. Research 25 shows that people with sociopathic personalities often suffer from anxiety and experience difficulty in controlling anger, while psychopathic individuals tend to have a controlled and charming personality.

Psychopathic personality traits include more planned behavior, those people might not be necessarily violent. A 2010 research paper 26 highlighted that psychopaths have no conscience, the inner voice that warns us that we are doing something morally wrong. Meanwhile, sociopaths do have a conscience though it may be a weak one.

Read More About Sociopath Here

Are Psychopaths Always Violent And Criminal-minded?

Violent behavior and criminal versatility are two significant psychopathic personality traits. These two characteristics vary largely from person to person depending on their life experiences and respective situations. Psychopathy increases the risk of a person developing antisocial and aggressive behavior. One 2020 study 27 suggests that a person with other psychopathic traits may not necessarily be violent or criminal-minded.

Similarly, there are many individuals who are physically violent and criminal-minded, but not psychopathic. Apart from this factor, the violent behavior of a psychopathic person depends on his/her age and gender as well. According to a 2012 study, girls or women with psychopathic personality traits are less likely to be violent than boys and men.

Causes Of Psychopathy

Causes of Psychopathy

Many researchers have explained that psychopathy can be the result of issues related to a broad range of other environmental factors. They also believe that this mental health condition has no association with genetic factors. Though inherited genes and brain chemistry play a role in the development of ASPD, childhood experiences, parenting style, and various environmental factors are believed to be the leading causes. The following are some of the significant causes:

1. Parent-child Attachment

A 2000 study 28 stated that emotional deprivation, lack of affection from parents, parental rejection are the three significant factors that hugely contribute to the development of psychopathic traits in a child. People who don’t receive proper attention and care from parents during childhood tend to have a thought process that they need to take care of themselves.

2. Traumatic Childhood Experiences

It is another leading cause that hugely contributes to the development of psychopathic traits. A 2013 study 29 has found that people who have childhood experience of any major accident, abuse, sexual assault, separation of parents, repetitive academic failures, death of a loved one, maltreatment, and school bullying are more likely to suffer from ASPD later in life.

3. Unhealthy Household Environment

Many psychologists consider that an unhealthy household environment can also contribute to the development of psychopathic traits in children. Studies 30 have shown that children who have experienced abuse and manipulation in their household are more prone to have a negative attitude towards life as they navigate their own conflicts.

4. Brain Injury

A 2014 research paper 31 suggests that a person who has experienced trauma or damage to the frontal lobes of their brain due to any head injury or dementia is also at risk to develop antisocial behavior.

Diagnose Of Psychopathy

Psychopathy is not an official diagnosis rather the psychological condition mental health experts often diagnose is ASPD. Diagnosis and treatment of this personality disorder is nothing less than a challenge. It is more difficult mostly because a person with ASPD doesn’t believe that there is something problematic about their personality and behavior. As a result of this, they don’t agree to seek medical help and therapy. However, they may seek help because of a co-occurring problem, including depression and anxiety.

Read More About Anxiety Here

Mental health specialists often use DSM-5 to diagnose ASPD. The DSM-5 32 has mentioned that an individual has ASPD if he/she is experiencing three or more traits of the following:

  • Feels no guilt or remorse for the harm they cause to others
  • Has a lying or deceiving nature
  • Has no value of others’ emotions
  • Prone to engage in conflicts
  • Breaks social rules and law sometimes knowingly
  • Unable to differentiate between right and wrong
  • Control or manipulate others for their own benefit

Along with the traits, there are some other criteria also, such as:

  • The behaviors should appear across multiple areas of life.
  • The person should be 18 years old or above.
  • The traits should develop by age 15 and during the teenage years.

The diagnose process of ASPD involves:

  • A psychological evaluation
  • Medical history checking
  • A physical evaluation
  • Comparison of the ASPD symptoms with DSM-5
  • Contact with the person’s loved ones to know about the person’s behavior
  • Questionnaire regarding the person’s feelings, thoughts, behavior, the status of personal and professional relationships
  • Genetic testing or neuroimaging

Treatment Of Psychopathy

Treatment of Psychopathy

Psychopathic behavior and traits are closely associated with ASPD and it is a widely debated issue whether psychopathy can be treated or not. Many researchers believe that it is one of the most complex mental health conditions which cannot be treated. Meanwhile, others argue that psychotherapy can help reduce the severity of the behavior, such as violence or aggressive nature. However, female psychopaths require different medication or therapy approaches, as they are less likely to be violent, as compared to male psychopaths.

There is no specific treatment for psychopathy, but there is psychotherapy named, Caldwell’s decompression therapy 33 that is believed to be effective to treat this psychological condition. This particular therapy helps a person with antisocial behavior to:

  • Understand their condition
  • Control anger and aggressive behavior
  • Reduce violent behavior
  • Manage substance abuse, if any
  • Learn different beneficial coping techniques
  • Learn ways to manage their symptoms

If a person with ASPD is suffering from a co-occurring problem as well, including depression, stress, anxiety, and substance misuse, the mental health professional may prescribe other medications also to treat them.

Read More About Major Depressive Disorder (Depression) Here

How To Deal With A Psychopath

Psychopaths are extremely difficult to spot as they have a broad range of complex negative personality traits. But on the other hand, it is extremely important for us to recognize a psychopath as such personalities can harm one’s life for their own benefit without even thinking about the relationship and further consequences. Though it is quite difficult, there are some easy ways you can effectively deal with a psychopath and protect yourself as well, such as:

  • Keep your emotions to yourself only when dealing with a psychopath. Don’t lose your cool or express too many emotions as psychopathic individuals can use your weakness later for their own benefit.
  • Never show that you are intimidated as psychopaths often use intimidation to control and manipulate others.
  • Many psychopathic personalities are pathological liars, they can lie for their gain and prove others wrong. That’s why it is important to avoid their long-winded tales as they tend to refuse to take responsibility for their own wrongdoings.
  • Avoid any kind of communication with such personalities as they have an uncanny ability to pick important information even from the simplest conversation and use it when needed.
  • Always try to turn the conversation back on them, if possible. Try to question more and answer less.
  • Try to be neutral in front of them and don’t share your true perspective or opinion.
  • Set strong boundaries while communicating with such psychopathic personalities.

Protect Yourself From Psychopaths

Psychopathy is a human personality trait and not a mental health disorder. The traits it involves are closely interconnected with ASPD and mostly include complex negative characteristics. To reduce the severity of such antisocial behavior, a mental health specialist may prescribe both therapy and medication, along with some beneficial lifestyle changes.

There is no cure for ASPD, but if you have a psychopathic individual in your life who can cause you harm, it is best for you to avoid them. If that person is one of your loved ones and you can’t avoid or remove that person from your life, then you don’t have to accept all their negative behaviors towards you. You can try to convince or encourage them to consult with a psychologist and seek professional support only if they are willing to do so.

Psychopath At A Glance

  1. A psychopath is a person who has ASPD involving antisocial behavior, superficial charm, a lack of empathy and emotion, callousness, and untruthfulness.
  2. Traumatic childhood experiences and poor parent-child relationships can be two contributing factors in the development of ASPD in children.
  3. Though often confused, sociopathy and psychopathy have a few differences between them regarding their personality traits.
  4. A psychopath is not necessarily always violent and criminal-minded, it largely depends on their respective situations.
  5. Males are three times more likely to develop psychopathic traits, as compared to females.
  6. It is extremely difficult to diagnose and treat, but Caldwell’s decompression therapy is considered beneficial for this psychological condition.
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