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Psychopath: How to Recognize Them, Types and 39 Signs & Ways to Cope

You might think that someone you know is crazy, so you want to know the signs of a psychopath. Here is everything you need to know and how to cope.

signs of a psychopath

Psychopaths must keep their true nature concealed for them to control, deceive, and manipulate the people around them. Skilled actors and fakers, they do what they can to gain your trust only to make you fall into their elaborate traps. There are signs of a psychopath to help you sort out who you’re dealing with.

But first, let’s talk about the different kinds of psychopathy.

Kinds of psychopathy

Psychopathy consists of different subcomponents. One of the most popular models of psychopathy is the two-factor model. 

1. Primary psychopathy

Primary psychopathy involves personality characteristics such as being cold, callous, and manipulative. [Read: 42 signs and ways to see manipulative behavior and stop being used by people]

It has been called “successful” psychopathy because it has lower guilt and some empathy. People with this kind of psychopathy can use these traits to achieve power in society.

2. Secondary psychopathy

The other kind of psychopathy is secondary psychopathy. This is referred to as the “unsuccessful” kind because it involves more risky and impulsive behaviors.

For example, people with the secondary kind might turn to crime and spend life in prison. Whereas someone with the primary kind might ascend to be a world leader or run a major corporation. [Read: Narcissistic abuse – 16 subtle signs a narcissist is abusing you]

What psychopathy is NOT 

Many people think they know what psychopathy is, but they often confuse it with other things. Here is what psychopathy is NOT.

1. Psychopathy is NOT limited to certain categories of people

A person of any demographic – gender, race, cultural background, or age – is equally as likely to be affected by psychopathy. However, the characteristics of psychopathy might manifest differently in different people. 

For example, male psychopaths are more likely to be physically aggressive, whereas females are more likely to be socially aggressive, such as bullying or ostracizing people. [Read: Emotional bullying – how to recognize a bully and stand your ground]

2. Psychopathy is NOT the same as psychosis

When someone has psychosis, they have the inability to tell truth from fantasy. They may have hallucinations or delusions, such as believing that they have supernatural powers. 

Some people with psychosis also have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. These disorders are not connected to psychopathy. However, it’s possible to have both psychopathy and one of these disorders.

3. Psychopathy is NOT the same as violence or crime

Criminal and violent activity isn’t only the result of psychopathy. There are many reasons people might act like that. [Read: Psychopath vs. sociopath vs. narcissist – 27 subtle ways to tell the difference]

In fact, most people who are violent or engage in criminal activity aren’t actually psychopathic. And many psychopaths aren’t even violent.

Causes of psychopathy 

The exact causes of psychopathy are still unknown, but it’s most likely a combination of genetics, environmental, and interpersonal factors. 

For example, children of psychopaths are more likely to become one themselves. This suggests that there is a genetic component to psychopathy. [Read: Dark triad personality – what it is, and 25 signs and ways to deal with them]

However, there are also some early life experiences that have been shown to increase the risks of psychopathy. Poor parenting, parents that focus on punishment over rewards, and inconsistent parenting also contribute to the development of the condition.

Other risk factors for psychopathy include substance abuse by the parents, separation from parents *or lack of involvement*, and child physical abuse or neglect.

Is there a psychopath test?

Yes, there are tests that can be used to diagnose possible psychopathy. One is called the TriPM, and it’s a valid and reliable assessment. [Read: Am I a narcissist? 24 narcissistic personality disorder causes and big signs]

Another test is called the ICU which is valid for assessing callous-unemotional traits, which are risk factors, especially for youths. 

Scores on the TriPM and ICU are technically not clinical diagnoses. For a mental disorder to be a clinical diagnosis, it has to be listed in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems or The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5.

These are manuals that mental health professionals use to diagnose mental illness. And for some reason, psychopathy is not listed in them. [Read: Why we need to break down the stigma of mental illness]

There are also tests that prisons, jails, and other detention settings use for assessment too. They use the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised *PCL-R*.

It’s also important to note that psychopathy exists on a spectrum, regardless of what scale or test is used to measure it. 

However, no psychopathy score can definitively predict a person’s future outcomes. So, that means there is no one test that is fail-proof and better than the others. [Read: Am I dating a sociopath? 26 warning signs, effects, and ways to get over it]

That’s because all measures of psychopathy have their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, some are more appropriate for some settings than others. 

The PCL-R test was created for forensic settings, so it’s not well-suited for assessing yourself or someone else you know.

However, scores on these tests can be used to compare a person’s level of psychopathy with typical scores for people of their age and gender. [Read: Narcissistic sociopath – how they think, 31 signs, and ways to deal with them]

They can also estimate a person’s risk for engaging in violent, criminal, or antisocial behavior.

Signs of a psychopath

Psychopaths come across as normal. However, their real character always has a way of seeping through.

So, if you suspect someone you know is a psychopath, take a look at these signs. Does it all check out? [Read: Big lessons I learned from being lied to for 5 years]

1. Early behavioral problems

Look at their childhood. Did they enjoy hurting, torturing, or killing animals? Did they have a long history of lying that goes back to their childhood years?

2. Juvenile delinquency

They may also have a history of juvenile delinquency, such as petty crimes, stealing, hurting animals, hurting other people, or even hurting themselves for their own means.

3. Walking contradiction

They tend to have this street-smart, been-there-done-that toughness combined with some innocence that draws their victims to them. [Read: Narcissistic victim syndrome – what it is and how to escape the mess]

They also contradict themselves in one long sentence. Or they say one thing and display another without batting an eyelash. This is a big sign of a psychopath.

4. Excessive and superficial charm

They adopt a sense of normalcy to fit in a function in society. This is called a “mask.” 

Others interpret it as charm and magnetism. Psychopaths do good deeds or are exceptionally pleasant, but this is only to gain people’s trust. [Read: Emotional manipulation – ways how people mess with your mind]

5. A standout

A psychopath, for some reason, piques your curiosity, which is another sign. 

You see one standing across the street doing nothing, yet the person makes you wonder about them and what they’re up to. Often, just a look at one stranger that turns out to be psychopathic sends chills down your spine.

6. A bit “off” 

Most of the time, they come off as charming, innocent, and genuine, yet there’s something about them that leaves you unconvinced. [Read: Pussy tease – how to be a charming guy who seduces in slow motion]

It could be with the way their smile doesn’t reach their eyes, or how their body language and expression seem rehearsed.

7. Flashes of contempt

Talk to someone and you’ll see micro-expressions *feelings that come and go and manifest in a person so fast it is easily missed* of contempt. 

This feeling may be unrelated to what you are talking about, but this just stems from a psychopath undervaluing you and overvaluing themselves. [Read: 25 signs of covert narcissism – a special kind of mind game]

8. Veiled “tells” 

Another sign of a psychopath is that they have a way of subtly exposing their true selves or intentions to unsuspecting victims. All because they find it fun and satisfying. 

They tend to drop hints of their true nature. Things like, “You’re way too trusting, cons can easily dupe you” or “Watch out, wolves come in sheep’s clothing.”

9. Superbly cunning

They are also incredibly terrific manipulators. [Read: 16 secrets to manipulate a manipulator and make them feel powerless around you]

Even if they tell you the most outrageous things, you find yourself believing them because of their expertly woven words and actions that always get them what they want.

10. Criminal versatility

Check a psychopath’s criminal record, and you’ll see a wide array of crimes committed. 

With their unusually high sense of self, lack of empathy, and guilt, it’s easy for them to commit any crime as long as it suits them. [Read: How to spot the liars on an online dating site]

11. Grandiose sense of self-worth

They think they’re better, even far superior to everyone else, which is a huge sign of a psychopath. And this sense of self-worth, wherein they believe they’re smarter or more powerful than everyone, shows by their actions, expressions, language, and attitudes.

12. Deviant sexuality

While it’s quite normal to have specific sexual preferences or even fetishes, psychopaths more aggressively seek their unique bedroom quirks. 

They manipulate, trick, deceive, and even aggressively ensure their deviant sexual desires are satisfied. [Read: Sex demons – historical excuses for deviant sexual behavior]

13. Incredibly guiltless

If they hurt someone and things escalate, they apologize just to appease the person. However, they have no clue as to what else lies beyond the apology. 

They only pretend to be guilty to get people off their backs. Deep inside, they are incapable of feeling guilt and remorse.

14. Disfluencies in speech 

Now, you might not think this is a sign of a psychopath since a lot of people do this. But they may use “Uh,” “Ahhh,” or “Ummm” a lot in their speech. [Read: Compulsive liar – why they lie, 22 signs and ways to spot them and walk away]

This might be because they frame a story or think of ways to make their victims believe them, calculating to hide their real intent.

15. Prolific speaker

Still, they can be very interesting and convincing, especially when they open their mouths. 

They weave the most outrageous tales and everyone in the room believes it. They also deliver elaborate speeches like an expert actor, which they actually are. [Read: Secret giveaways that reveal if someone is lying to you]

16. Shallow emotions

At a funeral, you spot a psychopath by their lack of emotion. Even if they get injured due to an accident, they don’t respond the way any other person normally does. 

Still, they feign these emotions just to fit in or manipulate others. In reality, they don’t have deep emotions underneath that they want to show. Simply put, fake emotional display.

17. Calm to rage and back again

Since their emotions are shallow, they are also short-lived. They change from one extreme emotion to another like they have a switch, which is another big sign of a psychopath. [Read: Narcissistic rage – how to handle the angry backlash of the narcissist]

18. Lack of empathy

Tell psychopaths to put themselves in other people’s shoes, and you might as well be talking to a wall. While they recognize emotions and copy them, they themselves have an impaired ability to feel deep emotions.

Robbing them of the ability to empathize with other people, especially those who have become their victims. [Read: Reasons why empathy is important in a relationship]

19. Preying on other people’s emotions

Don’t get them wrong—psychopaths know emotions all too well, even if they can’t feel them. It’s like telling the blind to describe colors. 

Therefore, it’s easy for them to play with other people’s emotions just to get what they want or even to just see other people suffer.

20. Unfazed

Psychopaths are known to have a reduced startle response. They rarely feel fear, if at all, and they are not easily surprised. [Read: Emotionally unavailable man signs – 25 red flags to look for]

According to studies, this is because of decreased activity in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, among other emotions.

21. Sucker for thrills

They are into dangerous and extreme sports and activities. This can be anything such as base jumping, skydiving, drag racing, exhibitionism, or getting into trouble with authorities. 

It could even be carelessly cheating on their spouses—all just for the sake of excitement. Yes, other people do this true, so it’s not an exclusive sign of a psychopath, but it definitely can be. [Read: Emotionally abusive relationships – 15 signs you just can’t miss]

22. Short personal space

They also have very little sense of personal space, so they will be all up in your face. In a social setting, psychopaths stand too close for comfort.

23. Eerily calm façade

Their lack of inhibitions, overly high self-esteem, and calculating nature give them a disconcertingly calm façade—even if their mind races with ways to control and torment you.

24. Pathological lying

Just because someone lies doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a sign that they are a psychopath. [Read: The biggest signs of a pathological liar and how to easily spot one]

However, if they are incapable of caring about what others may feel or what the repercussions of their actions are, psychopaths will not think twice about lying and deceiving. They tell all sorts of things, with one plausible lie after another, to get what they want.

25. Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom

Psychopaths’ minds are always active, and they feel restless when they’re bored. For them, there’s nothing to do when it’s still and quiet. 

So, they’re constantly out and about, always in need of entertainment. [Read: Toxic people – 25 early warning signs to watch out for]

26. Parasitic lifestyle

They leech off their neighbors or take credit for something they didn’t do at the expense of other people. They like to rise while others around them suffer.

While that’s not always a sign of a psychopath, it can be. And don’t be surprised if they throw you under the bus after you help them.

27. Failure to own up

They also are incapable of genuinely admitting their mistakes. They can’t take it that they are wrong and can’t take responsibility for their actions. [Read: Immature men – 27 manchild signs and why you should stay away from him]

In fact, they turn their mistakes to the accuser. Even using manipulative tactics to put the blame somewhere else other than them.

28. Saintly

You really can’t judge a book by its cover. While people can be very charitable and altruistic, beware as they may only be hiding behind that phony pretense to make you fall into their trap.

29. Lack of realistic long-term goals

Since they have an incredible sense of self-worth, psychopaths have unreliable goals ahead. Theirs are exaggerated, grandiose, and highly unrealistic. [Read: Does he or doesn’t he see a future with you? 30 signs to read him]

30. Pity party

Psychopaths are experts at using your emotions to their advantage, so you see them as the “poor fellow.” They make it seem like they’re the ones bearing the brunt of injustice.

Coping with a psychopath

If you have a psychopath in your life, then it is incredibly difficult to deal with them. But here are some things you can try to make it a little easier.

1. Control your emotions

As much as you can, try to stay calm and don’t show the psychopath your emotions. [Read: How to get rid of nervousness and calm your mind wherever you are]

The reason you should do this is that when you show them your emotions, it gives them leverage over you. By staying calm, you aren’t giving away your weak parts and they can’t control you.

2. Don’t be intimidated

For sane people, it’s difficult not to be intimidated by someone who is yelling and trying to intimidate you. But you need to be very assertive when they are trying to scare you. Don’t show them that their demeanor bothers you.

3. Ignore their stories

Psychopaths often tell elaborate stories to make themselves look better than they really are or appear like a victim. [Read: Gray rock method – what it is, 23 secrets, and how to use it on a narcissist]

So, you should take all of their stories with a grain of salt. They’re just designed to try to control you.

4. Make the conversation about them

It’s not a good idea to directly confront a psychopath since they can be dangerous. But you can ask them how they’re doing when they have an angry outburst or try to blame things on you. Make yourself sound concerned for their well-being rather than a judgment.

5. Take care of your own mental health

If you can’t stay away from the psychopath for some reason, then you will find that your own mental health will suffer because of it. [Read: How to be happy in life – hacks to find real happiness instantly]

You might develop anxiety or depression. So, take some time to make sure you stay mentally clear.

6. Stay away from them if it’s possible

There are certain situations in which you can’t get away from a psychopath, such as if you’re a child and your parent is one. But if you can avoid them, you should stay as far away from a psychopath as humanly possible.

Can you treat psychopathy?

There are some treatment options available for psychopaths. It can’t be cured, but sometimes, it can be managed with different treatments so they are less dangerous to themselves and others. [Read: Can a narcissist change? Why it’s hard and subtle signs they’ll change for you]

1. Cognitive behavioral therapy

This treatment focuses on the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The interconnection between these factors can cause a vicious cycle of repeated triggers, leading to harmful actions.

2. Antipsychotics

Another possible treatment is antipsychotic drugs. Since psychopaths can be violent and aggressive in their thoughts and actions, these drugs might help reduce the urge to harm other people. 

3. Mood stabilizers

Mood stabilizers are another class of drugs that can help treat psychopathy. They can reduce the agitation and delusions that can lead psychopaths to act violently.

However, the conventional view of treating psychopathy is that it just doesn’t work. [Read: 73 red flag narcissism signs and traits of a narcissist to read them like a book]

Many studies have shown that the behaviors of the psychopath don’t change in response to psychoanalysis, group therapy, client-centered therapy, psychodrama, psychosurgery, electroconvulsive therapy, or even drug therapy.

That is because there are a lot of barriers to treatment. Some of these barriers include the fact that psychopaths don’t take treatment seriously, they lack insight as to why they need treatment, previous negative experiences with treatment, and their inability to sustain any change if it ever occurs.

[Read: How to be heartless – but it never gets you what you want]

For some reason, psychopaths have no moral compass. Or, maybe through the course of their early life, it had a major breakdown. One thing is certain, society’s moral codes simply don’t apply to them.

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...