We have all seen movies or read books that describe psychopaths. They are often portrayed as cold-blooded killers or rapists or as just pure evil.
While this is the case for some psychopaths, not all of them are violent killers. Some psychopaths have normal lives and jobs. If you think that you might be a psychopath, this list of 10 signs may help you figure it out.
10 You Have Antisocial Personality Disorder
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the official guide used by psychiatrists and psychologists to make diagnoses of mental conditions. Psychopathy is not a condition that is found in the DSM-5.
While it is considered to be a personality trait and is measured by various personality tests used by psychologists, psychopathy is not an official diagnosis that is given to a person. The closest diagnosis would be antisocial personality disorder, and the DSM-5 describes how people with antisocial personalities are often referred to as psychopaths.
You can think of “antisocial personality” as the psychiatric term and “psychopath” as the lay term. This diagnosis, however, can only be given to those who are at least 18 years old.
This is because mental health professionals tend to have a more optimistic view of children. A child’s developmental level, personality, and temperament all change as he or she grows up. Many believe that problematic behaviors in childhood can be remediated with early intervention.
There is, however, a childhood version of antisocial personality disorder. This condition is known as “conduct disorder.” Not all children with conduct disorder grow up to have antisocial personalities. The criteria for conduct disorder are rather vague, to the point where a rebellious teenager may be misdiagnosed as having conduct disorder.
However, if the child has several symptoms of conduct disorder and the issues begin at a young age, it is more likely that the child may grow up to have antisocial personality disorder, psychopathic tendencies, or both.
9 You Have Low Physiological Arousal
An interesting fact about psychopaths: Their condition affects more than their behaviors and ways of thinking. It also affects their physiology. Psychopaths have low physiological arousal and reactivity. This means that they do not respond to stimuli the same way as the rest of us do.
Think of a time when you were frightened or nervous. Maybe you heard a loud noise in the middle of the night, or maybe you were going on a first date with someone you really liked. You may have started sweating, shaking, or breathing heavily. Your heart may have been pounding, and you may have had goose bumps.
These are all normal physiological stress responses. They act as our body’s way of telling us that we might be in danger. Psychopaths, however, usually don’t have these physiological responses.
They have lower resting heart rates, blood pressure, and body temperatures. This low arousal has been associated with some psychopathic behaviors and characteristics, such as a lack of emotions and a lack of fear.
8 You Lack Empathy And Remorse
According to the DSM-5, a lack of remorse and empathy for others is one of the diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder. Empathy is the ability to understand what someone is experiencing from that person’s perspective or the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes.
Psychopaths tend to be self-involved and have trouble understanding the perspectives of other people. They often display a pattern of disregarding the needs, beliefs, and safety of others. They may also violate the rights of others, especially for personal gain.
Psychopaths, therefore, also experience a lack of remorse or guilt for their actions. Often, they are indifferent to mistreating others and rationalize their bad behaviors.
For example, psychopaths may justify stealing from someone by saying that the person deserved the theft because he left his property unattended. Or they may work as con artists and justify their actions by saying that the victim is stupid and gullible and therefore deserved to be conned.
7 You Torture And Kill Animals
Although animal abuse is not a symptom of antisocial personality disorder, it is a symptom of conduct disorder (childhood disorder). It is also a risk factor that has been linked to children developing antisocial personality disorder in adulthood.
Killing animals, however, is not always a sign of pathology. Children who spend a lot of time outdoors may engage in killing ants, bugs, tadpoles, frogs, or other small animals or insects for recreational purposes. Others enjoy fishing or hunting for fun.
It is important to distinguish what is culturally normal or appropriate from what is culturally abnormal or inappropriate. Even though individuals kill animals for sport when they hunt and fish, this would not be an indication of abnormal or psychopathic behavior because these activities are relatively normal in our society.
Examples of psychopathic behaviors toward animals may include burning, beating, or killing cats, dogs, horses, or other animals that are not commonly hunted or mistreated in our society.
6 You Are Irresponsible
Another DSM criterion of antisocial personality disorder is a lack of responsibility. The examples given in the DSM-5 are that these people have trouble keeping a job and taking care of financial responsibilities and obligations.
This can be somewhat related to the lack of guilt that is experienced by psychopaths. For example, they may commit fraud at work or lie about their credentials on their resumes, which may lead to termination of their employment. Psychopaths also may exhibit violent or aggressive behavior, which could also make it hard to keep a job.
As they are unable to stay employed, psychopaths often fail to meet financial obligations. Their other behaviors, such as impulsivity and recklessness, also contribute to their financial issues.
Psychopaths may engage in gambling or other reckless financial acts. This lack of responsibility may affect other areas of a psychopath’s life.
They may be irresponsible in their relationships with friends, family, or significant others. For example, psychopathy has been linked to intimate partner violence, especially in male psychopaths. Female psychopaths may engage in other activities such as substance use or neglecting their children or family.
5 You Are Impulsive
Impulsivity is another symptom of antisocial personality disorder. This can be exhibited in different ways. Psychopaths may impulsively say, do, or buy things without thinking about the consequences of their actions. This behavior contributes to many of the other symptoms and behaviors exhibited by psychopaths.
For example, they may impulsively spend money, contributing to their irresponsibility with financial obligations. They may also have trouble controlling their anger and impulsively act aggressive or violent.
There are some neurological findings that may explain this impulsivity and aggression. Researchers have found underdeveloped frontal lobes in psychopaths. Your frontal lobe is the part of your brain that lies behind your forehead area and controls higher-order thinking and some aspects of intelligence.
It allows you to plan what you’re going to do and say and helps you to understand the consequences of your actions. Abnormalities of the frontal lobe have been associated with impaired executive functioning (planning and problem-solving), trouble with attention and concentration, and impulsive behavior.
Due to this impaired attention, concentration, and impulsivity, frontal lobe abnormalities have also been associated with ADHD/ADD, which is often a comorbidity of conduct disorder and antisocial personality disorder.
4 You Are Reckless
Recklessness is another symptom of antisocial personality disorder. The DSM-5 describes this as a “reckless disregard for the safety of self or others.” While psychopaths tend to be self-absorbed, their impulsivity sometimes leads them to put their own health and safety at risk.
They may engage in reckless driving, spending, substance use, or sexual behaviors. Psychopaths are often fearless, which contributes to their rash behavior. However, not all psychopaths exhibit this type of behavior.
Individual factors, such as intelligence or personality, may affect the presentation of a psychopath. For example, those who are higher functioning may have the ability to control their impulses and reckless behavior and can plan ways of manipulating people without getting caught.
3 You Engage In Criminal Activity
Criminal activity is a symptom of both conduct disorder and antisocial personality disorder. Psychopaths engage in criminal activities because they do not feel guilty about doing bad things to other people (lack of remorse). They have trouble understanding the perspectives of others and, therefore, do not understand what it would feel like to be violated, assaulted, or stolen from (lack of empathy).
As previously mentioned, psychopaths are also impulsive and reckless. Therefore, they may commit crimes without thinking about the negative consequences of their actions, such as fines or arrests. While many psychopaths engage in illegal activities, not all psychopaths get caught and not everyone who is in jail is a psychopath—only about 25 percent.
Psychopaths who are better at controlling their behaviors and have higher IQs may be more likely to get away with illegal activities.
2 You Seem Kind And Charming
Having a charming personality or way of speaking is not an official symptom or criterion for antisocial personality disorder, but it is a characteristic that is often seen in psychopaths.
Although they have trouble with empathy, they do have an understanding of social expectations and how other people behave and can mimic or fake empathy and kindness. This allows psychopaths to easily control and take advantage of other people.
This charming demeanor is one of the factors that distinguish a psychopath from a sociopath. Psychopaths tend to act kind, charming, warm, and interested in you. Sociopaths are less able to act like a normal person. They make their intentions clear and don’t try to pretend that they are interested in others.
Sociopathy is not an official diagnosis in the DSM, and sociopaths are often diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder as well. Even though both sociopaths and psychopaths are diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, they differ in the behaviors and characteristics they exhibit.
1 You Are Manipulative
A final symptom of antisocial personality disorder is manipulation and deceit. Psychopaths often lie and manipulate people for personal gain or even for pleasure. They are often seen as coldhearted as they are willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want.
While these characteristics often affect psychopaths negatively, some can apply these behaviors in a more positive way. Many high-functioning and intelligent psychopaths have successful careers in fields that require manipulative personalities. For example, psychopaths often work well as salespeople, CEOs, and lawyers.
Jobs in these fields require charming dispositions, cutthroat personalities, and the ability to manipulate your clients to do what you want or to buy your products. Psychopathic personalities are perfect for these fields, and those who can stay out of jail often work in jobs similar to these.
I’m a clinical psychology PhD student specializing in neuropsychology. I grew up and live in Florida.