Sociopathy is a mental health condition that is believed to affect approximately 1 to 4 percent of adults, and is more common in women than in men, although some researchers argue that it is much more prevalent.
While the term ‘sociopathy’ is not used medically to describe a mental health condition—the closest diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is antisocial personality disorder—the average person often uses it to describe someone who exhibits certain behaviors, including these 20 telltale traits…
1. Lack of Empathy
A lack of empathy—where a person is unable to understand others’ feelings—is probably among the most well known behaviors of a sociopath. “The individual may be oblivious to the feelings or concerns of other people,” says Livestrong.com, which makes it easy for them to manipulate others for their own gain.
And when they hurt others, they tend not to feel any guilt, shame, or remorse for their actions. Dr. Axe indicates this is because “they can’t place themselves ‘in someone else’s shoes’ or imagine how someone who is hurting might be suffering.”
2. Cold Nature
Due to their limited ability to experience emotion and empathy, people with sociopathy may come across as being cold. They may demonstrate this “by not showing emotions or investment in the lives of others,” says Healthline.com, as well as easily taking advantage of those around them.
While narcissism is a personality disorder in itself, it is also a common trait among sociopaths. It’s hard not to notice narcissistic behaviors, as the individual will demonstrate “strong love and admiration toward themselves,” which HealthGuidance.org says is “often a defense mechanism against deep seated low esteem.”
The Huffington Post adds that they tend to have a “huge sense of entitlement” and also that they “tend to blame others for their own failures.”
4. Grandiose Self-Image
Going hand-in-hand with narcissism and having an inflated sense of self, sociopaths also tend to believe they’re better than everyone else, “having a sense of superiority and strong, unwavering opinions,” says Healthline.com.
In some cases they may even experience delusions. HealthGuidance.org indicates these may take the form of visions like “seeing themselves as a fitting ruler of a country or even the world” or delusional beliefs such as “seeing themselves as a God or having super powers.”
Upon first meeting a sociopath, you might actually find them to be quite charming. HealthGuidance.org explains that this is because, “While the sociopath is unable to fully understand the emotions of others, they are capable but rather highly adept at mimicking them.” We’ll get more into this later on in the article, but because sociopaths aren’t generally interested in making friends or forming intimate relationships, they are usually only using their charm to get something they want or as a tool for manipulation. “They are expert con artists and always have a secret agenda,” says Ross Rosenberg, author of the Human Magnet Syndrome to Huffington Post. “People are so amazed when they find that someone is a sociopath because they’re so amazingly effective at blending in. They’re masters of disguise. Their main tool to keep them from being discovered is a creation of an outer personality.” Sounds terrifying!
Due to their strong self-esteem, they may also come across as highly confident and intelligent, which tends to make them more attractive. But don’t be fooled, such behaviors are also usually superficial in nature.
Their charming behavior has a purpose, however, and that is to “help them lure others into their web so that they can take whatever they want,” says Psychologia.co, whether for personal gain or simply for entertainment.
And because of their lack of empathy, as mentioned earlier, sociopaths are able to engage in these manipulative behaviors without any sense of guilt, shame, or remorse.
7. Engage in Risky Behaviors
Sociopaths tend to be very unconcerned about the safety of themselves or others, making them much more likely to engage in risky behaviors. According to Health.com, these can include “excessive alcohol consumption, drug abuse, compulsive gambling…and dangerous hobbies (including criminal activities).” In the book Human Magnet Syndrome by psychotherapist Ross Rosenberg explains that people who suffer from antisocial personality disorder will basically do whatever makes them feel good, regardless of if it hurts other people, is dangerous, or even against the law. “If it feels good and they are able to avoid consequences, they will do it! They live their life in the fast lane — to the extreme — seeking stimulation, excitement, and pleasure from wherever they can get it,” writes Rosenberg.
HealthGuidance.org adds that, due to their “lack of remorse, guilt or emotional attachments,” sociopaths are “happy to have affairs and to engage in questionable sexual activity without questioning their desires.”
People with sociopathy may also struggle to conform to societal norms and be law-abiding citizens. This is because they think the rules don’t apply to them. As a result, they may get involved in criminal activities like theft or burglary, which can land them in frequent legal trouble.
In addition to breaking the law, Dr. Axe says they may “…act out in violence, get into trouble at school…and have difficulty holding a steady job.”
9. Impulsive Behavior
Due to their lack of empathy and regret, the behavior of sociopaths is likely to be more impulsive in nature. HealthGuidance.org says they may “make sudden rash decisions based on the current facts,” giving no thought to potential consequences. Healthline notes that this might be why they tend to engage in dangerous or risky behavior without any kind of consideration for their safety or the safety of others.
They tend to have a hard time making a plan and sticking to it, which can cause their finances to suffer and fracture close relationships, as they are quite unreliable. Livestrong.com adds that a sociopath’s moods can also be impulsive, changing “from sweet to outraged over something seemingly minute.” Depending on the individual, they can suffer from frequent or infrequent outbursts and even become aggressive and act out when they are upset.
Coupled with impulsivity, sociopaths’ tendency to be quite irresponsible can get them into trouble, particularly when it comes to financial, professional, and social obligations. Financially, this may mean “not paying child support when it’s due” or “allowing bills to pile up,” says Health.com. When it comes to lifestyle behaviors, they will likely struggle with alcohol or drug abuse, as well as exhibit addictive behaviors like “frequent gambling, shopping, working, spending money, and so on,” writes Dr. Axe.
While professionally, Dr. Axe says it is demonstrated through “repeated failure to sustain consistent work behaviour,” such as being late on a regular basis. And socially it may be most noticeable if they don’t appear at functions on time or at all, even if they’d previously committed to attending.
According to Health.com, sociopaths “have a reputation for being dishonest and deceitful.” This may be exhibited by compulsive lying, using aliases, or conning people either for personal gain or simply for the fun of it. The source adds that sociopaths use lying in order to “get their own way, or to get themselves out of trouble,” and they also “have a tendency to embellish the truth when it suits them.”
One of the strangest things about sociopaths is that sometimes they will lie just for the sake of lying. Harvard psychologist Dr. Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, told Huffington Post that sometimes they lie just to see if they can get away with it. “And sometimes telling larger lies to get larger effects,” she adds.
12. Poor Social Relationships
It should come as no surprise then, given the previous 11 points, that sociopaths struggle to have positive personal relationships—whether platonic or romantic. Health.com talked to Donald W. Black, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine who explained that sociopaths who are able to form relationships, will be unable to keep them from being extremely dysfunctional, chaotic, and unstable. “Rather than forge connections with the people in their lives, they might try to exploit them for their own benefit through deceit, coercion, and intimidation,” writes the source.
We previously discussed how sociopaths tend to exhibit behavior that is unlawful or risky, and in relation to that, they can sometimes be openly violent and aggressive, says Health.com. This aggression can come in the form of physical and emotional abuse. Because they have an inflated sense of confidence and need to control all situations, they might feel the need to tear others down by being abusive, especially when it comes to relationships. This verbal abuse may include “insults, deprecation, negative statements,” as well as “public or private humiliation,” writes Healthline.
Healthline also states that people with antisocial personality disorder tend to get in a lot of physical fights and are more likely to harm others.
In addition to being cold in nature, sociopaths will exhibit hostile behavior, says Health.com. They are also more likely to interpret other peoples behavior as hostile, even if it isn’t meant to be. This can create a dangerous or unfriendly situation because they are also likely to seek revenge against others when they feel threatened. The Mayo Clinic writes that antisocial personality disorder signs and symptoms can include “hostility, significant irritability, agitation, aggression or violence.”
15. Disregard for Right and Wrong
Similar to being aggressive towards other people, animals, and destructive with property, they won’t have any regard for what is right or wrong. This is also why they tend to also be considered irresponsible and unlawful. It is also why they tend to have trouble showing respect to authority figures. Not only do they think they are above the law in many ways, they just don’t seem to understand what is right or wrong, or even care for that matter.
Healthline writes that people with antisocial personality disorder might be known to “lie, cheat, steal from others, break laws, be in constant legal trouble, be in an out of jail for minor to major crimes,” and when it comes to right and wrong, they tend to not consider the long term consequences of their actions.
Sociopaths can be extremely arrogant. They will often act as though they are better than everyone else which is why they have a grandiose self-image. Healthline writes, “In addition to acting extra confident, they may also be condescending or easily irritated by others, especially those who disagree with them.”
The Mayo Clinic describes a sociopath as having “arrogance, a sense of superiority and being extremely opinionated.”
17. Eerily Calm in Scary Situations
Most people are emotionally reactive in stressful or dangerous situations, like a car accident. However, someone who suffers from antisocial personality disorder isn’t. They may find it difficult to respond genuinely to certain situations. This is particularly noticeable in scary situations as they appear to be eerily calm. These include situations that would normally incite fear or anxiety.
The Huffington Post expands on this by adding that unlike ‘normal’ people who “show fear when they see disturbing images or are threatened with electric shocks, sociopaths tend not to.”
18. Few Friends
We previously discussed that sociopaths will often have poor social relationships, both intimate and platonic, so it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that most sociopaths also have few friends. This can be a warning sign or one of many traits to help distinguish someone with antisocial personality disorder. They will have few friends for several reasons, many of which are due to the other traits that come along with this condition like aggression, manipulation, deceitfulness, etc. But mainly it’s because they’re unable to form emotional bonds, so they don’t connect with people very well. At least not past a superficial level.
Dr. Axe writes, “sociopaths tend to be loners, don’t have lots of close friends, and commonly exploit others through deceit, coercion, use of dominance or intimidation.” These are people who feel the need to control every situation which makes them difficult to work with. They “don’t care about compromise or relating in a selfless way. And if they do come off as ‘charming,’ it might be with the wrong intentions in mind.”
19. Sense of Sneakiness
In addition to the long list of other traits like deceit and manipulation, sociopaths are generally considered to be “sneaky people.” They might be reluctant to make eye contact, offer a “lack of facial expressions and a sense of mystery,” writes Dr. Axe. While this might in some cases make them seem more intriguing or interesting, the source warns that it’s usually just a disguise that is superficial and a tactic for manipulation.
20. Unable to Set Goals
We previously mentioned that sociopaths tend to have a higher IQ as they’re able to retain information quite well, they aren’t able to use this intelligence in a productive manner. This is also due to the fact that they might have an inflated sense of self worth. Dr. Axe explains that they “often experience problems with self-direction, including an abnormal ability to set goals.” It might not be overtly obvious that they have this problem because a lot of sociopaths are able to hold jobs, be married and have children, explains the source, but rather when it comes down to the little things like in their social interactions to day-to-day work ethic.
“Goals are usually internal and solely based on personal gratification, but don’t take into account “pro-social” standards (contributing to the good of society or other’s lives),” writes the source. It also doesn’t help that they tend to act impulsively and irrationally which means it’s hard for them to make good decisions.