5 Tell-Tale Signs You May Know Someone With Psychopathic Tendencies (or Have Them Yourself)

If I wasn't studying psychopaths at the prison, I'd do it at the stock exchange. ~ Robert Hare Click To Tweet

The word “psychopath” might conjure up thoughts of horror movies or notorious fictional characters such as American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, but the truth is that psychopathic personalities exist all around us. Robert Hare, the criminal psychology researcher responsible for creating the Hare Psychopathy Checklist that is commonly used to assess cases of psychopathy, suggests that there are approximately 300,000 psychopaths in the country of Canada alone.

However, only a small proportion of these individuals are violent offenders – the rest live their day-to-day lives in an apparently fairly normal manner.

Although there is variation in the specific traits exhibited by psychopaths, there are certain psychopathic tendencies that are more common and tend to be stronger indicators of a psychopathic personality. These include:

• inflated sense of self-worth
• pathological lying
• the ability to manipulate others
• a lack of remorse and empathy
• superficial charm.

Let’s look at these one by one.

1) Inflated Sense of Self-Worth

Psychopaths believe that they possess an intrinsically high level of value compared to other people, and their interactions with others reflect this. For example, when meeting someone for the first time they will do all they can to become the most interesting person possible, even if this means tailoring their interests and responses to convey this image. The truth behind their statements doesn’t matter – all that matters is that they give other people that their perception of their self-worth that aligns with their own.

2) Pathological Lying

Another common psychopathic tendency is pathological lying. Psychopaths view others as objects and the relationships between them as a game. Using lying, psychopaths establish dominance over others and exert control over the impressions that they present to other people. With a limited range of human emotion and the inability to feel empathy for others, psychopaths are natural liars. They can lie quickly and without remorse, even when looking someone directly in the eye.

3) Ability to Manipulate Others

Masters of manipulation, psychopaths know exactly how to get what they want from others. Although this skill is sometimes used purely for pleasure – they love to relish in the high degree of power that they can exert over others – they also use it to advance themselves in the world and get what they want.

“I keep secrets, and tell them fake secrets to further gain their trust, and once they trust me enough, I ask for favours, reminding them of the favours I did them,” said Jacob Wells, a self-professed psychopath who sheds light onto the way that their minds function. “I can get literally anything from them, which is incredibly useful.”

 Using manipulation for personal gain is a prime example of how psychopaths can succeed in the world.

Referred to as industrial psychopaths, these individuals display psychopathic tendencies while at the same time avoiding a deviant lifestyle, allowing them to utilize their manipulation skills to advance themselves in the workplace. In fact, between three and four percent of senior positions are believed to be held by psychopaths.

4) Lack of Remorse and Empathy

Constantly manipulating and lying to others takes its toll on a normal person, but not for a psychopath – these individuals lack remorse or empathy. There are numerous theories as to how psychopaths come to lack remorse and empathy – one suggests deficits in areas of the brain that process emotional information, while another argues maladaptive coping mechanisms that eventually lead to their complete disengagement from the feeling and emotions of other people. 

No matter which theory is correct, an inability to connect with and process the emotions of other people makes it difficult for psychopaths to experience remorse or empathy, making it all the easier for them to lie and manipulate their way through life.

5) Superficial Charm

With their strong desire to manipulate others and the ease with which they can lie, psychopaths have no problem crafting an image of themselves that exudes a superficial charm. Each of their lies and manipulations is used to reflect a personality that gets them what they want, and most of the time this personality consists of outgoing, affable traits. In fact, a 2002 study linked psychopathy – along with narcissism – to extraversion and openness.

Given their ability to manipulate those around them and their often-charming nature, psychopaths can be difficult to spot. In fact, many use their ruthless nature to ascend to important positions in business. People with one or two of the above tendencies aren’t necessarily psychopaths, but these tendencies are the most common, tell-tale signs, and can be used to help you spot one in your workplace, or even take note of characteristics that you may exhibit yourself.

Tyler MacDonald is a writer with an interest in science, psychology and various other topics.