Today, you’re going to learn how to deal with a sociopath (at work and at home) and identify one by paying attention to the 21 clear traits of a sociopath.
A pronounced lack of empathy, a relative immunity to experiencing negative emotions, and a ruthless and calculating attitude towards social and interpersonal relationships.
These signs could indicate that you are dealing with a sociopath.
What Is A Sociopath?
A sociopath is someone who has an antisocial personality disorder, characterized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as “a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others.”
Antisocial personality disorder is diagnosed when three or more of the following seven “pathological personality traits” are present:
1. Manipulation: Frequent use of seduction, charm, or ingratiation to control or influence others and achieve one’s ends.
2. Deceitfulness: Misrepresentation of self and embellishment or fabrication of events.
3. Callousness: Aggression, sadism with lack of concern for feelings or problems of others, and lack of guilt or remorse about the negative effects of one’s actions on others.
4. Hostility: Anger or irritability in response to minor slights and insults, and mean or vengeful behavior.
5. Irresponsibility: Disregard for obligations or commitments and lack of respect for agreements and promises.
6. Impulsivity: Acting on a momentary basis without consideration of outcomes and difficulty in establishing and following plans.
7. Risk-taking: Engagement in dangerous and potentially self-harming activities, unnecessarily and without regard for consequences.
Although sociopaths are known for being conscienceless, the psychiatric nomenclature—the DSM never mentions the word conscience.
This is mainly because internal states and emotions aren’t observable traits. Instead diagnostic descriptions refer to more observable characteristics like callousness and deceitfulness.
Socio-for social or society, -pathy for a disease. It’s a disorder of social conscience.
Some of the characteristics of the diagnosis are a lack of remorse, a penchant for deceit, and a failure to conform to social norms. (*)
Psychopathy and sociopathy are largely now used interchangeably, though some academics distinguish between the two based on genetics, aggression, or other factors.
Some psychopaths choose to call themselves sociopaths because of the negative connotations of psycho in popular culture.
How do I know if Im dealing with a sociopath?
21 Traits of a Sociopath
#1. They Don’t View Themselves As “Disordered”
Even though they might recognize that they’re “different” from most people in terms of their personality structure, sociopaths don’t view themselves as people who suffer from a form of mental illness per se.
Quite the contrary, they seem content with their lifestyle and feel fortunate that many issues and concerns don’t cause them as much uncertainty or distress as they do to other people.
They might not experience many objective (or subjective) negative consequences associated with being highly psychopathic, and might even excel across various life domains (e.g., academic, occupational).
#2. They’re Not All Criminals
Contrary to the popular belief, not every sociopath is a criminal. In fact, the majority of sociopaths lives freely and anonymously in society.
They fit in with varying degrees of success, holding down jobs, getting married, having children, living completely undetected, and might even become contributing members of society.
Many sociopaths adhere to a religion that gives them the moral guidance and keeps them out of prison and safely hidden in the crowd.
However, the heart of morality is something they don’t really understand. They might often follow their own course with little need for justification.
#3. They Are Empathy-Free Creations
They find it difficult to contextualize their own emotions and find it even more difficult to understand the emotions of others.
One study conducted by King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry revealed that the brains of sociopathic criminals show distinctly less gray matter in the areas of the brain that are essential for understanding the emotions of others.
Another study has shown that sociopathic brains have a lower number of connections between the prefrontal cortex (which helps regulate emotions, processes threats, and facilitates decision-making) and the amygdala (which processes emotions).
#4. They Feel Emotions, They Simply Don’t Pay Attention To Them
One theory by psychopath researcher and University of Wisconsin professor Joseph Newman, states that sociopathy is largely an attentional disorder.
The sociopath is getting all the right input but is not paying attention to it in the same way that everyone else is.
Newman argues that sociopaths feel the same breadth of emotions that normal people do, but that they do not pay attention to the emotions as others do and this is why they experience them differently.
#5. They Don’t Automatically Pick Up On Social Cues
Most people pick up on social cues automatically and unconsciously.
They tune in to other people’s emotional stations, read body language unconsciously and display appropriate emotional responses in a natural way.
Sociopaths, on the other hand, have to pick up on social cues manually. They have to be extra vigilant and have to learn their way, which is a lot of work.
Because there is an infinite number of pathways and nuances in human social and emotional interactions, they can never be as fast as most people intuiting emotions or applying the appropriate, natural responses.
This can cause unfortunate tensions with friends and lovers.
#6. The Suffer From A Degree Of “Mind-Blindness”
Because of their inability to feel empathy, researchers, like Simon Baron-Cohen, believe that sociopaths suffer from a degree of mind-blindness.
So how are their able to manipulate so well?
They practice. Having to deal with people daily, offer them a lot of opportunities to practice and compensate for their mind-blindness in whatever way that works for them.
They might even become amazingly insightful, to the point that people proclaim that no one else has ever understood them as well as they do.
But the truth is they don’t understand them at all. They simply make predictions based on the past behavior that these people had exhibited to them.
#7. They Are Highly Immune To Depression
Sociopaths would tell themselves wonderful stories about how attractive, smart, and powerful they are, and believe these stories.
This helps them experience less unpleasant emotions like sadness, guilt, and remorse. They like to think that their actions are self-aggrandizing.
The only situation in which they may feel shame or embarrassment is when they have been outplayed.
So in order to fit in, they usually attempt to mimic the manifestations of guilt and other unpleasant emotions, but they almost never actually feel these emotions in their lives.
#8. They Are Literal
Another side effect of lacking empathy is taking things too literally.
Sociopaths are often completely oblivious to sarcasm. They often use words in their ordinary dictionary meaning.
But the widespread sarcasm can be an advantage for sociopaths.
It allows them to speak their mind sincerely, such as their desire to exploit their admirers or kill cute animals, and actually have people laugh it off, thinking that they’re joking.
#9. They Are Excellent At Deceit
When showing their true feelings (or lack thereof) or expressing their true thoughts might get them in trouble or cause them to be branded as antisocial, sociopaths would simply lie.
One study conducted by Yaling Yang of the University of Southern California revealed that habitual liars had on average 22 percent to 26 percent more white matter in their prefrontal cortex than both the normal and antisocial controls.
White matter is the group of brain cells that carry electrical signals from one group of neurons to another, connecting the different parts of the brain.
According to Yang, these connections allow you to “jump from one idea to another,” fabricating stories from otherwise unrelated stories and ideas, which facilitates lying.
What is not clear is whether repeated lying created these extra connections, or liars already possessed these extra connections.
#10. They Are Hungry For Power
Sociopaths are uniformly hungry for power, whether it was physical power, the power of being desired or admired, destructive power, invisible influence, etc.
When they thinking about ruining people, they don’t necessarily want to witness the results, they simply want to exercise their power.
For them it feels good to know that they can and are good at it. The fact that it is wrong or can hurt people is not the point.
#11. They Use Their Charm And Confidence To Get What They Want
Despite their bad reputation, the silent majority of sociopaths are known for their exceptional, albeit superficial, charm.
Sociopaths like using their charm and confidence to get people to do things for them that they otherwise wouldn’t.
However, they don’t view it as manipulation but simply using “what God gave them” to influence others.
#12. They Mirror Their Targets
Sociopaths charm people by giving the impression that they can fulfill their target’s fantasies.
They observe their target and become a facsimile of whatever or whoever that person wants—a good employee or boss or lover or friend.
The facsimile might not be always malicious or ill-intentioned, but it makes the target feel good for the course of the transaction or relationship.
This comes at a price. Sociopaths won’t charm their target if they’re not getting something from them, often money or power or simply even the enjoyment of their target’s admiration and desire.
#13. They’re Excellent At Seduction
Sociopaths know that people are so starved for love, so they study love and seduction and use it to manipulate others—the fleeting touches, the vague statements of devotion, the powerful embraces, etc.
Their love interests become dependent on them for their daily happiness. This power thrills the sociopaths.
Do sociopaths love?
Love can also become an addiction for them. They love being adored and admired.
However, their seduction game doesn’t last long, especially when there is nothing there for them more than exercising their power.
They treat love like sport finishing. The fun being in catching the fish, and not in cleaning and cooking it.
Most psychologists think that sociopaths cannot love, but sociopaths view it as a different kind of love, more calculating and self-aware.
#14. They Have No Particular Sexual Identity
Early in its history as a psychological disorder, sociopathy was thought to be connected to homosexuality or other “abnormal” sexual behaviors.
The original Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), released by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952, listed homosexuality as a sociopathic personality disturbance.
In his book The Mask of Sanity, Hervey M. Cleckley acknowledged that “[t]he real homosexual seeking an outlet for his own impulses often finds it possible to engage the psychopath in deviated activities, sometimes for petty rewards, sometimes for what might best be called just the hell of it.”
Moreover, sociopaths view sex as pretty fun, but it doesn’t mean anything to them in the way it means things to other people.
#15. They Tend To Crave Stimulation And Are Easily Bored
Sociopaths tend to find it hard to keep a job for more than a few years or to focus on one project for a particular length of time.
They’re constantly obsessed with power, playing and winning games, appeasing their boredom, and seeking pleasure.
Some sociopaths would fill this need for stimulation via criminal or violent acts, especially when the opportunity presents itself.
But the majority of sociopaths would feed their need for stimulation via other more legitimate routes, such as pursuing careers.
#16. They Are Impulsive
Sociopaths are impulsive and can become fixated on an impulse to the exclusion of all else, unable to listen to reason, which leads them to make snap decisions.
Whereas impulsivity makes most people hot-headed, sociopaths experience impulsivity as coldheartedness.
#17. They Are Risk-Seeking Creations
Sociopaths know what society considers right and wrong most of the time. They simply don’t feel an emotional compulsion to conform their behavior to societal standards.
In other words, even when they know that their actions are wrong, they lack sufficient “brakes” on their violent impulses.
In fact, the sociopathic brain, characterized by excessive dopamine, is linked to a hypersensitive reward system in their brain that releases as much as four times the normal amount of dopamine in response to either a perceived gain of money or chemical stimulants.
Their strong draw to reward overwhelms the sense of risk or concern about the consequences.
Their risk-seeking behavior might also stem from a low fear response or a lack of natural anxiety in potentially dangerous or stressful situations, that might otherwise warn them to be more careful.
#18. They Make Successful Corporate
Sociopathic traits, like charm, arrogance, propensity for manipulation, dishonesty, callousness, hyper-rationality, and the rest of the sociopathic traits, help many sociopaths become successful corporate.
Paul Babiak, a New York industrial psychologist who has teamed with Dr. Robert Hare, one of the foremost researchers on sociopathy, once said “Squint at the symptoms of psychopathy, and in a different light they can appear as simple office politics or entrepreneurial prowess.”
#19. They Have An Oversized Ego
Sociopaths are known for having oversized egos. They exude confidence, much more than their looks or social stature would warrant.
One of the most noticeable aspects of my confidence in the way they sustain eye contact, which is often perceived as being confident, aggressive, or seductive.
Their uninterrupted eye contact can throw people off balance, often in an exciting way that imitates feelings of infatuation.
#20. They Are Self-Centered
The mental stories of sociopaths don’t include elements of guilt or moral responsibility, only self-interest and self-preservation.
They don’t make a choice based on moral values but rather on cost-benefit.
They would dispose of people once their burden to them exceeded their utility.
Even when they attempt an act of kindness, they’re usually concerned only for themselves. They don’t feel anything other than a desire to solve a problem in the simplest way possible.
They focus on how smart they are or how well they play a situation.
#21. They Are Ruthless
Sociopaths are known for being ruthless, especially with people they consider enemies.
They Are Connoisseurs Of Insecurities.
Sociopaths usually don’t say much about themselves, preferring to learn about others and uncover their vulnerabilities.
They listen to people and pay attention to their insecurities, like body image, and age, and use that knowledge to manipulate them.
Even when a sociopath reveals “personal” details about himself, he does so strategically, i.e., for the purposes of creating a false sense of intimacy or trust.
They don’t like people to look at them, but also they almost never bother to look closely at themselves.
However, they may try to soften their edges around people and not hurt them, especially the consequences of their hurt result in withheld privileges or retracted social favor.
Can You Identify A Sociopath?
The great majority of sociopaths will never be chased by the police, or thrown into prison. And even when formal laws are broken, sociopaths are often able to deceive and manipulate judges by putting on faux emotional displays.
They move through the correctional system relatively quickly and are granted early release more than twice as often as non-sociopathic criminals.
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How To Deal With A Sociopath (Antisocial Personality Disorder)?
1. How to Deal With a Sociopath at Work?
Whether the sociopath was your co-worker or employer, features of sociopathic behavior in a work setting might include the following:
- Flattering the victim,
- Counterfeiting kindness and generosity,
- Manipulative “Pity play”,
- Cultivating a sense of indebtedness,
- Cold-blooded betrayal.
The stress of being targeted by the sociopath at work can be devastating to both your mental and physical health.
The goal here is to make the suffering stop as soon as possible and make your workplace safe and healthy.
#1. Maintain Emotional Privacy
The sociopath feeds on your anger, fear, confusion, and distress. The more vulnerability you show them, the more they will try to manipulate you.
Maintain your emotional privacy and try to remain calm. If the sociopath approaches you directly, you can acknowledge that you know about the sociopath’s actions – this way you place the sociopath on notice that you won’t fall for his manipulation.
You don’t have to announce what you are going to do about the situation. Your silence about your intentions can be powerful enough to stop the sociopath.
If they directly ask what you intend to do, you can simply say “I haven’t decided yet.”
Try to be the one who ends any conversation with the sociopath. Simply tell him that you need to go and walk away.
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#2. Decide Whether Staying In The Job and Fighting Is Worth It
Consider whether the emotional and perhaps physical damage inflicted by the sociopath is worth staying in the job and fighting.
Be honest with yourself when answering this question. Workplaces usually resist change, especially when it comes to conflicts.
Before you decide, consider whether it’s possible to get the sociopath ousted or would leaving the job on your terms, with the goal of taking responsible care of yourself, be a more reasonable choice.
2. When The Sociopath Is Your Child
Learning that innocence is not shared by all children can leave the parent devastated.
The American Psychiatric Association considers antisocial personality disorder to be a diagnosis for adults only.
Patients, younger than eighteen, the DSM-5 are diagnosed with “conduct disorder.”
This disorder is characterized by persistent violations of social norms and the rights of others (destructiveness, lying, stealing, torturing and killing animals, verbal and physical aggression, cruel and damaging behavior toward people, and the absence of guilt and remorse).
#1. Get Support
Your Conscienceless Child’s Condition Is Not Your Fault!
Recognize that your child’s lack of conscience is not your fault. You simply have fallen into unfortunate circumstance – you didn’t do this to your child.
You will need all of your strength to deal with your child, so treat yourself with kindness, reach out for support, and seek help for yourself too (for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Acute Trauma Reaction).
You can search for therapists in your geographical area through the service of the American Psychological Association (www.apa.org) or the National Register of Health Service Psychologists (www.nationalregister.org).
Online therapy is also an option. It can be much affordable than in-person therapy, but can be equally effective. (source)
I recommend Online-Therapy.com for affordable online therapy.
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#2. Contingency Management
Psychiatric hospitalization and boot camps are ineffective treatment and may worsen your child’s behavior.
The most effective therapeutic approach known to conduct disorder is contingency management along with social skills training and academic support through the child’s school.
Positive contingency management is essentially a teaching technique that involves an “if/then” pairing (if you do that, then this will happen).
In instinctive child-rearing, contingencies usually occur naturally and contain a social reward: If the child puts his toys back, then the parent smiles at him.
Putting the toy back is the positive behavior, and the parent’s smile is the reward.
When the child has conduct disorder, contingencies need to be deliberate, announced in advance, and clearly defined on a “points chart.”
Each behavior has a value on the points chart, and each reward is listed with its “price” in points.
Conduct disorder children being far less motivated than other children by social rewards, (an extra game with the parent, an extra bedtime story, a hug, etc) the price should include material and conspicuously gratifying rewards (favorite meals, computer time, new clothing, etc).
These behaviors should include very basic pro-social and nonviolent conduct, such as being good (i.e., not yelling or shoving or throwing anything) during the car ride, using only “good” language during dinner, not lying to the teacher, not saying or doing anything that causes a classmate to become upset or cry, etc.
If your child suffers from ADHD in addition to conduct disorder, medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can help.
#3. Communicate Openly With Your Other Children
The presence of a child with conduct disorder can create tremendous pressures and anguish for the entire family, especially the younger siblings.
Keep an open and ongoing discussion of the lack of conscience and its effects on your other children and give them more specific information as they grow older.
Without discussing these issues with them, they mind end up feeling devastated and alone, just as you did.
Sociopaths’ minds are very different from most people’s.
Their brain structure is different: they have a smaller amygdala (emotional center), poorer connections between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex (decision-making, inter alia), etc.
This makes their thoughts not as dominated by emotions.
How that manifests in the individual sociopath depends on different factors.
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Confessions of a Sociopath, © 2013 by M. E. Thomas. All rights reserved.
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Outsmarting the Sociopath Next Door, © 2020 by Martha Stout. All rights reserved.
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- Antisocial Personality Disorder: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment (clevelandclinic.org)
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- Frontiers | The Role of Oxytocin in Antisocial Personality Disorders: A Systematic Review of the Literature (frontiersin.org)
- The etiology of antisocial personality disorder: The differential roles of adverse childhood experiences and childhood psychopathology – ScienceDirect