Sociopaths and psychopaths have become such a huge part of popular culture over the last century, inhabiting the television and movie industries to such an extent that articles pop up all over the place speculating as to whether a celebrity is a sociopath, a psychopath, or something else entirely.
But how do you know if you are actually talking to a sociopath and not just projecting this natural fear onto an unfortunate acquaintance? What even is sociopathy, and how can you recognize it? Well, with just a few tips, you too can protect yourself from becoming too invested in what can easily become abusive, draining relationships.
ASPD: Nature vs Nurture
Despite their prevalence, neither sociopathy nor psychopathy are clinical terms used by doctors. Both are in fact diagnosed as Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), with there being only a very slight difference between the two terms.
It is generally accepted, for example, that psychopaths are amoral, charming, and controlled, with their antisocial behavior originating at birth and as a result of their brains not developing the same way as others.
Sociopaths, on the other hand, are more likely to have been influenced by environmental factors, such as abuse, neglect, or any combination of similar factors experienced in childhood, although genetics can still play a part.
While they can be charming, they’re more likely to be immoral, impulsive, and prone to anger. It’s also possible to ‘acquire’ sociopathy later in life, either through a head injury or from diseases that progressively eat away at the brain’s ability to function, such as dementia.
As a result, it’s vital to know what you’re looking for. After all, even a lifelong friend may begin to show some of the symptoms of sociopathy as a result of an accident or brain disease, and knowing when to get expert help can be vital for surviving this difficult condition.
What is sociopathy?
Sociopathy is an antisocial personality disorder where those suffering from the disorder have no regard for others’ rights or feelings and show a distinct lack of empathy for those around them. They do not feel remorse for wrongdoing, and they often try to exploit and manipulate others to further their own goals.
They are often likened to chameleons, charming new people and earning their trust in order to identify what they want or need so they can exploit that vulnerability.
However, sociopathy is on a spectrum, so not all sufferers are as easy to identify as the definition above suggests. In fact, only 6% of the male and 2% of the male population meet the diagnostic criteria.
This makes finding a true sociopath a rare occurrence, but at the same time, if you find yourself in a friendship or relationship where you can observe at least three of the warning signs below, it’s time to move on before more damage is done.
Signs you may be talking to a sociopath
Firstly, a warning: sociopaths are not easy to spot, and these signs will certainly not be apparent when you first meet them. However, they may become easier to spot as you spend more and more time with them. Here are six red flags that may help you identify if a partner or friend is on the sociopathic spectrum.
1. They have no empathy
For those of us in relationships, feeling like we are understood is a vital part of our understanding of love and security. However, with a sociopath, no matter how hard you try to get them to feel, they will never be able to walk a step in your shoes, let alone a mile.
For them, you are there for their pleasure to exploit and live off at their leisure. They are simply incapable of putting others first, nor do they have any desire to.
2. They lie to and deceive you
Are you unsure of your partner’s activities? Have you caught them in a lie but they refuse to acknowledge it even though you’ve told them you know? Do they tell you one thing, then immediately do another?
This kind of behavior is potentially sociopathic and, if so, will not improve over time. If you find yourself being gaslit despite the evidence you feel you’ve uncovered, it’s time to move on.
Some people have seen money disappearing from their accounts or the accounts of their family members, while others have found out their partners have another life and family in another state while living off their money. They draw you into their confidence, then exploit you. Make sure you guard yourself against such behavior.
3. They are impulsive
Does your friend or partner act erratically and on a whim? Do they not reflect on their actions or consider the consequences? Do they change plans at the last minute due to a change in mood? This can lead to long-term consequences for you and leave you in difficult and dangerous situations.
4. They are irresponsible
Does your friend/partner struggle to hold down a job? Do they regularly miss bill payment deadlines and appointments? Do they not use protection in the bedroom or push you to do things you don’t want to do? These risk-taking activities can have huge consequences if they are not nipped in the bud.
5. They may be lawbreakers with no regard for your safety
Sociopaths are reckless and impulsive, and both of these traits are dangerous when it comes to personal safety. This could be anything from speeding to a criminal lifestyle.
They consider themselves to be above the law and often justify their actions rather than admitting they were wrong.
They may even try to draw you into a world of illegal behavior, thereby leaving you as culpable as they are, with the exception that you alone will feel the guilt.
6. They are quick to anger
Is your partner aggressive? Do they like to fight with you or with others? When aggression and anger come quickly and regularly, this can lead to violence and abuse, with fear a daily part of the victim’s life.
Abuse of a partner or friend is never appropriate and should not be tolerated. If it is happening to you, you should seek help from a professional immediately.
What should I do?
It’s almost impossible to identify and diagnose a true sociopath without the proper tools or education. However, it is easy to apply some of the rules above.
Sociopathy is on a spectrum, so just because someone may not be a true sociopath in the purest sense does not mean that they are not exhibiting sociopathic behaviors, and these behaviors can be extremely damaging.
If you feel you have been charmed and trapped in a life where you’re paying the bills while they’re out on the town every night, or you’re scared of talking to them sometimes because they can get violent, it’s time to consider getting help.
Living with a sociopath is not easy and ASPD cannot be cured, so for the sake of your mental health and wellbeing, it’s time to start looking to your own future without such a negative, draining influence holding you back.
Daniel Hagon is a writer with a Bachelor’s degree in History and a work history spanning financial education, day trading, healthcare and English teaching across three different continents. When he’s not writing stories, Daniel can be found reading, swing or salsa dancing, or wine tasting in a sun-drenched vineyard on some remote part of the country. He currently lives in Canada with his girlfriend and their two cats.