How to spot a sociopath, from prominent politicians to Joran van der Sloot
Joran van der Sloot, the prime suspect in the mysterious disappearance of Natalee Holloway, was later sought by police after a Peruvian woman was found dead in a Lima hotel. As a doctor, when I think of van der Sloot, one word pops into my mind: SOCIOPATH! Everyone who dates should possess at least a rudimentary understanding of psychiatry so he or she can recognize manifestations of mental illness in others. The prevalence of sociopathy is about 1 to 3% in the general population and probably much higher amongst very successful politicians. Voters are often suckers for the charm that sociopaths typically exude.
Here's your chance to play doctor. I'll give you a lesson in how to spot a sociopath. After reading it, ask yourself what prominent political figures fit this picture.
Sociopaths are often:
1. Exciting, dynamic, captivating, audacious, self-centered, overly confident, slick, manipulative, cunning, and glib—even silver-tongued; appears conventional and charming, yet filled with covert hostility.
2. A con artist. Chameleon-like; can be what he needs to be to sucker people. Skilled in taking advantage of people. Able to readily generate synthetic emotions to con people into thinking he is genuine. Possesses a flair for making a good, likable first impression. Can mimic emotions as well as—or better than—professional actors. Sociopaths are good impostors and exhibit a Jekyll and Hyde nature: vicious, vindictive, and vile in private; charming in public.
3. Exhibits tyrannical, egotistical, and narcissistic behavior; tends to gravitate toward situations where those traits are tolerated, condoned, or admired.
4. Grandiose sense of entitlement; may want to rule the world and honestly thinks he is qualified to do that.
5. Confuses bullying with leadership.
6. Mean-spirited and petty.
7. Pathological, frequent lying; breaks promises. When confronted with evidence of their lying, sociopaths deny they ever said or did the thing in question, or will fabricate another lie to try covering up the first lie.
8. A lack of remorse for lying. According to forensic psychiatrist Keith Ablow, MD, “A sociopath has no anxiety [because they] don't care about the feelings of others.”
9. Emotionally detached; too cool. Ice water runs in their veins.
10. Self-serving and exploitive; views individuals around them as targets and opportunities, not people. Enjoys using people and taking, not giving. Sees nothing wrong with living off the labors of others or violating their rights. Likes to see others suffer.
11. Enjoys exerting dominant, despotic control over every aspect of the lives of his victims; enjoys enslaving them.
12. Arrogant, egomaniacal jerks. More likely to be the ultimate alpha male; cocky, in control, totally full of himself, body language that says, “I'm #1.” Women are often highly attracted to sociopathic men who exude confidence, charisma and a willingness to take risks.
13. Can wreck the lives and dreams of others with zero concern for the devastation caused. Rationalizes the pain he inflicts on others.
14. Callous disregard for the well-being of others; lacks a conscience and empathy; unmoved by things that would upset a normal person.
15. Sociopaths are prejudiced but go to great lengths to hide their bias.
16. Believes that the end always justifies the means; lets nothing stand in his way. Laws are to be evaded, not followed. Constitution? Ditto.
17. Habitually dodges responsibility by scapegoating; unwilling to accept blame, but eager to blame others.
18. Evasive; good at dodging questions. Houdini-like ability to escape accountability.
19. Secretive. Sociopaths often use fake credentials to get jobs they are not qualified or eligible for. Sociopaths often seem impressive initially, but when you dig below the surface of their bluster, you often find that they don't have a clue what they're talking about.
20. Behavior is often guided by ulterior motives.
21. Exploits the goodwill and/or income of others.
22. Fond of intimidation and backstabbing. Sociopaths have clever ways to gain your trust and then stab you in the back, often without you knowing what they are doing until it is too late.
23. Sociopaths are vindictive when thwarted or exposed.
24. Sociopaths are unable to see any problems with their behavior. They have no desire to change because they think they're fine just the way they are.
25. Can witness a disaster and feel none of the horror, shock, or panic experienced by other onlookers.
26. Greedy and selfish; exhibits apathy toward relatives. Although sociopaths are stingy and parasitic, they like to portray themselves as wonderful, compassionate, kind, and caring.
27. Sociopaths who don't get their way often become irritated or angered.
28. More likely than normal people to abuse drugs or commit crimes at some point in their lives; approximately one-quarter of U.S. prisoners are sociopaths.
29. Sociopaths often possess above-average intelligence.
Sociopaths are good observers who keenly recognize what others expect in terms of behavior, so they are skilled at blending in and often go undetected, enabling them to wreak havoc on others. Sociopaths exhibit red flags, but people tend to ignore them. In fact, their charm often makes people eager to rush to their defense when they are exposed. Nonprofessionals are often swayed by the words, and blind to the deeds, of sociopaths.
Laymen (nonprofessionals) often think of sociopaths as being violent serial killers, but few are. About 1% to 4% of the population is sociopathic—so common that you likely know at least one. People tend to assume that all others think and feel like they do. Sociopaths exploit this assumption to victimize the trusting masses. Their ruthlessness, absence of a conscience, and charisma can make them spectacularly successful, especially in fields such as law, politics, and business. By magnifying their attributes and being blind to their shortcomings, sociopaths think they are God's gift to the universe.
Sociopaths are motivated by an extreme desire to win at whatever game they are playing. If they are in business, they are more concerned with crushing the competition than with rising to the top by making superb products.
The term psychopath is often used interchangeably with sociopath, but many professionals prefer to use sociopath (or antisocial personality disorder) because laymen often confuse psychopaths with people who are psychotic or “psycho.” People who manifest signs of psychosis frequently stand out like a sore thumb; even children can often instantly recognize that they are “nuts.” In contrast, sociopaths have a deceptively normal veneer. Signs of their mental aberrancy are evident and often alarming to trained professionals, but those signs can be magnetic honey to laymen—even intelligent ones, like Katie Couric. She can rub shoulders with sociopathic politicians and be duped like a naïve schoolgirl, oblivious to their mental pathology. Laymen are often unable to spot sociopaths, or are very slow in doing so, even when the sociopath's wake of destruction is glaringly obvious. Normal nonprofessionals tend to explain behavior by using their behavioral frame of reference, which—being normal—is wholly inadequate for understanding what makes sociopaths tick.
Just as all people with depression are not equally depressed, all sociopaths are not equally aberrant.
Many sociopaths possess an almost supernatural ability to enchant people. They're sick, but mesmerizing. Sociopaths are skilled manipulators. Like actors, they can often convincingly mimic emotions they don't feel. I could program a robot to laugh, cry, and say, “I love you,” but it wouldn't feel any associated emotions. Over time, the disconnect between what sociopaths say and do becomes increasingly apparent.
The prevalence of sociopathy is substantially higher in current and past world leaders. Given that most citizens are not medical doctors or psychologists, and given that laymen are notoriously poor at detecting sociopathy, it is not surprising that most people fail to recognize how mentally ill their leaders are, and how the poor decisions they make are often traceable to psychopathology. In the past century alone, sociopathic world leaders have killed well over 100 million people, made billions miserable, and wasted many trillions of dollars fighting needless wars. Yet we put up with them!
High schools are incredibly remiss for not making psychology a core requirement. Virtually everyone who doesn't know psychology is penalized at least once—often, multiple times—by their ignorance of that subject. The prevalence of mental illness (not just sociopathy) is so high that almost everyone will encounter one or more mentally ill people while dating or in marriage, business, their family, or neighborhood. If you can't identify (diagnose) the particular form of mental illness, you are likely to fall victim to it.
Should you confront a sociopath regarding their aberrancy?
Only if you want to waste your time and raise your blood pressure. Sociopaths are often so narcissistic that they think they're wonderful—no, make that WONDERFUL! They are less cognizant of their lack of a conscience than I am cognizant of what it feels like to touch the cervix I never had. Sociopaths are blind to their character flaws. In their minds, there is nothing wrong with them. If you don't wholeheartedly agree, you are the problem—in their minds.
There is no effective cure or even treatment for sociopaths. The best solution is to get them out of your life pronto.
POP QUIZ: Name at least two prominent politicians who exhibit multiple signs of sociopathy. Just as in other diseases, all of the possible symptoms and signs of sociopathy are not necessary to make its diagnosis. However, the presence of a few such characteristics is not diagnostic of sociopathy. For example, one can be exciting, dynamic, captivating, self-centered, overly confident, and even slick yet not be a sociopath. It's the pattern and the degree to which these signs are present, especially when coupled with the primary defect in sociopathy: lack of a conscience. If you truly care about others and genuinely feel bad when you hurt someone, you're not a sociopath no matter how behaviorally flamboyant and arrogant you are.
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- I'll later discuss: (1) how one of my classmates was murdered by her sociopathic husband, who pointed a shotgun at her beautiful face and pulled the trigger; (2) a friend married to a rich man who claims he will kill her if she ever leaves him.
- In the past three days, I saw two documentaries of missing persons whose parents, friends, and significant others had no clue they were mentally ill, in each case manifesting obvious signs of paranoid schizophrenia. I've seen countless other cases in which people did not recognize that a loved one needed help.
Here is a poignant response from Kaitlyn Collins, a victim of cyberbullying by Facebook sociopaths. She is a former Packers cheerleader and, as you can see, quite pretty, but that didn't stop those nuts from going for her jugular.
This reminds me of the vicious comments directed at women labeled “butterface” girls, referring to women with hot bodies but supposedly ugly faces. No one deserves such personal attacks based on appearance, but those women often have gorgeous faces, too, making me wonder how those blasting them could have such a screw loose. However, as Bill O'Reilly said:
“Because of the Internet, anonymous sociopaths can now smear and bully anyone they want. We all know people who make millions of dollars simply by defaming other people. The First Amendment is in place to protect the rights of Americans, but free speech can be abused; slander is real; bullying is real; inflicting pain on others through words is real. With the rise of the Net, cowardly sociopaths are running wild, with hateful invective, outrageous smears, and bullying tactics. It's not just about free speech anymore; it's about personal destruction.”
What's motivating those attacks? It is typically jealousy. People often cut others down in an attempt to bring them down to their low level. Cutting others down is the only way some people can feel good about themselves. As a doctor, I know those attacks are a sign of mental illness. Good, mentally healthy people want to help others and augment their happiness, not hurt them.
- Dirty Tricks, Traffic Studies, And Why Sociopaths Flourish In Politics
- TED talk by Monica Lewinsky: The price of shame
Comment: A superb talk by an obviously intelligent and insightful person who was:
(1) abused by a sociopath with a history of using women as sexual objects
(2) abused by small-minded Internet sociopathic bullies who heaped much more blame on her than Bill Clinton who, being older and then President, should have been mature enough to not put a woman young enough to be his daughter in that position
- The Disturbing Link Between Psychopathy and Leadership: Certain psychopathic qualities can also help one get ahead in business
Comment: And politics.
- Are Politicians Psychopaths?
- Why (Some) Psychopaths Make Great CEOs
- The Dark Triad of Personality: A 10 Year Review
Excerpt: “The three members -- Machiavellianism, narcissism and subclinical psychopathy -- often show differential correlates but share a common core of callous-manipulation.”
Comment: Name a President who exhibits this dark triad.
- Voters were drawn like magnets to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who is clearly unhinged.
- Why We Love Sociopaths
- Are you able to spot a compensated psychopath in your midst?
Comment: Most voters cannot, so they spend their lives wondering why the world is so screwed up when it is lead by people who are screwed up and often enjoy screwing others.
- Brain Research Shows Psychopathic Criminals Do Not Lack Empathy, but Fail to Use It Automatically
Excerpt: “A brain imaging study in the Netherlands shows individuals with psychopathy have reduced empathy while witnessing the pains of others. When asked to empathize, however, they can activate their empathy.”
Comment: This finding might revolutionize treatment of psychopaths IF it is corroborated by additional studies. However, imagine a psychopath brutally raping and killing a woman. Just asking him to empathize will stop the attack — maybe even apologize and apply some Band-Aids? Seems difficult to believe, doesn't it? Thus this research doesn't mesh well with the real world. Perhaps it might help those with mild psychopathy, but not the hard-core ones.
- Training brain patterns of empathy using functional brain imaging
Excerpt: “These findings could open new possibilities for treatment of … antisocial personality disorder.”
- Cold, callous and untreatable? Not all psychopaths fit the stereotype, says new study
- Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight
- Psychopathic Boldness Tied to U.S. Presidential Success based on Fearless dominance and the U.S. presidency: Implications of psychopathic personality traits for successful and unsuccessful political leadership
- Your Boss Might Be A Psychopath
- Cyberbullies are sociopaths: A young Canadian girl “committed suicide because of bullying. After she died the taunting continued on her Facebook page.”
- Study finds psychopaths have distinct brain structure
- Psychopathy Linked to Specific Structural Abnormalities in the Brain based on The Antisocial Brain: Psychopathy Matters: A Structural MRI Investigation of Antisocial Male Violent Offenders
- Brain Difference In Psychopaths Identified based on Altered connections on the road to psychopathy
- Psychopaths' Brains Show Differences in Structure and Function based on Reduced Prefrontal Connectivity in Psychopathy
- Psychopaths' Brains Wired to Seek Rewards, No Matter the Consequences based on Mesolimbic dopamine reward system hypersensitivity in individuals with psychopathic traits
- Neurological Basis for Lack of Empathy in Psychopaths based on An fMRI study of affective perspective taking in individuals with psychopathy: imagining another in pain does not evoke empathy
- 'Psychopaths' Have an Impaired Sense of Smell, Study Suggests based on Olfactory Abilities and Psychopathy: Higher Psychopathy Scores Are Associated with Poorer Odor Discrimination and Identification
- Psychopathic Killers: Computerized Text Analysis Uncovers the Word Patterns of a Predator based on Hungry like the wolf: A word-pattern analysis of the language of psychopaths
- A Psychopath Lacks Empathy Just Like a Person With Frontal Head Injury, Study Suggests based on (1) The role of the orbitofrontal cortex in affective theory of mind deficits in criminal offenders with psychopathic tendencies and (2) The Neural Bases for Empathy
- People with psychopathic traits are less likely to 'catch' a yawn than empathetic folks
- Psychopaths Are Not Neurally Equipped to Have Concern for Others
- Emotionally Intelligent People Are Less Good at Spotting Liars based on Will get fooled again: Emotionally intelligent people are easily duped by high-stakes deceivers
- In the mind of the psychopath
Excerpt: “Ice cold, hard and emotionless. Such is the psychopath — we think. Until we get a glimpse behind the mask. Researchers have for decades been almost unanimous in their accord with the popular perception that psychopaths are made in a certain way, and will forever remain that way. But some experts disagree. New research reveals that psychopaths had an upbringing quite different from that of the so-called normal members of the population.”
- An Underlying Cause for Psychopathic Behavior? based on The role of the orbitofrontal cortex in affective theory of mind deficits in criminal offenders with psychopathic tendencies
- Could A Lack Of Empathy Explain Cruelty?
- The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty
- Social sensing game detects classroom bullies
- Bullying in Academia More Prevalent Than Thought
- Bullied 13-Year-Old Set on Fire Changes Thinking
- Bullying Attack Leaves Boy in Coma
- Bullies May Enjoy Seeing Others In Pain based on Atypical empathic responses in adolescents with aggressive conduct disorder: a functional MRI investigation
- Childhood bullying: Worse long-term mental health than maltreatment by adult
- Reducing 'mean girl' behaviors in classrooms benefits boys and teachers too: Relational aggression program, pioneered in girls, improves overall classroom climate
- Workplace bullying a vicious circle
- Sibling Bullying: What's the Big Deal?
- Sibling bullying linked to later depression, self-harm
- Parents Greatly Underestimate How Often Their Children Are Cyberbullied
- Far from Being Harmless, the Effects of Bullying Last Long Into Adulthood
- Impact of childhood bullying still evident after 40 years
- Intervention helps decrease 'mean girl' behaviors, researchers find
- Bully Punished With Bad Clothing. Unusual Yes, But Cruel?
Comment: If Jodi Arias and Casey Anthony had parents like that, I suspect the world would include two more people.
- Bullying: What we know based on 40 years of research
- Cyberbystanders: Most don't try to stop online bullies
- Sticks and stones: Using curriculum to stop bullying
Excerpt: “Research finds the key to stop bullying is anti-bullying education in the school curriculum, and that teaching students empathy is as important "as teaching them science.”
Comment: Empathy can be taught. The good news is that it can be quickly taught, even by means as simple as watching In the Heat of the Night and asking students to figuratively put themselves in the shoes of Virgil Tibbs, a black police detective from Philadelphia who was mistreated by residents of a racist small town in Mississippi, including members of their police department.
- Poor Parenting -- Including Overprotection -- Increases Bullying Risk based on Parenting behavior and the risk of becoming a victim and a bully/victim: A meta-analysis study
- 'Cool' Kids in Middle School Bully More, Psychologists Report
Comment: Everyone who bullied me during elementary and junior high school thought he was cool. Interestingly, all of them became a bunch of losers. The same phenomenon is operative in cyberbullying, in which the self-anointed cool people often attack others not because they deserve abuse but because cyberbullies desperately need to tear others down so they can feel better about themselves. Why? Because they are losers incapable of absolute success, so their small minds settle for relative success by diminishing others so they seem greater in comparison. That tactic is effective only in their twisted minds; the rest of us see right through their sick game.
- More than a third of children were physically assaulted in the last year
- Cyberbullying Rampant Among High School Students
- Victims of childhood bullying more likely to be overweight as young adults
- Nearly one-third of early adulthood depression could be linked to bullying in teenage years
- Camaraderie of Sports Teams May Deter Bullying, Violence
- Writer's 40-year search for childhood bully connects him with fellow victims
- Curt Schilling Goes Dadmode On Twitter Trolls Bashing His Daughter
- Yankees fire employee who harassed Curt Schilling and his daughter
- Curt Schilling’s Official Blog: The world we live in…Man has it changed.
- Confirmed: Snapchat's Evan Spiegel Is Kind Of An Ass
Comment: Best comment: the one saying that our private lives should be private, and if everyone's opinions were public, few people would come out smelling like a rose. Elbert Hubbard wisely noted, “If men could only know each other, they would never either idolize or hate. … Good people are only half as good, and bad people only half as bad, as other people regard them.” As my relative Chester A. Arthur said, “I may be President of the United States, but my private life is nobody's damned business.”
- Personality test finds Great Britain’s most extroverted, agreeable and emotionally stable regions
- Do cheaters have an evolutionary advantage?
- Supervisors, coworkers tolerate unethical behavior when production is good, study finds
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY FACEBOOK: The Secret IMs Revealing The Mark Zuckerberg Of 2004
- How to spot a psychopath … and what to do if you know one (August 31, 2015: years after I posted my article)
- Your brain might be hard-wired for altruism: Neuroscience research suggests an avenue for treating the empathically challenged
- Brain network of psychopathic criminal functions differently
- Criminology study links NFL players' misbehavior on, off field
- Don’t want to raise a psychopath? Be sensitive to a child’s distress
- Can a Kid Be a Psychopath? (see videos below)