Before we proceed with the discussion on how to initially evaluate that you are talking to a psychopathic person, I would like to relay the following disclaimer: the issue of psychosis and psychopaths is a sensitive topic, and the list to be presented here is not a diagnostic tool. The diagnosis of psychopathy should best be left to a licensed specialist.
The book ‘Without Conscience’ by Robert Hare gives a list of characteristics of a psychopath that we can use to identify someone who has this problem. The Hare psychopathy checklist is a tool used in the clinical evaluation and determination of whether someone is a psychopath or not. Use the list with caution and discretion: identifying some of these traits in someone does not make them a psychopath!
Psychopathy has a broad spectrum of characteristics, and should be considered a syndrome. Let’s focus on the personal and emotional characteristics of a psychopath, as indicated by Hare in his checklist.
- Persuasive and superficial
Hare points out that psychopaths tend to be talkative. They know that they can be manipulative, funny and entertaining, and they are often boasting; telling stories about their own grand exploits. The stories may be unconvincing but they make up for it by presenting themselves as likeable and charming. For keen observers, however, the psychopath is too smooth; acting out a role.
Contrary to popular belief that psychopaths have low IQ, they actually can often talk about any subject as if they were experts, often even using the jargon. Some of them do it so well, and with such conviction and confidence, that they can even fool psychologists, experts in the field of psychopathy identification. On a parallel note, some of the serial killers who are diagnosed as psychopaths talk about their crimes in gory detail with almost no emotion. People who come across this would find the encounter very disturbing.
- An “all about me” person
As mentioned earlier, psychopaths tend to exaggerate things concerning themselves: their egos, their sense of entitlement and their sense of self-worth and importance. They tend to be arrogant and cocky, they always have a say on everything and they are always right. They have incredible confidence but cannot back it with competence. They typically have lots of grandiose and unrealistic plans for the future.
Their grand self-perception often leads to their claim of having magic powers, or being able to do things that other people cannot. This enhances their prestige among their fans and followers. They also have a good story to excuse themselves if their stories are questioned for veracity.
- No sense of guilt and remorse
One of the most notorious characteristics of a psychopath is the total lack of guilt or remorse that they experience, regardless of the consequences of their actions and their effect on others. Psychopathic serial killers, cult leaders and corporate psychopaths all typically have a justification for the decisions they have made and for what they have done.
Several interviews with psychopaths reveal that for them, people are simply objects, things to be used. And indeed, they do use people. They take almost anything they can take or make use of other people’s skills and resources. For these psychopaths, the absence of remorse is supported by being repeat offenders, even after being caught and punished for their crime.
- Lack of empathy
Another one of the characteristics to watch out for in a psychopath is the inability to understand what other people are feeling or experiencing. They don’t know what it’s like to be in somebody else’s shoes.
Being incapable of empathy means they are incapable of love. The emotional world of a psychopath is indeed shallow and dark. This can be difficult to understand while dealing with a psychopath.
- Deceit and manipulation
Compulsive or deliberate lying are also characteristics of a psychopath. Even when they are caught out in a lie, they simply carry on. No guilt or remorse, remember? They simply change the story to try and fit it in with the lie. They lie so much sometimes that it’s difficult to know if they themselves are aware and know that they’re lying. The answer is usually yes, and typically they are proud of the fact that they are good liars. That big ego is at work again! And it is one of the extraordinary characteristics of a psychopath that they are totally unfazed by being caught out in a lie.
When you consider the characteristics of the psychopath we’ve looked at so far, it’s no wonder that they swindle, cheat, con and defraud others. These characteristics of a psychopath may seem unreal to normal people. But for those who have been victims, understanding the inner world of a psychopath may be the only way to make sense of the torment and distress the victims have experienced. Again, I have to point out that the list presented is not a diagnostic tool. The diagnosis of psychopathy must be left to a licensed specialist.