It's not uncommon to call someone "psycho," but just like many other mental health terms that get thrown around, the term is often misused. However, there are people who are actually psychopaths, and if you're concerned someone you know might be one, you can look out for certain
clues that someone has psychopathic tendencies. Although sometimes used interchangeably with sociopath, a psychopath differs because they don't have a conscience, which can make them hurtful to others and sometimes dangerous — although unlike what the movies would make you believe, not all are violent or murderers.
The term "psychopath" is actually not used in the official
handbook. Instead, the DSM — which is used to categorize and diagnose mental illness — uses the blanket term Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders "Antisocial Personality Disorder." DSM Handbook, $82, Amazon
"The definition and usage of the term psychopath has morphed over time," says
clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly over email. "The term psychopath was first utilized around 1900 to describe persons who exhibited little or no sense of ethics or concern for the rights of others. The diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder is used to describe individuals who 'habitually violate the rights of others without remorse.'
If you know someone who continues to hurt others and you're suspicious of their character, you might want to watch out for these 15 clues someone is actually a psychopath or has psychopathic tendencies. Not everyone who does one of these things is a psychopath, but if someone fits each description, you might want to be wary.
1 They Lack Empathy Altogether
Lack of empathy is the most common feature of psychopaths. "They are people who act recklessly or without sympathy towards others, which often results in chaotic or superficial relationships," says
clinical psychologist Devon MacDermott, Ph.D. over email. A study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience looked at the brain activity in psychopathic people, and it found that psychopaths do not experience empathy when imagining the pain of others. Even worse, they possibly take pleasure in it. 2 They're Constantly Aggressive
"Given the lack of emotional awareness and impulsive tendencies, the individual can be volatile," says Manly. "As a result, anger may manifest through irritability and aggressive fights, especially when the individual feels frustrated. As a result, the individual may tend to erupt into a fight or angry outburst when a desired outcome is not achieved quickly."
3 They're Incredibly Impulsive
"Frequently, they can be impulsive and reckless, jumping into dangerous situations while ignoring the consequences," says
psychiatrist Dr. Susan Edelman over email. This isn't the kind of impulsivity that is adventurous or spontaneous. Instead, it's considered "dysfunctional impulsivity," which is characterized by erratic disorderliness, distraction, and inaccurate decision making, according to the American Psychological Association. 4 They Seek Out Thrills
"People with psychopathic tendencies tend to be adrenaline junkies and will seek stimulation in dangerous ways including risky sexual behavior, activities that could cause bodily harm, or illegal activities," says MacDermott. They are prone to boredom, so they are always looking for stimulation.
5 They Have Manipulative Tendencies
A psychopath will display patterns of deceiving and manipulating others for profit or even personal amusement. "People with this severe type of personality disorder lack a sense of inner right and wrong," says Edelman. "They don't seem to care about another person’s feelings, so it doesn't bother them to manipulate or deceive others for their own gain. They might trick you with charm, intimidation, or violence."
6 They Commit Criminal Acts 7 They Turn On The Charm
Don't be fooled by someone's apparent sweetness. "People with psychopathic tendencies can appear gregarious, funny, and charming, at first," says MacDermott. "However, they do not have the genuine warmth and caring to support long-term relationships. They tend to be charming to get what they want from people, not because they actually care about investing in others."
8 They Have Shallow Emotions
Deeper emotions such as kindness, empathy, compassion, sorrow, remorse shame, and guilt are foreign to the individual who is considered a psychopath, according to Manly. "Shallow, more easily accessed feelings, such as anger, rage, and frustration are often much more accessible to the individual," she says. "The person with ADP may, at times, be able to feign a deeper emotion, but this would be done only on a temporary, superficial level in order to achieve the desired end result."
9 They Demonstrate Insincere Speech
A person with Antisocial Personality Disorder has a hidden agenda. "Although comments may sound kind and benevolent, the underlying intention is personal gain," says Manly. "For example, a comment such as, 'You are the most beautiful woman!' would be intended to flatter to achieve a personal goal (sex, theft, etc.) rather than being a sincere, heartfelt comment with no secondary gain involved."
10 They Avoid Responsibility And Blame Others
Rather than taking responsibility for their actions, psychopaths evade accountability by casting blame on others. "For example, rather than saying, 'I’m sorry that I took your wallet, that was simply wrong of me,' the comment might be, 'I don’t know how your wallet ended up in my closet. You are so forgetful — you must have put it there,'" says Manly.
11 They Have An Inflated Sense of Self-Worth
Individuals who possess a psychopathic personality usually are narcissistic, arrogant, and dominating. "This population tends to have an exaggerated sense of self-worth and self-importance," says
Marc Romano, Psy.D over email. Because of this, they also show a sense of entitlement. 12 They're Pathological Liars
As part of their manipulative personalities, psychopaths tend to be pathological liars and and masters of deception. "Lying is key to their existence and when caught in a lie, the psychopath will double down," says Romano.
13 They Exhibit Promiscuous Sexual Behavior
"Impulsive behavior and sexual promiscuity are common among this population," says Romano. Because their personality traits prevent them from having healthy relationships, their sex life is often not healthy either. Research shows that
psychopaths tend to have many short-term relationships, but they exhibit promiscuous sexual behavior. 14 They Don't Have Goals
People who fall into the category of psychopath often have
an inability to plan for the future, according to Psychology Today. They fail to set realistic, long-term life goals, and they are carefree about not having any of these plans. 15 They Live A "Parasitic Lifestyle"
Psychopaths take advantage of others to get what they need out of them. "This can also be referred to as a 'parasitic lifestyle' in which people will persuade or force others to meet their every need without offering anything in return," says MacDermott. "It's an exaggerated version of the person who sleeps on your couch and eats all your food, but never offers to contribute anything to the household and doesn't search for a job."