6 Habits Of Sociopaths That Are Pretty Common In Non-Sociopaths
You've probably heard your friend call that potential date who ghosted her a "sociopath," but actually being a sociopath is far different than movies make it out to be. People are fascinated by others who exhibit the characteristics of both psychopathy or sociopathy— though most experts argue that psychopathy is actually different from sociopathy, characterized by less impulsivity and more patience, according to The Conversation. Where the average person experiences empathy, sociopaths tend not to express it, though they seem to be able to feel it in a limited capacity, according to Psychology Today. But sociopaths aren't actually all that different from people who aren't sociopaths. In fact, many habits of sociopaths are pretty common in non-sociopaths, too.
The distinguishing features of both psychopathy and sociopathy are based in antisocial personality disorder, which is diagnosed using a list of seven traits, according to psychiatric manual the DSM-V: regularly breaking the law, constant lying, impulsivity, aggression, no regard for others, lack of responsibility and lack of remorse. If a person fits at least three of these traits, they have antisocial personality disorder, but the particular traits they have determine whether they're sociopaths or psychopaths. And when it comes to sociopathy, science tells us there are some behaviors that we've all done, too. Here are a few of the habits of sociopaths that may feel familiar to non-sociopaths, too.
1. Compartmentalizing Relationships
The lived experience of sociopaths can tell us a lot about what it's actually like to be one. In 2016 Business Insider contacted a self-described sociopath who agreed to be interviewed anonymously, and he explained that he didn't tend to have long-term intimate connections, and "compartmentalized" the relationships around him, keeping them separate. "You can be one person when that fits the situation and another when that's more appropriate," he said.
Compartmentalization is a pretty common habit among non-sociopaths as well, and can even be healthy. Michael Schreiner of Evolution Counseling noted in a blog post that separating out different parts of your life can be a signal of "fractured personality structure." But dividing up your life and not letting one element bleed into another can also be a good idea; Barton Goldsmith PhD of Psychology Today writes, "Compartmentalization is not about being in denial; it’s about putting things where they belong and not letting them get in the way of the rest of your life."
2. Taking Selfies
Narcissistic traits can often turn up in sociopaths, counselor Tanya Peterson writing for Healthyplace notes. Being a pure narcissist means cleaving to an entirely separate diagnostic set of criteria called narcissistic personality disorder, according to Dr. Traci Stein at Psychology Today. Narcissistic sociopaths are a particular sub-set of sociopathy, though, and combine manipulative, impulsive behavior with a tendency to be grandiose and self-centered. And one way they do their showing-off is through selfie-taking.
There have been various studies linking heavy selfie-taking with narcissistic traits in both men and women. A study in 2017 found that people who do a lot of selfie-taking aren't necessarily narcissists or sociopaths, but that those traits do show up as part of selfie-taking behavior. The scientists identified three kinds of selfie-takers, communicators, autobiographers, and self-publicists, and it's in the last category that sociopaths fit. So your urge to post a selfie may be a trait that's shared with sociopaths.
The author of the 2013 book Confessions Of A Sociopath, a self-described sociopath, wrote that sociopaths "lie frequently, obviously to cover up certain aspects of themselves, or things that would indicate that they are a sociopath."
For most of us, though, lying a bit is pretty normal. It might not go to the same extent as sociopathy, but in a 2012 study, while 60 percent of people said they hadn't lied in the past day, 92 percent admitted they'd lied at least once in the past week. Lies are an evolutionary advantage that out of trouble, and a little bit of a fib every now and then is often not seen as a violation of our moral codes.
4. Avoiding Responsbility
One of the key elements of sociopathy, according to the DSM-V's definition, is a lack of responsibility; the sociopath blows people off, never takes responsibility for their actions, blames others, ignores structural obligations like birthdays, taxes or jobs when it suits them, and does most of this on impulse.
Sound familiar? Unfortunately, many of us can also show the tendency to be emotionally immature sometimes. A survey in 2013 found that men were far more likely to describe themselves as immature into their 40s, while women believed they were mature by their late 20s on average. But most of us eventually realize that if you cause an issue, you have to 'fess up and accept liability. That's not a step that sociopaths ever take.
5. Making Impulsive Decisions
The big distinction between psychopathy and sociopathy, according to diagnostic criteria, is impulsivity. Psychopaths plan meticulously, whereas sociopaths will do what they want without doing anything to plan for it, or thinking about the consequences. This impulsivity means their lives can be chaotic and full of mood swings, but it can also manifest itself in fearlessness.
But it's a habit that, while extreme in sociopaths, isn't alien to people without the disorder. Impulsivity, behavioral geneticist David Goldman wrote in Our Genes, Our Choices, "is an important dimension of normal behavior: for many of life’s challenges it is vital to be able to initiate behavior, to take action, and to explore uncertain and potentially dangerous situations." A study in 2012 found that around 17 percent of the population have strong impulsive tendencies, and leaping without looking is often seen as a pretty attractive trait (see: every manic pixie dream girl in fiction ever.) Sudden road trip? Balanced with a bit of responsibility, it adds flavor to life; unchecked, it becomes a burden.
6. Excessive Grooming Behaviors
Like with taking lots of selfies, narcissistic personality traits can show up in sociopaths. One way this can manifest, Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, previously told Bustle, has to do with excessive grooming. "This is something we all do — personal hygiene and beauty rituals — but the sociopath differs on a deeper emotional level, since they care a lot more about themselves."
Being a sociopath means being distinct from other people, but non-sociopaths may have more in common than they realize. Selfie-taking, impulsive decisions, and avoiding responsibility may be familiar behaviors for many of us.