Since there are quite a few
misconceptions about sociopathy, one being that it can be mistaken for charisma, it's always a good idea to be able to tell the difference between genuine friendliness —and someone who has that "it" factor — and someone who may be using their personality to trick others for personal gain.
"It's an important skill to be able to see through the charisma of a sociopath,"
Laura F. Dabney, MD, a psychotherapist and sociopathy expert, tells Bustle. "The tip off to a sociopath is that the charisma is skin deep." While they may seem like an amazing leader, a charming friend, or an inspiring go-getter, there may be something lurking under the surface that just seems... off.
"In other words, when some actions don't match what a caring, kind person would do then you know it's not genuine," Dr. Dabney says. "An example: if they are presenting themselves as compassionate and warm yet are speaking ill of most people behind their backs then it's probably not genuine charisma."
Of course, this has to be in the extreme — and manipulative — for it to be
a sign of true sociopathy. But if someone is rubbing you the wrong way, it never hurts to take a closer look at what their motives may be. Here are a few things that can seem like charisma, but may be a sign of something darker.
Being A Commanding Leader
If someone is an amazing boss, or a great public speaker, that's one thing. But if someone uses their charisma to manipulate others (think cult leaders, conspiracy theorists, etc.) it becomes easier to see the difference.
Commanding attention is a way to deflect everyone from what's really going on, the wrong-doings that are lurking in their mind or being committed," Dr. Dabney says. "Like a magician's cape."
Always Moving Up At Work
If someone is taking no prisoners when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder, it may seem like they're a charismatic go-getter. But if they're climbing over
others to do so, it may be a sign something darker is going on.
"This is a hallmark of the sociopath," Dr. Dabney says. "Faking closeness to climb a ladder, to steal something, to break another law... all common."
Sociopaths often lie to get ahead in life, but they do it in a way that's so sneaky, it can almost seem like charisma. And they do it without even thinking.
"A sociopath has no remorse — their actions are done to reach a goal," clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow, host of
The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "They see lying simply as a necessary step to move them closer to their goal," which is why they always seem to get what they want.
"They are savvy enough however to know that lying in a way that rubs others the wrong way may create barriers and friction," Dr. Klapow says. "
Being charming helps the lies be more effective."
Being Supremely Confident
Sociopaths are confident to a whole different degree — well beyond anything that might seem common or healthy, at second glance. As Dr. Dabney says, "The confidence is to disarm others." Again, so they can manipulate and get their way.
Being The Life Of The Party
In a similar vein, someone who needs to be the center of attention may seem like a fun, life-of-the-party type. But when taken too far, it may be a sign of something else.
"This is very common," Dr. Dabney says. "Being the center of attention helps build up their fake confidence which helps them cover up their 'dark side.'"
They may know just how to fake a charming personality. As Dr. Klapow says, "Sociopaths who are also narcissistic enjoy being the center of attention and most importantly — admiration."
Easily Making New Friends
When someone easily attracts friends, and gets along with others wherever they go, nine times out of ten it'll be because they're warm and friendly — and great at being social.
But sociopaths can make friends easily, too. The thing is, "sociopaths don't keep friends for long (because they are fake relationships) so [they have] many short-term relationships that end with a bad feeling on one side," Dr. Dabney says.
They may flaunt their charm or their sense of humor, Dr. Dabney says. But they might also splash out money, or wine and dine others all as a way of tricking and getting their way.
"The magician is charming, socially adept, perhaps a bit eccentric ... as a way to divert everyone's attention from breaking 'the rules' and doing the unexpected," Dr. Dabney says. Which is why it's so easy to mistake these darker things for charisma. That's the sociopath's main goal. But if you know what to look for, it won't be so easy to be fooled.