- Learn to recognize the traits—then stay away from them.
Does any of this seem familiar? How do we spell DUCKFART, kiddies?
Glib and superficial
Psychopaths are often witty and articulate. They can be amusing and
entertaining conversationalists, ready with a quick and clever
comeback, and can tell unlikely but convincing stories that cast
themselves in a good light. They can be very effective in presenting
themselves well and are often very likable and charming.
Typically, psychopaths attempt to appear experts in sociology,
psychiatry, medicine, psychology, philosophy, poetry, literature, art
or law. A signpost to this trait is often a smooth lack of concern at
being found out that they are not.
Egocentric and grandiose
Psychopaths have a narcissistic and grossly inflated view of their
self-worth and importance, a truly astounding egocentricity and sense
of entitlement. They see themselves as the center of the universe, as
superior beings who are justified in living according to their own
Psychopaths are seldom embarrassed about their legal, financial or
personal problems. Rather, they see them as temporary setbacks, the
results of bad luck, unfaithful friends or an unfair and incompetent
Psychopaths feel that their abilities will enable them to become
anything they want to be. Given the right circumstances—opportunity,
luck, willing victims—their grandiosity can pay off spectacularly. For
example, the psychopathic entrepreneur "thinks big," but it's usually
with someone else's money.
Lack of remorse or guilt
Psychopaths show a stunning lack of concern for the devastating
effects their actions have on others. Often they are completely
forthright about the matter, calmly stating that they have no sense of
guilt, are not sorry for the pain and destruction they have caused,
and that there is no reason for them to be concerned.
Psychopaths' lack of remorse or guilt is associated with a remarkable
ability to rationalize their behavior and to shrug off personal
responsibility for actions that cause shock and disappointment to
family, friends, associates and others who have played by the rules.
Usually they have handy excuses for their behavior, and in some cases
they deny that it happened at all.
Lack of empathy
The feelings of other people are of no concern to psychopaths.
Psychopaths view people as little more than objects to be used for
their own gratification. The weak and the vulnerable—whom they mock,
rather than pity—are favorite targets.
Psychopaths display a general lack of empathy. They are indifferent to
the rights and suffering of family members and strangers alike. If
they do maintain ties with their spouses or children it is only
because they see their family members as possessions, much like their
stereos or automobiles.
Because of their inability to appreciate the feelings of others, some
psychopaths are capable of behavior that normal people find not only
horrific but baffling. For example, they can torture and mutilate
their victims with about the same sense of concern that we feel when
we carve a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.
However, except in movies and books, very few psychopaths commit
crimes of this sort. Their callousness typically emerges in less
dramatic, though still devastating, ways: parasitically bleeding other
people of their possessions, savings and dignity; aggressively doing
and taking what they want; shamefully neglecting the physical and
emotional welfare of their families; engaging in an unending series of
casual, impersonal and trivial sexual relationships; and so forth.
Deceitful and manipulative
Lying, deceiving and manipulation are natural talents for psychopaths.
Given their glibness and the facility with which they lie, it is not
surprising that psychopaths successfully cheat, bilk, defraud, con and
manipulate people and have not the slightest compunction about doing
so. They are often forthright in describing themselves as con men,
hustlers or fraud artists. Their statements often reveal their belief
that the world is made up of "givers and takers," predators and prey,
and that it would be very foolish not to exploit the weaknesses of
Some of their operations are elaborate and well thought out, whereas
others are quite simple: stringing along several women at the same
time, or convincing family members and friends that money is needed
"to bail me out of a jam." Whatever the scheme, it is carried off in a
cool, self-assured, brazen manner.
Psychopaths seem to suffer a kind of emotional poverty that limits the
range and depth of their feelings. While at times they appear cold and
unemotional, they are prone to dramatic, shallow and short-lived
displays of feeling. Careful observers are left with the impression
that they are play-acting and that little is going on below the
Laboratory experiments using biomedical recorders have shown that
psychopaths lack the physiological responses normally associated with
fear. The significance of this finding is that, for most people, the
fear produced by threats of pain or punishment is an unpleasant
emotion and a powerful motivator of behavior. Not so with psychopaths;
they merrily plunge on, perhaps knowing what might happen but not
Psychopaths are unlikely to spend much time weighing the pros and cons
of a course of action or considering the possible consequences. "I did
it because I felt like it," is a common response.
More than displays of temper, impulsive acts often result from an aim
that plays a central role in most of the psychopath's behavior: to
achieve immediate satisfaction, pleasure or relief. So, family
members, employers and co-workers typically find themselves standing
around asking themselves what happened—jobs are quit, relationships
broken off, plans changed, houses ransacked, people hurt, often for
what appears to be little more than a whim.
Psychopaths tend to live day-to-day and to change their plans
frequently. They give little serious thought to the future and worry
about it even less.
Poor behavior controls
In psychopaths, inhibitory controls are weak, and the slightest
provocation is sufficient to overcome them. As a result, psychopaths
are short-tempered or hot-headed and tend to respond to frustration,
failure, discipline and criticism with sudden violence, threats and
verbal abuse. They take offense easily and become angry and aggressive
over trivialities, and often in a context that appears inappropriate
to others. But their outbursts, extreme as they may be, are generally
short-lived, and they quickly resume acting as if nothing out of the
ordinary has happened.
Although psychopaths have a "hair trigger" and readily initiate
aggressive displays, their ensuing behavior is not out of control. On
the contrary, when psychopaths "blow their stack" it is as if they are
having a temper tantrum; they know exactly what they are doing. Their
aggressive displays are "cold;" they lack the intense emotional
arousal experienced by others when they lose their temper.
It's not unusual for psychopaths to inflict serious physical or
emotional damage on others, sometimes routinely, and yet refuse to
acknowledge that they have a problem controlling their tempers. In
most cases, they see their aggressive displays as natural responses to
Need for excitement
Psychopaths have an ongoing and excessive need for excitement—they
long to live in the fast lane or "on the edge," where the action is.
In many cases the action involves breaking the rules.
Some psychopaths use a wide variety of drugs as part of their general
search for something new and exciting, and they often move from place
to place and job to job searching for a fresh buzz. Many psychopaths
describe "doing crime" for excitement or thrills.
The flip side of this yearning for excitement is an inability to
tolerate routine or monotony. Psychopaths are easily bored. You are
not likely to find them engaged in occupations or activities that are
dull, repetitive or that require intense concentration over long
Lack of responsibility
Obligations and commitments mean nothing to psychopaths. Their good
intentions—"I'll never cheat on you again"—are promises written on the
Truly horrendous credit histories, for example, reveal the lightly
taken debt, the shrugged-off loan, the empty pledge to contribute to a
child's support. The irresponsibility and unreliability of psychopaths
extend to every part of their lives. Their performance on the job is
erratic, with frequent absences, misuse of company resources,
violations of company policy, and general untrustworthiness. They do
not honor formal or implied commitments to people, organizations or
Indifference to the welfare of children—their own as well as those of
a man or woman they happen to be living with at the time—is a common
theme among psychopaths. Psychopaths see children as an inconvenience.
Typically, they leave children on their own for extended periods or in
the care of unreliable sitters.
Psychopaths are frequently successful in talking their way out of
trouble—"I've learned my lesson;" "You have my word that it won't
happen again;" "It was simply a big misunderstanding;" "Trust me."
They are almost as successful in convincing the criminal justice
system of their good intentions and their trustworthiness. Although
they frequently manage to obtain probation, a suspended sentence or
early release from prison, they simply ignore the conditions imposed
by the courts.
Early behavior problems
Most psychopaths begin to exhibit serious behavioral problems at an
early age. These might include persistent lying, cheating, theft, fire
setting, truancy, class disruption, substance abuse, vandalism,
violence, bullying, running away and precocious sexuality. Because
many children exhibit some of these behaviors at one time or another,
especially children raised in violent neighborhoods or in disrupted or
abusive families, it is important to emphasize that the psychopaths's
history of such behaviors is more extensive and serious than that of
most others, even when compared with those of siblings and friends
raised in similar settings.
Early cruelty to animals is usually a sign of serious emotional or
behavioral problems. Cruelty to other children—including siblings—is
often part of the young psychopaths's inability to experience the sort
of empathy that checks normal people's impulses to inflict pain, even
Adult antisocial behavior
Psychopaths consider the rules and expectations of society
inconvenient and unreasonable, impediments to their inclinations and
wishes. They make their own rules, both as children and as adults.
Many of the antisocial acts of psychopaths lead to criminal
convictions. Even within prison populations psychopaths stand out,
largely because their antisocial and illegal activities are more
varied and frequent than are those of other criminals.
Not all psychopaths end up in jail. Many of the things they do escape
detection or prosecution, or are on the "shady side of the law." For
them, antisocial behavior may consist of phony stock promotions,
questionable business and professional practices, spouse or child
abuse, and so forth. Many others do things that, although not illegal,
are unethical, immoral or harmful to others: philandering, cheating on
a spouse, financial or emotional neglect of family members,
irresponsible use of company resources or funds, to name but a few.
The problem with behaviors of this sort is that they are difficult to
document and evaluate without the active cooperation of family,
friends, acquaintances and business associates.
The complete picture
Psychopaths are not the only ones who lead socially deviant
lifestyles. For example, many criminals have some of the
characteristics described above, but because they are capable of
feeling guilt, remorse, empathy and strong emotions, they are not
considered psychopaths. A diagnosis of psychopathy is made only when
there is solid evidence that the individual matches the complete
profile—that is, has most of the above symptoms.