Psychopaths and sociopaths make up a solid 4% of the population. Narcissists account for another 6%. Even if we consider the overlap between these disorders, the odds are still alarmingly high that you (or someone you know) has encountered one of these cunning social predators. This short 13-question quiz has helped thousands of people recognize the psychopath in their life.
In order to understand and identify these people, we need to first undo what television has taught us. Most psychopaths are not deranged, imprisoned murderers. Most narcissists are not over-the-top womanizers who drive a flashy car. Much more likely, they’re the coworker, friend, ex, or family member who makes your brain hurt.
Why does your brain hurt? Because psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists share a particular set of traits that will eventually make any healthy person feel crazy:
1. Superficial Charm
Don’t be fooled by this idea that charm must be confident or arrogant. A psychopath’s charm is specifically suited to their target. Sure, some people respond well to flattery and gifts. But others might have a softer spot for the sympathetic, shy routine. Psychopaths are experts at making their chosen target feel “special”. Whichever persona they choose, on thing is certain: it’s not authentic. Psychopaths are shape-shifting chameleons who constantly rearrange their personalities depending on your individual needs.
2. Manufactured Reactions
Psychopaths intentionally cause chaos and sit back & play innocent while they blame you for reacting. They will provoke you, and then when you (understandably) react, they’ll patronizingly inform you that they’re “not having this discussion with you again”—which starts to make you feel like a hypersensitive nutcase. In the workplace, they’ll use these manufactured reactions to calmly turn others against you and prove how “crazy” you are. In a relationship, they’ll use these reactions to garner sympathy from future potential mates.
3. Pathological Lying
Psychopaths lie constantly, even when the truth would be a better story—even when there’s absolutely no reason to lie. They are so used to shifting personas and stories that lying becomes the default mode for them. If you ever question these lies (even if you have proof), they will promptly turn it back around on you for being paranoid and over-analyzing everything.
4. No Remorse
Normal people feel intense guilt and shame when they do things that psychopaths do (lie, cheat, steal, manipulate). But psychopaths don’t feel any remorse for their behavior. Weirder yet, they actually seem to enjoy it. Psychopaths know that their behavior hurts others, and it’s why they do it. The only time a psychopath will ever apologize to you is to save face, or if they still need something from you. It’s never actually about remorse.
5. Covert Backstabbing and Betrayal
Psychopaths devalue and replace others at the drop of a hat. Although you probably experienced an instant connection of trust and excitement with them, you’ll come to realize they can forge that bond with anyone. After once declaring you better than all the “crazy” people in their life, they’ll go running back to those very same people and declare you crazy. Psychopaths have no loyalty, no attachment, and no love. They leave behind a trail of destruction, and they blame their victims for it every time.
6. Turning People Against Each Other
When a psychopath enters the picture, you’ll find yourself disliking people you’ve never even met. Psychopaths are constantly whispering poison and gossip into everyone’s ears, making each person feel jealous and suspicious of the others. But they do so under a guise of innocence, using pity stories and pseudo-concern to warp your perception. Psychopaths want people distracted and in constant competition for their attention, so they seem in high-demand at all times.
7. Cognitive Dissonance
This one involves look within. When a psychopath enters your life, you’ll notice an intense and ever-increasing sense of dread and self-doubt. Your brain will struggle to reconcile the “perfect” person from the beginning, with the inappropriate behavior you’re starting to see more regularly. That’s because that perfect person never actually existed. It was a persona, created just for you. This is the hardest thing for our minds and hearts to understand.
With a psychopath, you’re always the bad one. Even though they lie, cheat, manipulate, steal, and con—you’re the one with the problem. Psychopaths have this innate ability to make you feel like there’s something wrong with you for recognizing that there’s something off about them.
So how can you protect yourself? In the Psychopath Free book, I talk about this idea of a Constant. A person (or a cat, or an imaginary friend) who you trust—with your whole heart. Someone who never makes you feel bad, and always lifts you up. A Constant allows you to recognize the common denominator when you feel “crazy”.
Psychopathic abuse is insidious. It’s hard to pinpoint. It gets internalized. That’s why a Constant is so helpful. Around these toxic people, you’ll start to think, “gosh I feel jealous or crazy or needy”. But do you feel that way around your Constant? Probably not. So what’s the difference between your constant and this person who makes you feel like garbage?
Eventually, with enough practice and validation, you’ll probably start to realize that you’ve become your own Constant. And that is a pretty cool place to be!