What is Psychopathy?

Psychopathy is a personality disorder signified by a pattern of lying, exploitation of others, recklessness, arrogance, sexual promiscuity, low self-control, and lack of empathy for others. Individuals with psychopathic traits appear to lack social emotions (love, empathy, guilt, and remorse). This means that they do not care about other people, feel remorse, or experience guilt in the same way that most of us do, although they may often feign these emotions. As a result, they survive by charming, conning, intimidating, or manipulating others.  Those with psychopathic traits may appear normal, thus increasing their ability to effectively prey on others.  Further, they are often good at mimicking emotion, where no real emotion exists, mirroring those around them. Yet they often reveal themselves through displays of actions that are inconsistent with their words.  In addition, they are often unable to sustain the persona they wish others to believe over time, which eventually hampers their ability to sustain deceptive and exploitative relationships.

People with psychopathic traits often have a false belief in their own superiority, a sense of entitlement and a complete disregard for social norms.  As a result, they commonly leave a long trail of victims and survivors over the course of living their lives.  Their victims include strangers, friends, romantic partners, co-workers, and family members.  Affected family members could range from distant relations to children, parents, and siblings.  People with psychopathic traits often view others as “suppliers,” and attempt to gain something from those with whom they interact.  Once they no longer need what that person can give or has to offer, that individual is discarded.

Psychopathy can also impair a person’s ability to function in society, in that individuals with psychopathic traits have an inability to connect or relate to others on a deep emotional level.  In spite of their emotional and cognitive deficits, individuals with psychopathic traits can sometimes be quite successful at work, although, at other times, they may display poor judgment while on the job, leave jobs impulsively, violate expectations for appropriate workplace conduct, or even commit crimes while working.

Psychopathy is sometimes referred to as sociopathy or Antisocial Personality Disorder, although there is evidence that psychopathy can be distinguished from Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Additional information about the nature and definition of psychopathy can also be found in the Resources section of this website; see “A Primer on Psychopathy”, “This Charming Psychopath”, and “What ‘Psychopath’ Means.”

For a more detailed discussion of the terms psychopathy, sociopathy, and antisocial personality disorder, click here.

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