Below is a list of common traits and threads that people experience when dealing with psychopaths. These are the observations that people commonly make about toxic people in their lives. The problem is that most people do not have a framework or criteria such as psychopathy or sociopathy with which to interpret these traits. They just observe traits they find unpleasant in certain people but don’t really know how to explain them.
Psychopathy expert Robert Hare developed The Psychopathy Checklist, which is a superb resource in it’s own right for identifying psychopathic traits. We have sought to develop our own checklist, but written in lay terms and free of jargon. It incorporates some of the insights by Hare and other experts but also some common experiences that people report dealing with psychopaths in everyday life.
Psychopathy Checklist Traits (click on links to see our articles on each trait):
- Glib and superficial
- Egocentric and grandiose
- Lack of remorse or guilt
- Lack of empathy
- Deceitful and manipulative
- Shallow emotions
- Poor behavior controls
- Need for excitement
- Lack of responsibility
- Early behavior problems (now often referred to as Conduct Disorder)
- Adult antisocial behavior
See our full article on the Psychopathy Traits Checklist for a full breakdown of each trait, with specific examples
This list is by no means exhaustive, and there are no doubt other traits people will experience with psychopaths, since they are extremely chameleonic and are very good at adapting their behaviour once certain negative traits are exposed or confronted. They may also choose to temporarily suspend these negative traits when it suits, though it is never out of a heartfelt change of mindset. It is merely a ploy to conceal themselves or better manipulate others who they may suspect are “on to” them.
If you notice quite a few of these traits in someone in your life then it is worth looking further into psychopathy and sociopathy and paying closer attention to their behaviour. We do NOT recommend falling into the trap of immediate diagnosis of someone troublesome in your life as a psychopath. To correctly diagnose you must observe their behaviour over a long period of time, consult multiple resources and seek other feedback as well.
Psychopaths in Life Checklist
⦁ Whilst they may feel themselves, have no sense or feeling of your feelings – a complete lack of empathy and attunement to what you may be experiencing
- A relentless sense of entitlement, but at the expense of others. In other words, others must suffer, lose and be mistreated just so the psychopath (or narcissist) can gain or feel better. A self centred, zero sum view of the world. For them to gain, others must submit or lose.
⦁ They are chronic and compulsive liars. They constantly tell lies, large and small. Often the lies they tell are white lies which don’t really affect anyone, but they still lie just for the sake of lying. They are inherently deceptive, dishonest people; People of the Lie as M Scott Peck called them.
⦁ Chronically suspicious of others – always assuming the worst of you and manufacturing arguments and conflict even when that absolutely wasn’t your intention.
⦁ Constantly scheming and bitching against someone. They are happy to switch targets if it suits but there is a relentless drive to cause trouble and disharmony and set other people against each other. They are willfully destructive people.
⦁ As a caveat to this, they only target high quality, intelligent, empathic people. They do not target mediocre or low quality individuals as there is nothing to envy in them and they can easily manipulate and control these types of people anyway. They target anyone who may be intelligent and observant enough to spot them.
⦁Related to this, they are very good at manipulating and influencing others, particularly in workplace settings. They can be very adept at “toxifying” the environment around them, getting other people thinking like them, acting like them, bullying like them (even supposed superiors who are meant to be managing them). They often play apathetic, easily influenced people off against good people in the sociopath-empath-apath dynamic. Watch out for this in toxic workplaces especially.
Nothing is ever their fault, even when it clearly is. They never take ownership for mistakes and blame is always projected onto the other person even against all reason and logic. Projection is a well known defence mechanism in psychology and psychopaths use it to an extreme degree.
⦁ Strictly on the level of power, control and dominance over others. Solely ego and power driven. The idea of co-operation and harmony is alien to them.
- No creativity or vocational aspects to their identity. Strictly hedonistic, manupulative, ego driven and controlling personalities. No “heart” or care for the world. Their life is strictly work and play, with no higher purpose, even later in life.
- The Cluster B personality disorders in general are characterized by a compulsive, relentless need to create and feed off the reactions of others, be it fear, anger, dread, admiration, sadness etc. This is why psychopaths and narcissists constantly provoke and goad others – to generate reactions they can then feed off to create more drama.
⦁ Related to the above point, you will often find they are actively irritated by harmony and cordiality. They will make conflict out of a situation when you were seeking harmony and agreement. The Cluster B disorders are known as the Dramatic personality disorders – you will find there is constant drama with them.
⦁ They frequently engage in “gaslighting” – a gradual chipping away and erosion of your boundaries and perception of reality. They will claim things happened when they didn’t and vice versa.
⦁ Once the identity erosion begins, they will engage in progressively more outrageous behavior, violating your boundaries more and more. They don’t stop; they just carry on doing it as there is no empathy there to place a limit on what they will do to others.
- More generally, psychopaths/sociopaths can be seen as boundary pushers – watch out for people in your midst who are consistently pushing the boundaries in terms of their behaviors – invasion into your physical and psychological space, more and more provocation, mind games, gas-lighting, smearing, erosion of your confidence and self esteem. In short, more and more unacceptable, boundary violating behavior over time.
⦁ They get a kick out of good people’s misfortune and sadness. It makes their day to see they have made another person sad, depressed or angry or otherwise violated their boundaries.
⦁ Constant mind games – comments which they are ostensibly saying one thing but are meaning something else or otherwise cleverly concealed digs. Again they are relentless in this and just do it more and more as time goes on. It is part of the identity erosion.
⦁ They often take special pleasure in playing these mind games “in plain sight“, where others are around but don’t realize what is going on; it is a mind game solely between you and them but they get a kick out of the fact that they are doing it out in the open without being caught or detected.
⦁ They realize the fact that a) most people don’t know what psychopathy is and can’t spot them; and b) most people don’t think for themselves anyway and are very easily swayed and manipulated. They take advantage of both these facts to turn others against you and isolate you from a group, especially in a work setting.
⦁ Psychopaths can often be disorganized in their lives, “blagging” their way from one day to the next with no real foresight or planning. They are constantly bullshitting their way out of problems they create for themselves through their own lack of planning and organization. They will often borrow from one person to pay off another and so on.
⦁ As a caveat to this, some psychopaths are very ordered and rigidly structured in their lives, but this this is only as part of their desperate desire to control their environment and others. This most often manifests as the control freak, micromanaging boss.
⦁ Psychopaths cannot understand altruism and generosity towards others simply for it’s own sake. Normal people will do something for others for the sake of kindness and for the nice feeling it gives them to help others; psychopaths will only do something for others if it also benefits them or if it plays a part in a wider mind game they are playing with someone else.
⦁ Psychopaths do initially have a fascination with strong, moral, authentic people. This fascination later turns to envy once they realize they do not have it within themselves to be that same person. They realize they cannot just “download” virtue and decency.
- Characterized by extreme hedonism – seeks pleasure and avoids pain to an extreme degree. Refuses to face any kind of downtimes or legitimate suffering. The party has to keep rolling 24/7. They never grow or change as a result.
- Poor impulse control – psychopaths can behave well temporarily, but their sense of self control is very fragile and the “wheels quickly fall off” at the slightest push in terms of someone confronting their immaturity and dishonesty or not feeding their ego.
Things to Check For in Yourself
It is also crucial to be able to check in with yourself when you enter new relationships or environments, since when you are around psychopaths you will notice a difference if you pay close enough attention. Here are some things to watch out for:
- Check closely your mental state when either you enter a new job, are moved somewhere else, or someone new comes into your work environment.
- Similarly, also check in when you move in with new people (shared houses), or someone new moves in.
- Pay close attention to your psychological health and balance when around new people. Note down what you consider to be your healthy baseline.
- Note any deviations from this baseline since you have been around new people. Here are things to look for:
- Increased stress, anxiety, anger, irritation.
- In general, a sense of your body being irritated and agitated in a way it wasn’t before.
- Frantic searching through documents or records to confirm something was done or said – potential sign of gas-lighting.
- Constantly thinking about work even on days off, in a way you weren’t before – “prison” mindset.
- In more general terms, a loss of harmony in a work environment since someone came in. People being played off against each other, division, backstabbing, throwing each other under the bus. Psychopaths thrive off all this.
- General reduction in composure – dropping things, making mistakes etc. since around a certain person
- A general invasiveness from certain new people, digging into your boundaries in subtle ways or obvious. A feeling of a loss of privacy since being around certain people.
- Your body never lies with these kind of things, and will always signal to you that something is off if you are dealing with severely personality disordered people.
- For all these things, practicing mindfulness is a crucial skill to have, since it will allow you to better check in with yourself, reconnect your mind and body, and notice more quickly when things are off balance for you.