Sherlock Holmes, played by Robert Downey Jr. says to his friend and colleague Watson the following “I’m not a psychopath, I’m a high functioning sociopath, do your research”. Once you hear it, you will probably wonder what precisely a sociopath is, and what a psychopath is.
Psychologists often try to classify sociopaths and what are the sociopath traits. For example, Joseph Newman said once that “a sociopath has an attention bottleneck that allows him to focus only on one activity or train of thought, to the exclusion of others”. Other researches claim that sociopaths lack self-identity. There are many factors that can define a sociopath. It is worth noting that psychopathy and sociopathy are terms with an intertwined clinical history, and they are now used interchangeably. But with that in mind, sociopath traits are different than those of a psychopath.
In many cases, the sociopath traits are subtle aspects of his/her character that drive the person to what he/she does. Together, all these traits form a pervasive pattern that can define the person as a sociopath. With that in mind, here are some of the traits you need to look if you want to spot a sociopath.
Lying and manipulation
The most common sociopath traits that make up who he is are lying, manipulation, and irresponsibility. Most sociopaths are cold, and calculating individuals with patterns of lying and manipulation. Using these methods, a sociopath will work his way, and always get what he/she wants.
Because of all the lying and manipulation involved, you can never trust a sociopath. He will try to get his way, and he will use lies to get there. Sometimes, sociopaths lie for their own amusement. You need to understand that these people are extremely skilled at lying, to the point you cannot really tell if he/she is telling the truth.
Being that a sociopath is a pathological liar, he will constantly make up stories that are captivating, making people easily believe in them. That is why you cannot trust a sociopath. One of the telling signs is that a sociopath always maintains eye contact while telling the story.
Fun fact: most sociopaths in pop culture are represented as successful people that excel in their powerful careers. Take Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada. Many say that the fictional character actually represents Anna Wintour, the famous Vogue editor.
And while they are wildly successful, sociopaths are actually irresponsible. That is because his/hers motivations differs from everyone else’s motivation. A sociopath is responsible only when it suits him, and when it helps him hurt someone he wants to hurt. In any other case, a sociopath will not care about the definition of responsibility.
Some signs of irresponsibility include refusal to take ownership of own actions, denial, blame, and shrugging off in cold denial. While a sociopath is actually aware of his actions, he has neither shame nor remorse for his actions.
We will talk in depth about emotions, but sociopaths generally are unable to fully understand the emotions of others. However, they are very successful in mimicking them. That makes sociopaths appear charmingat first sight.
Sociopaths suffer from too much ego and grandiose self-image. They always see themselves as someone who is superior to others. They are even delusional at times. In some cases, sociopaths sometimes see themselves as someone with superpowers and delusional believes.
Sensitive to criticism
One of the synonyms used for a sociopath is a narcissist. And like all narcissists, sociopaths are highly sensitive to criticism. However, they will often desire the approval of others. Sociopaths feel that they deserve adulation and admiration. If they do not get it, they might feel victimized.
Because of their lack of understanding of emotions, sociopaths often feel paranoid. It all comes because of their lack of trust to people.
Inability to understand emotions
Sociopaths lack the ability to understand emotions, and they also lack the ability to manifest emotions. They are unable to feel sympathy for others, or understand the emotional consequences of their actions. They have a cold and calculating nature, and they use others to personal gain.
A sociopath will almost never respond with emotions to events, and that hampers their capacity to feel love. They also have absence of nervousness and neurotic manifestations, as well as absence of irrational thinking.
Fun fact: if he wants to, a sociopath can cry. However, he doesn’t experience emotional pain and is incapable of understanding and feeling empathy, regret, and remorse. That is why sociopaths rarely cry genuinely. But if they want to, they can do.
Everything is a game
Perhaps the single most obvious of the sociopath traits is that for a sociopath, everything is a game. He will try to manipulate and control whoever he wants, however he wants, and whenever he wants. A sociopath plays the game of life for fun and personal gain. It is this trait that leads to all other sociopath traits.
Because of the lack of remorse, lack emotional attachments, and lack of guilt, sociopaths usually have affairs and engage in questionable sexual activity. They cannot attach to one person and love him/her, so they try to make up with constant and frequent sexual activity without questioning their desires.
What is interesting is that sociopaths are highly intelligent people with a high IQ. But their intelligence is what allows sociopaths manipulate others and easily plan.
Despotic and authoritarian behavior
We mentioned previously that sociopaths have a grandiose self-image. Because of that, they often see themselves as a necessary authority. They are in favor of a totalitarian rule.
Low tolerance for boredom
One of the easy to spot sociopath traits is their need for constant activity. Sociopaths have low tolerance for boredom, and require constant stimulation. They easily and quickly get bored, and turn to the next game, next stimulation, or the next sex partner.
In addition to telling lies all the time, a sociopath is also very secretive. He has little need for others. A sociopath will try to keep his actions secret and rarely expose the true meaning of an action.
Difference between a sociopath and a psychopath
We said previously that these terms are nowadays used interchangeably. But that doesn’t mean there are zero differences.
Psychologists agree that there are subtle differences, mostly in that psychopaths are more calculating and measured. They are more likely to construct a complex scheme and a plan and carry it out. Sociopaths, on the other hand, are more driven by impulsivity.
That is why psychopaths are more likely to commit crimes and the term psychopath is used to describe criminally insane.
Making of a sociopath
A sociopathic behavior is part of a person’s inner and outer words. That is why there are many things that can cause someone to turn into a sociopath.
In most cases, however, science says that a sociopath has been a problem child and exhibited difficult behavior as a younger person. Their willingness to get over the competition makes sociopaths more successful at their older age. Because of that, psychologists believe sociopaths can be found as CEOs, politicians, and stock brokers. In general, there are two areas that make a sociopath. We have the nature, and the nurture.
Nurture and biological causes of sociopathy
The question we need to ask is what is it in someone’s nature that causes him or her to become a sociopath? What are the sociopath traits we develop at younger age? There are a couple of theories.
One is that the brain of a sociopath matures at a slower rate than the brain of others. Early brain damage can also lead to development of sociopath traits. Tests that illustrate brain functioning, like the likes of fMRIs and EEGs, always show that there are brain-based causes of sociopath traits. Events in nurturing of the person can impact behaviors of a sociopath.
Nature and environmental causes of sociopathy
Similar as biological causes, scientists have hard time identifying exactly how much of sociopath traits are develop by environmental causes. But there is no denying that both environmental and biological causes play an important role in development of these traits.
In terms of environmental causes, we look to early life experiences like trauma, including abuse, rejection, and extreme poverty can lead to development of sociopath traits. Sociopaths come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, that is why the biological aspect has to be taken into consideration as well.