While the Netflix drama focuses on criminal psychology and profiling specifically relating to serial killers, not every psychopath is a criminal. "Don’t make the mistake of confusing a psychopath for a psychotic" were the words of John E. Douglas, retired special agent and unit chief in the United States Federal Bureau, and author of Mindhunter, the book on which the show is based.
We know that violence doesn’t define a psychopath, and many psychopaths lead perfectly ordinary lives. But how do you know if someone has psychopathic tendencies? Experts at micro-learning app and platform Blinkist looked at what most resonated with readers when they read about psychopaths to find out what the key signs could be.
Narcissism is one of the key aspects of psychopathy, and while not all narcissists are psychopaths, all psychopaths are narcissists. "Narcissists generally believe they're above the law, exempt from society's rules, and they'll lie, cheat or even kill if it's in their best interest," as author Joe Navarro explains in his book Dangerous Personalities.
While a narcissist might disregard the law due to a lack of awareness, psychopaths will do so purposefully, and do what they want with active intent. If you notice someone do something wrong and feel ashamed afterwards, they’re a narcissist. If they feel no shame or remorse, they’re more likely to be a psychopath.
They're charismatic (and manipulative).
Psychopaths are incredibly charming. They can be engaging and sympathetic, their stories are always exciting and believable, and, after speaking with them, you will often leave feeling happy and positive. The only sign that something might be amiss is if you notice that their stories don’t quite add up. "Psychopaths extract what they want from the victim. They do this by changing their personality into a completely fictitious character: whoever is needed to manipulate the victim," says Hare.
Psychopaths are pathological liars and can quickly make up whatever stories they think will strengthen the bond with their victims. They are incredibly adept at managing the impression they make on others and can change their apparent personality to suit any situation: anxious victims find them soothing and bored victims find them exhilarating. A chameleon changing its colour to snare a fly seems an apt analogy.
Not all psychopaths are violent criminals, and if they are, the main reason for them committing crimes in the first place is a lack of risk perception or consequences. For the average person, anything that might cause pain, discomfort or negative consequences is generally avoided. For a psychopath, anything they want to do, they will do, irrelevant of physical or emotional pain to themselves or others.
As Kevin Dutton says in his book The Wisdom of Psychopaths: "Psychopaths rarely hesitate, e.g., to take a risk: if they want to do something, they simply do it without being afraid of failure. Which can ultimately lead to time in prison – or to powerful financial and political positions."
They have a low threshold for boredom.
"[Psychopaths] tend to act immediately rather than just sitting around thinking about acting," say Blinkist. "That’s because they have a low tolerance for boredom, among other things, and always need to keep themselves busy. Every activity is rewarding for them."
They behave unpredictably.
Emotionally unstable individuals are highly unpredictable. They’re like an emotional rollercoaster: they might be riding an ecstatic high one minute and then spiralling down and feeling victimised the next.
They're experts at 'reading' people.
Psychopaths don’t experience emotions in the same way as other people, yet they are able to intellectually understand emotional responses and use them to their own advantage. A psychopath’s ‘friendships’ are always purposeful - they have to give the psychopath something in return, and once this purpose is identified, a psychopath will manipulate the person to get what they want from them.
"Psychopaths will evaluate their victims’ utility to them, e.g., the victims’ ability to provide them with money, power, sex, celebrity, recognition and so on," Robert D. Hare explains in Snakes in Suits. "At the same time, psychopaths will also assess their victims’ weak spots. Not distracted by emotions or social inhibitions, psychopaths are experts at reading people, and can easily identify their needs, likes, vulnerabilities and emotional hot buttons."
On the surface, psychopaths are extremely engaging most of the time: they’re often very charming, good speakers and entertaining to others – all of which distracts from what’s going on inside them. While not all psychopaths are ‘evil’, they are adept at hiding the fact that they don’t think or feel like those around them. It can be extremely difficult to ‘spot’ a psychopath in your life, as the majority of them learn to assimilate and act just like everyone else.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health US.