By the time you identify the charming sociopath, it may already be too late.
The word “psychopath” gets thrown around a lot, but in psychiatry it has a specific meaning. Psychopaths are aggressively narcissistic and impulsive and feel a relentless urge for sensation-seeking. They lack empathy and compulsively manipulate others through bullying or deceit. They believe that they are exempt from the rules and show a marked predilection for lying, even when it is not advantageous for them.
Earlier this year Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Ronald Schouten published a book, Almost a Psychopath, in which he and co-author Jim Silver describe the ways that people can exhibit quite a few of the symptoms of psychopathy without satisfying the full diagnostic criteria. Such people can be highly deceptive, manipulative, callous, and self-serving, and yet manage to maintain a façade on normality. One of Schouten’s goals in writing the book is to point out how such a person’s colleagues, friends and partners might not suspect for years that they have a profound psychological disturbance.
This, for me, is perhaps the most disturbing thing about psychopathy: its invisibility. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that a number of people have crossed my paths who at first seemed delightful and charming, but who wound up leaving a trail of wreckage—people who I now recognize were clearly psychopaths, or at least “almost psychopaths,” as Schouten styles them. Once burned, twice shy, you would hope; but no, having been tormented by one or two, I still managed to subsequently fall into others’ charming clutches.
Read more at Psychology Today