What Is Psychopathy?

There are several psychology and psychiatry terms that stir up confusion among researchers and professionals who specialize in the field. “Psychopathy” is one of them. The term is widely used by the general public to describe an individual who has a specific mental health condition. However, “psychopath” is not an official clinical diagnosis. Instead, after a detailed assessment, a mental health professional may diagnose a person who has traits of a “psychopath” with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).

In fact, according to The American Psychological Association, the definition of psychopathy is the following: “a synonym for antisocial personality disorder”. Some other researchers regard psychopathy as a separate condition from ASPD. Yet other clinicians consider psychopathy a more severe subtype of ASPD. A general consensus though is that psychopathy falls under the umbrella of cluster B personality disorders, which includes ASPD.

If you suspect that you or your family members or friends might have this mental condition, we suggest you take this reliable Psychopathy Test. We also hope that you’ll find this article useful for a clearer understanding of this mental disorder.

What are Some Symptoms of Psychopathy?

Psychopaths often experience patterns of deceiving, disrespectful, and/or manipulative behaviors. Such individuals may ignore people's boundaries or disregard their rights. ASPD symptoms can vary from individual to individual and may include the following:

  • Superficial charm and confidence;
  • Using manipulative tactics to control other people;
  • Patterns of impulsivity, irritability, anger, aggressive behaviors;
  • Consistent irresponsibility;
  • Disregard for the safety - both their own and of other people;
  • The tendency to be charming and arrogant at the same time;
  • Shallow emotions, lack of empathy and morals, no guilty feelings for their wrongdoings;
  • Shifting the blame on others for their actions.

Psychopathy vs. Sociopathy: Similarities and Differences

A lot of people use the terms psychopathy and sociopathy interchangeably, as the official medical diagnosis for both psychopaths and sociopaths is ASPD. However, these two terms have slightly different meanings.

Some researchers tend to believe that "psychopaths are born while sociopaths are made". In other words, according to some, psychopathy's components are mostly genetic while sociopathy is most often caused by a child's upbringing in a negative environment that resulted in emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse. Both psychopathy and sociopathy exist on a spectrum. The symptoms of these disorders can range from mild to severe. Sociopaths and psychopaths share several similar traits, including aggressiveness and a lack of remorse for their wrongdoings. Contrary to popular belief, psychopaths or sociopaths do not necessarily use violence with the intent to injure other people physically. Both sociopaths and psychopaths may certainly use physical and/or sexual violence and even be sadistic, especially if they are very high on the spectrum. But it is not an inherent characteristic of either sociopathy or psychopathy.

It is true, however, that both psychopaths and sociopaths are very likely to break the law. For example, they often engage in illegal activities such as stealing, various financial scams and frauds, money laundering, etc. Psychopaths are overall less impulsive than sociopaths, and it comes as no surprise - they are not driven by strong emotions. But because of their dulled emotional response some of them are thrill seekers. In most cases, psychopaths are unable to build healthy emotional attachments with other people. All they do in terms of relationships is form something shallow and designed to manipulate other individuals to their liking. In fact, psychopaths see others as objects they can use to reach their goals. Psychopaths never feel guilty or take accountability for their actions, no matter how much they hurt someone.

People often see psychopaths as likable, charismatic, and trustworthy individuals with steady lives and jobs. Some psychopaths even have families and are seemingly devoted to their romantic partners. They tend to appear cultured and well-mannered. Before a psychopath commits criminal acts, they carefully plan everything beforehand to minimize the risks and make sure they won’t get caught.

Sociopaths, instead, tend to be more erratic and impulsive than psychopaths. Sociopaths, just like psychopaths, have trouble getting attached to other people. Even so, some sociopaths may form attachments to a like-minded individual or group of individuals. Unlike their psychopathic counterparts, most sociopaths are usually unable to hold a job or live a normal family life for a long time. When a sociopath engages in criminal behavior, they may do so in a very unplanned manner, without assessing the risks and consequences of their actions. They may become agitated easily, sometimes resulting in violent outbursts, which increases their chances of being caught.

What Causes Psychopathy?

As mentioned before, currently a significant number of researchers believe that psychopathy is innate. However, even though the genetic influence is high, there are also other factors that contribute to the development of this disorder. Some studies have revealed that many psychopaths were raised in poor, violent neighborhoods. Some of them have had a history of family instability, parents who were alcoholics or drug addicts, and whose parenting was extremely inconsistent. This leads some individuals to have a fixated sense that they have been "robbed" of opportunities most people out there have been given.

Can Psychopathy Be Prevented?

Sadly, there is no way to prevent an individual from becoming a psychopath. But if aggressive behaviors and other psychopathic patterns get caught early in adolescence, therapy can definitely help prevent the development of ASPD.

What Is the Treatment For Psychopathy?

Unfortunately, psychopathy in adults is highly resistant to treatment. There is no mental health professional who can guarantee that a psychopath will be cured. And the main reason why it is so challenging is that psychopaths think there is absolutely nothing wrong with them. They do not recognize they need to change their behavior patterns and do something about the lack of some essential interpersonal skills.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the best ways to help a psychopath start thinking about how their behavior affects people around them and thus change those harmful and/or abusive patterns. Some other treatment approaches include:

  • Individual or group talk therapy;
  • Mentalization-based therapy;
  • Medications (antidepressants and mood stabilizers).

The good news is that according to numerous studies, ASPD symptoms typically peak between 24-44 years of age and start decreasing from age 45 onwards. It means that as people age, they start analyzing their behaviors more thoroughly and draw crucial conclusions regarding the toxic things they have done in the past and should stop doing in the present.