How to Recognize Sociopathy

Photo by <a href=arash payam on Unsplash / ilustrační foto">
Photo by arash payam on Unsplash / ilustrační foto


Some of the best films today and in the past have depicted sociopaths and the damage they do. Movies can provide you with an experience of something you do not encounter in real life. However, if you do meet a sociopath, would you recognize them as such? Here is a rundown of the symptoms of sociopathy and how to recognize a sociopath when you meet one.

What Is Sociopathy?

It is easy to assume that a sociopath is the worst kind of person or even a kind of a monster. But sociopathy is a mental disorder that is diagnosed by specific criteria listed in the DSM-5. Sociopaths have traits that others typically do not have, or at least not to the same degree. People who are sociopaths lack empathy for others. Even when they know they have done something wrong or harmful to others, they have little or no remorse for their actions. In fact, they care little about the ideas of right and wrong. They deceive others in subtle ways or outright lie to them. 

A sociopath may know the rules of life, but they feel those rules do not apply to them. They often get into trouble with the law, and they tend to have no feeling that they should be responsible for anything. A sociopath may be hostile or aggressive, and they have no compunction against exploiting other people for their own pleasure and benefit.

Symptoms of Sociopathy

The diagnostic manual used by most psychiatrists and therapists, the DSM-5, outlines the criteria for diagnosing sociopathy. Here is a summary of those criteria. The manual states that a person can be diagnosed with sociopathy if they have an established pattern of disregarding the rights of others since age 15 and have three or more of the following symptoms.

  • Failing to conform to social norms about what is lawful
  • Repeatedly lying or using aliases
  • Highly impulsive
  • Aggressive and irritable
  • Recklessness and putting themselves and others at risk of danger
  • Irresponsible, especially about work or money
  • Lacks remorse

Tips for Recognizing Sociopathic Behavior

Some sociopaths can be quite charming. If you do not know them well, you might not realize that you are dealing with someone who does not care whether they hurt you or not. So, how can you recognize sociopathy when you see it? The truth is that it might take some time to see it since sociopathy is diagnosed based on patterns of behavior and not one single instance of a behavior. Here are a few patterns to be aware of if you think someone might be a sociopath.

  • No good long-term relationships – Because a sociopath does not mind hurting people and feels no remorse for doing so, their relationships usually end fairly quickly. Unless the other person has masochistic tendencies, they probably will not stick around for a long-term relationship.
  • Trouble with the law – A sociopath is almost certain to have a police record. In fact, many of them have a very long record of warnings, arrests, convictions, and civil suits. They might have had trouble with other people in authority, such as a commander, if they were in the military or school principal during their teen years.
  • Bad relationships with family members – There is an old saying that your mother will always be there for you. That may be true, even for a sociopath, or it might not. But either way, the sociopath’s family will get extremely tired of their behavior, and even the closest family relationships will be tense at best.
  • Keeping you to themselves – When you form a relationship with a sociopath, they monopolize your time. Their goal is for you to be influenced by only them and not get input on the relationship from anyone else.

A movie that shows sociopathy in the most accurate way is often a film with a surprise ending. Just like in real life, the sociopath is known by their patterns of behavior rather than one single event. If you feel someone you are involved with is a sociopath, it is probably a good idea to learn more and seek help from a mental health professional if necessary.