5 Questions Experts Ask to Diagnose a Sociopath

September 4th 2016

Laura Donovan

You've probably wondered if someone you know is a sociopath. Or maybe even if you're one. There's a small chance you could be right: One out of every 25 people is a sociopath, according to one researcher.

So what is a sociopath, exactly?

The central trait of sociopathy is a complete lack of conscience, according to clinical psychologist Martha Stout, author of "The Sociopath Next Door." Sociopaths aren't usually physically violent, but they lack the conscience to care when their decisions could negatively affect others, Stout told Interview Magazine.

If you're on the fence about whether this applies to a person you know — or yourself — there are more than a dozen characteristics that can indicate sociopathic behavior, according to the late researcher Hervey M. Cleckley, who pioneered the research of psychopathy.

We aren't in a position to diagnose anyone, but we can offer some questions that may indicate sociopathy, as compiled by Business Insider.

1. Do you know how to charm anyone in a room?

"[Sociopaths] are often extremely charming," Stout told Interview Magazine.

"They are people who are better than you and me at charming people, at being charismatic," Stout said. "I've heard this more often than I can count: 'He was the most charming man I ever met,' or, 'She was the sexiest woman I ever met,' or, 'The most interesting person I ever met ... .' That's because to learn to be charming is fairly easy — you can teach somebody to be charming and to learn human emotions — or to learn the behaviors that go with human emotions. A sociopath, a smart one, will study the way we emote, and will learn how to do that quite effectively."

2. Do you feel bad about lying?

Non-sociopaths might feel bad about being dishonest or telling a white lie, but sociopaths don't experience such feelings of guilt. Sociopaths engage in "[lying] for the sake of lying," Stout said. "Lying just to see whether you can trick people. And sometimes telling larger lies to get larger effects."

Cindy Holbrook, a divorce recovery coach, echoed that description in an April YourTango piece about identifying sociopathy in former romantic partners:

"Sociopaths are masters at deception. For instance, he may have lied about his job, finances, or family."

3. Do you feel bad when you hurt others in some way?

Holbrook said:

"He probably didn't have close ties with too many people, as a sociopath is incapable of feeling shame, guilt, or remorse. A sociopath has little concern for another person's feelings, desires, or needs. His main purpose is to get what he wants, regardless of how it may harm other people. He was probably very charming and charismatic, which is how a sociopath will win over the love and affection of his target (you)."

The "biggest characteristic of a sociopath is their lack of empathy," according to a diagnosed sociopath who used the pen name M.E. Thomas to write "Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight." She told NPR:

"They can't really imagine or feel the emotional worlds of other people. It's very foreign to them. And they don't have conscience."

4. Would you consider yourself fearless?

"Sociopaths are not afraid of very much, except for physical harm and dying — really primitive, basic kinds of fears," Stout said, adding that sociopaths may experience boredom when they are alone.

"Most of us fill up our lives and end our boredom with our involvement with other people — people we love, people we hate, people we're afraid of, people we're interested in — and that's what keeps our minds going," Stout said. "So if you're sociopathic, and you really have no caring for anybody, there's not much left, only boredom, and the way to relieve that, apparently, is to play a game and make sure that you win."

5. Do you struggle holding down jobs?

Sociopaths have a hard time keeping a job because that "requires long-term obligations to others," Business Insider reported.

Thomas told NPR that it took losing several relationships and a job for her to realize that she's a sociopath:

"I had just lost a job. I had just lost several relationships. And it wasn't the first time that something like this had happened to me, where my life seemed to just fall apart. And I thought, 'Well, I can't keep doing this — every few years have my life just go kaput. And so I thought, 'What is the common denominator here? It's me. There must be something that I'm doing that's causing this.'"

Any of this sound familiar?

[H/T Business Insider]