People That Fancy Themselves Psychopath Spotters...
Different reasons motivate them into believing that this is possible
Over on Quora, I get comments like this all the time:
“make no mistake, psychopaths/sociopaths have trademark eyes as well, easy to spot and once you see it you watch their behaviours for confirmation. Once confirmed, dispatch them immediately and as brutally and aggressively as possible; inflict as much misery upon them as humanly possible.”
“I can spot a psychopath a mile off. It may be my super power. It may be because of my autism. I dont like them and they make me feel ill. People who lack empathy are just wrong to me”
“I write artificial intelligence algorithms. It is literally a side hustle. If you exclude emotional capacity, I could literally write you. You think emotions are so weak, but the only thing separating you from a computer program is emotion. Which you gave up. The irony is that you think you are pulling the wool over everyones eyes but your type is the most predictable of all types. Your mask isn’t that good. People like me who unfortunately are acquainted with pathologies can spot you honestly very quickly because your social skills are so weak that things slip out all the time. People who aren’t like me can also spot you. They may not consciously realize it, but they know something is off. They won’t hang out with you. And they are right.”
“Lord, I get tired of self-proclaimed psychopaths believing they fool almost everyone. You’re not reading everyone carefully enough. I would spot you pretty quickly, no matter how charming you seem. You can’t help but show certain glances and facial expressions, or make what are underhanded or manipulative statements (that you thought you hid well). You aren’t able to notice just how much others notice. I’ve seen psychopaths (or perhaps sociopaths) think they cleverly manipulated a group - and then left and everyone started talking about how odd and manipulative they were. So here it is - there is no power is being a psychopath. But you think there is which is why you don’t care.”
“There is a lesson with a professor of psychology class in college, during the same class the professor have conversation with his students, and after he heard some of the answers of one of the students he suspects he is a sociopath.
He asks him to stay after class so that they can have a conversation and after he ask them some personal questions the professor announces that the student is a sociopath.
(It is important to note that he asked him before if he know he is a sociopath or knew what sociopathy in general is, and he replied no.)”
“there are a bunch of self proclaimed psychopaths who claim no one has ever figured them out. That just shows that they think so highly of themselves and think everyone around them are way dumber. I’m sure the majority of people close to a psychopath can tell something is off with said person. And a few or even one of these people might be knowledgeable enough about the topic to discern that said person is a psychopath.”
“I am absolutely stunned at how many psychopaths on here think no one knows they are a psychopath. People may not know the technical term, but I’ll guarantee the people closest to them know something is wrong there.”
I could keep listing comments forever. I also see a ton of answers from people claiming that they are psychopathic, and of course, they also claim to have the special vision that allows them to see another psychopath when everyone else is completely blinded to it.
There are a lot of people in the world that believe that they are blessed with this capability, and every single one of them is wrong. Not some of them, all of them. You can’t spot a psychopath. Part of this is of course the fact that psychopaths have been in a very intensive study from the time that they are young children to look like anything other than what they are. However, that’s not all of it.
The other parts are the limitations of empathy, and the inability to read minds. We will get back to this part though. First, let’s discuss why people believe this about themselves. There are a few reasons that I can think of.
Ego. This is a very common one. It stokes their ego to believe that they are capable of spotting psychopaths, and therefore they are ahead of the game. You can find this habit in everyone from Robert Hare, who should know better, to people that claim to be psychopathic, to people that claim to be the victims of psychopaths.
I related the story of Robert Hare assigning the label of “psychopath” in my previous post. In Hare’s case, my guess is that he does this because he has been deemed to be the foremost expert in psychopathy. My disagreement with this idea aside, being thought of as such likely has a fairly heavy impact on his opinion of himself. If you had every single researcher using “your” checklist as the basis for all their studies, and sell a ton of books regarding psychopathy, as well as are a paid lecturer, a tenured professor, and the guy that holds the “psychopath spotting weekends”, it does stand to reason that you might convince yourself that you can indeed spot them in a second, despite that being against what you, yourself, teach.
Now for those that claim psychopathy. This is likely the most annoying group, and that is because it is almost as common as the last category, the so-called victims. They also have a mirror reflection reasoning process than that of the “victim” class, in that the psychopath claimers will say that they can spot a psychopath based on traits that have nothing to do with psychopathy that are positive. The “victim” group will claim that they can spot a psychopath by traits that have nothing to do with psychopathy that are entirely negative.
When I say that this is common, I meant it is very common. They will claim that they can spot a psychopath in public, and they claim to be able to tell who is faking psychopathy immediately:
”Yes, if I can see their interactions with others, I can usually tell if and how psychopathic they ate within a few weeks. I can have fairly accurate suspicions within minutes of meeting them, but that isn't enough for any degree of certainty. That is only if I'm more intelligent than them, and the closer to my intelligence they are the more difficult it is as they are better at hiding it.”
”A self aware psychopath who has good knowledge of the condition can yes. It’s basically like a closet homosexual who recognizes another one. It is simply recognizing elements that reflect yourself.”
”Yes. I am a high scoring psychopath, I can recognise others, as well as sociopaths(secondary psychopaths), many other disorders and brain/personality variations. Besides being able to recognise others of a very similar ilk, we are very tuned to working others out, I can spot police, many school teachers, depression, ADHD, mental illnesses, personality flaws, peoples conscious fears, strengths and weaknesses, all sorts of thing the average person doesn't pick up on.”
”Believe it or not most psychopaths are easy to identify,(if you’re one yourself) It’s all just a mind game. But ofc it sometimes depends if your a low or high functioning psycho, as for me I'm a high functioning psychopath.”
There are a ton more. None of them would know a psychopath if they got sat on by one. How do I know? Because I wouldn’t. I know another psychopath, and no one would pick either of us up. What’s more, people that know that we are psychopathic will forget how much of our interaction with them is a performance. These are people that know, but they forget, but these people claiming psychopathy are able to walk into a building and just spot the psychopath across the room? No.
From the time a psychopath is born they are learning how to mimic. They are learning how to look and act like those around them in order to blend in. They are very good at this, and the mask doesn’t get dropped in public. An actual psychopath is more likely to miss another psychopath, and I will tell you why that is.
Psychopaths mimic, that’s true, but that mimicry does not necessarily come with understanding. What I mean by that is that while I can cry on cue, and recognize the situations in which crying is necessary, I do not understand the mental process that brings those two things together. The emotion is a mystery to me, but I can mimic it.
I bring this up because a psychopath is watching emotions around them that they do not have a point of reference for at all. What this also means is that there is a great deal of misassignment or motivation for why a person would show an emotion, especially in situations where they can’t comprehend that emotion is necessary. What they believe the reasoning is, is often wrong. When they believe that they are seeing someone act inappropriately they are more likely identifying their own limitations in understanding neurotypical interactions and emotional experience.
It takes a great deal of cognitive learning in order to understand this much deeper, but a lot of psychopaths are only going to do enough to get by and blend in. This will continue to be a lifelong learning experience, and there are always going to be emotional displays, or lack thereof, that will not be understandable to a person that is psychopathic. Them being able to successfully identify psychopathy in a random stranger is not a thing that is going to happen.
Another issue with these claims is that many of the people making them aren’t actually psychopathic, they are pretending to be so. I am not making a value judgment on any of the particular quotes that I pulled, as I am not qualified to assess psychopathy in anyone. I leave that to the professionals. However, I can say this. It is very common for people pretending to be psychopathic to look for what they consider psychopathic traits that they themselves are interested in possessing, and when they find those traits in another person, they immediately deem them to be psychopathic, and therefore someone that they can relate to.
The issue with that is twofold.
A psychopath wouldn’t need to do this. Psychopaths aren’t looking for boon companions in other psychopaths. I understand that they exist, I know one, but I don’t have some sort of compulsion to try and identify psychopathy in someone else.
Most of the time they are wrong. I don’t mean that they are wrong most of the time identifying another psychopath. There is of course the same amount of chance applied to any gamble. Sometimes they might actually hit the mark, but not because they are able to identify psychopathy, but because sooner or later you will get a hit. No, it is because they are thinking that confidence in a person necessitates psychopathy. Or fearlessness, or lack of remorse, or whatever positive trait that is related to psychopathy.
A confident person does not equate to psychopathy, and a psychopath may not appear to be confident due to their mask. Seeing a psychopathic trait, or even several of them in a person does not mean that person is a psychopath. However, the people that claim to be psychopathic, and also claim to be able to spot psychopaths, are seeking to find people that they admire, identify them as psychopaths, and then be in the same class as they are. It reinforces their belief about the personality they are enacting.
Now for the “victim” class. I put this in quotes not because I think that they are making up that they were a victim of someone. Likely they were. Toxic people are everywhere and they tend to be greedy bastards. It is because they are convinced that the person that victimized them is psychopathic, because psychopaths victimize people, and that’s all. No one else does this sort of thing. Chances are they have never met a psychopath that they actually knew was a psychopath, but they will happily claim that they have known ten or more, and all of those supposed psychopaths abused them personally.
This is not true. They may have had a life full of toxic individuals, but those individuals were not psychopaths. Is it possible that one of them was? Sure, that is certainly possible. Psychopaths can be as toxic as anyone else. There is nothing that prevents it, nor any reason to say that there aren’t people that are psychopathic as well as truly awful people. What I will not say is that they are truly awful people because they are psychopathic, just as I won’t say that someone with NPD, or someone that is autistic is awful because of those aspects.
People decide to be truly awful, and they decide to behave in a toxic manner. There are people that have a harder start in life, have abusive families, struggle to relate and relate in a healthy manner. If I were to describe a toxic psychopath likely I would say they would have no cognitive empathy. They are totally self-focused without any understanding that the emotions that those around them are in fact real, not pure manipulations. They would take anything that they could that would give them a leg up. They would roll over others around them if it meant personal gain. They would be impulsive to the point of self detriment. They would be unable to conceive of the consequences of their actions. They would likely be lower on the intelligence scale as well.
Did you notice what wasn’t in there? No emotional traits. It is unlikely that there is going to be a psychopath that is an emotional terrorist on purpose. Instead, they are going to be an emotional terrorist because of ignorance. They have no idea what they do causes pain because if you did it to them, it wouldn’t cause them pain. There is no ability to understand why it causes you harm, so they see no reason to not do it.
What does this have to do with the “victim” class? Well, a few things actually. The first of which is that they will assign emotional aspects to psychopaths that aren’t going to exist with a psychopath. An excellent example of this is the trio, love bombing (overvaluation), devaluation, and discard. If you have heard these terms before that doesn’t surprise me. They are commonly thrown around on the internet. A more concise description can be found here:
These relationship habits are often jointly ascribed to people with NPD, and psychopaths. They meld together and become the dreaded “narcopath”, a term that doesn’t exist except in the annuls of delusional Google. The reason why I say delusional is that psychopaths do not participate in these habits, and there is no such thing as a “narcopath”. NPD and psychopathy cannot, and do not exist in the same person, despite what the victim class would like you to believe, as evidenced here:
“You are absolutely wrong. You can have NPD and be a psychopath. I lived with one for 6 years. As cold and disconnected from their emotions as anyone you will ever see. Absolutely nothing bothered her. Took a hit out on me with a motorcycle gang after I caught her and her daughter stealing money from me and I threatened to file a police report. No empathy, no compassion. Their dog of 10 years got ran over. They said Oh well and went to the mall. I always wondered why that dog loved me from day one,lol!”
“I think you underestimate. I have a partner who had NPD, OCD and Psychopathology. I deeply understand these things. You are incorrect that someone can’t have NPD and Psychopathy. It’s not impossible. Have you done extensive research into the brain( the pre-frontal cortex especially)? I have.
I know a lot about this. I write on Quora for laymen to be able to understand things. If you wanted a “science paper on it, I could oblige. I have written them. But Quora is not naturally a place to talk about neuroscience etc. Most people won’t understand it.
If you do want to do the science angle, I can answer your questions. I think most people on Quora would prefer laymen's terms, which is why I write that to answer most people’s questions.”
Sigh… “psychopathology”… that… that is not what that word means. If you want to pretend to know what you’re talking about, at least know what all the words you are using mean… anyway, I digress.
As you can see, people believing that NPD and psychopathy can and do coexist are not unusual, and I can hear you wondering what that has to do with spotting psychopaths, and I will explain. They have these ideas of what they think a psychopath acts like, looks like, how they think, but they are so far off the mark they are inventing words that have no bearing on reality.
They then think that they can snap their fingers and can pick out these so-called terrible people at a moment’s notice. Do you know how I know that they are delusional? It is their own self-admission. They have a string of terrible and abusive relationships fifteen miles long, and they keep getting into them. If they were so skilled at identifying anyone that is toxic, they would avoid them, but they never do.
Interestingly it is these types that are the most adamant. Not only can they spot a psychopath *snap* just like that, but they also can identify the fake ones without even trying. I get a lot of comments on my answers that make these claims. I am not a psychopath because of *insert an extremely long list of completely wrong information*, so I am lying about everything for… reasons.
“Again, no matter you said your not a psychopath your a narcissist. And a real psychopath wouldn’t even say that! They would just keep being nice. This is how they charm people”
“I dont know why you act like a true psychopath like so many on here. A real psychopath wouldnt be answering questions on quora. As a true psychopath wouldnt care to. Have you committed any crimes Athena? Have you been in a relationship (the same one) for years? You even called your partner SO which is ridiculous for a psychopath to say. That or you are lying. You might have psychopathic traits but you aren't a full blown psychopath. More so you are a narcissist with some psychopathic (like everyone has) traits. Abnormal social behavior, not just what you think or feel makes you a psychopath. Remember that before you go parading your “psychopathy" around.”
Those same people then decide that they are capable of diagnosing people that they do not know, have never met, and when they do not even understand the new diagnosis that they are trying to assign:
“This answer looks exactly like from someone who has a hight functioning schizoid personality disorder. Maybe you are also a psychopath (I don’t know) but your answers definitely qualify more for SPD than psychopathy.
These are the criterias for schizoid personality disorder in the DSM V. Check it out, you can search for it online.
1. Individuals with schizoid personality disorder appear to lack a desire for intimacy, seem indifferent to opportunities to develop close relationships, and do not seem to derive much satisfaction from being part of a family or other social group.
2. They may have very little interest in having sexual experiences with another person. There is usually a reduced experience of pleasure from sensory, bodily, or interpersonal experiences, such as walking on a beach at sunset or having sex.
3. Individuals with schizoid personality disorder often seem indifferent to the approval or criticism of others and do not appear to be bothered by what others may think of them. They may be oblivious to the normal subtleties of social interaction and often do not respond appropriately to social cues so that they seem socially inept or superficial and self-absorbed. They usually display a "bland" exterior without visible emotional reactivity and rarely reciprocate gestures or facial expressions, such as smiles or nods. They claim that they rarely experience strong emotions such as anger and joy. They often display a constricted affect and appear cold and aloof
4. Their lives sometimes seem directionless, and they may appear to "drift" in their goals. Such individuals often react passively to adverse circumstances and have difficulty responding appropriately to important life events
5. People with schizoid personality disorder have a more pervasive detachment and limited desire for social intimacy.
I believe there are many schizoids that have feelings, but most of them don’t. And you may be on the extreme end of the SPD spectrum and still high functioning.”
When you see what people are using as their measuring stick for their ability to identify psychopaths, you can see that they do not even have the knowledge necessary to do so. This includes other so-called psychopaths. Nothing about being a psychopath means that there is an ability to glean who else falls into that category. That’s not how life works.
To be able to accurately spot a psychopath, no matter how you are wired, you would first have to know what psychopathy is, and what it is not. Most people are woefully undereducated, or completely misinformed when it comes to this.
Next, you would have to have excellent empathy. In the case of emotionally empathetic individuals, your cognitive empathy would have to be even better tuned than your emotional empathy. In some regards, I think that a person with highly tuned emotional empathy might be better at spotting a poor-performing psychopath.
Where they might get by with others that are less in tune, the better tuned emotional empathy might pick up on the hollow emotions if they aren’t able to mimic them accurately. However, with a psychopath that is very practiced, you are not going to be able to pick them up. I know this because I can trick your empathy without even trying. It is not difficult.
In non-empathetic individuals like me on the other hand, your cognitive empathy would have to be off the charts. I have good cognitive empathy, but it isn’t that good, and I know it. It is very rare that people actually put the work in to get into this upper echelon, and even then, they are likely to be wrong. Why would this be? It goes back to misreading situations. Even if you can pick out one hundred percent of the time when emotions are performative, and when they are genuine, this will only work in situations that you have previously studied. When there is a situation that you have not, you are guessing what that individual is thinking. That is not knowing, that is assuming.
The belief in mind reading is the largest issue that I see with people that believe that they can spot psychopaths. I don’t mean literal mind reading, but the assumption that they understand what another person is thinking at any point in time. They think that because they are acting in a particular way, that means that the person must be feeling X, Y, or Z. That is often not the case, and this is where your emotional, and cognitive empathy fails much of the time.
You think that the other person is feeling whatever you are assuming because it is what you understand. You understand your experience in the world, and you apply it to others. That doesn’t make it their experience, it makes it the veil you see them through. We all have our own perceptions that we see the world through and assume that everyone else does too. They don’t. They have their set of perceptions that they are applying to you. This is why people have a hard time communicating half the time. They are assuming, not listening.
This is also why people tend to ascribe to others the beliefs that they do. They have one set of values and understanding that they are seeing the whole world through. When they come across someone that doesn’t share that, but they are convinced that they do, it stands to reason that they are going to be incorrect about that other person’s motivations. This also, by the way, is why people have such a hard time understanding psychopaths in general. How we think is so far outside their understanding that it’s frightening.
Fear is another reason that people convince themselves that they can spot psychopaths. We are so different, and that makes us immediately labeled as dangerous. It is advantageous to be able to identify threats, and they view us as such, so they feel better if they believe that they can spot a psychopath from across the room. Just because it makes you feel better does not make it true. I have had conversations with a couple of people about this that have no idea that I am psychopathic. Neither of them considered me for a second and thought that the suggestion was ridiculous.
The need to label people is a strong one. It comes back to tribalism, both in the negative and the positive. From the people that want to be psychopathic, but want a friend group of other psychopaths (because apparently needing people is super important to pretend psychopaths) to those that feel that psychopaths aren’t human and therefore should be identified and labeled for the safety of all humanity. Either way that is tribalism, and an, us versus them, mentality.
I get that people would very much like to have some sort of superpower that allowed them to identify those that belong in their tribe, and those that don’t. I personally don’t think that is a very good idea, and it doesn’t exist anyway. It would be better if we could discourage people from seeing labels instead of people. For whatever reason that they want to keep them in the forefront minds however. I think that this is detrimental to the human race, and it would be better to start seeing people as what they are, individuals.