"You're a psychopath!" is often used as an insult about people we do not like, but what exactly is a psychopath, and do even psychopaths exist? Can a psychopath change? Here you can read about psychopathy and how you can recognize a real psychopath.

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First ... what psychopathy is not

In a column on BT.no, psychologist specialist and PhD Helge Andreas Hoff talks about psychopathy. In this article, some important dividing lines are drawn between psychopathy and other mental disorders, such as substance abuse disorders, borderline personality disorder and psychotic disorders.

With all of these disorders, there may occasionally be a behavior similar to psychopathy.

But most often we see that this is an expression of crisis, life situation or illness and disappears with good help, the psychologist emphasizes.

This is an important background knowledge to take with you before you read on.


Psychopathy - a very special mental disorder

The book "Sjarmør og Tyrann" (i.e., Charmer and Tyrant) deals with psychopaths. The authors are psychiatrists Alv A. Dahl and Aud Dalsegg, a journalist in the Norwegian Dagbladet, and they write that psychopathy is in a special position as a mental disorder for various reasons:

At a time when all disorders must have a face, virtually no one stands up and says: - I am a psychopath! Psychopathy is a mental disorder that no one admits or understands they have.

People with psychopathy have typically no experience that they have the disorder, and because they lack insight into the illness and feeling of illness, they also have no real desire for help with the problems they create.

The people who have been exposed to the psychopaths' ruthlessness, manipulation, mental and physical violence and exploitation, often get into big trouble. It is these people who seek psychological help - not the psychopaths.

Those who become psychopaths have once been children, and the signs of a skewed development have been present early. Severe behavioral difficulties at an early age will be a common precursor to psychopathy in adulthood.

Underlying motives of dominance, control and exploitation

In the abovementioned article on BT.no, psychologist specialist and PhD Helge Andreas Hoff says that it is common for people to try to create a good first impression in meeting new people, something we according to Helge Andreas Hoff do "based on a need for connection, to be equal and accepted." However, he emphasizes:

Psychopathic people's motive for creating a positive impression, on the other hand, is not a need for connection. It is rather a way to make you believe in them, give them information and bond with them so that they can dominate, control and exploit you to achieve financial, social, sexual or other selfish gain.

He also says that someone with psychopathy manipulates other people because they enjoy the feeling it gives them, and that a person with psychopathy is to a small extent controlled by emotions such as care, empathy, guilt and fear.


Example of a psychopath from reality

The book "Charmer and Tyrant" describes the story of "The King on the Hill", which describes how a psychopath can behave in the workplace. Here we retell the story:


  1. King of the hill

    Already as a student, Tore was considered a promising researcher. He himself knew he was good, and he often spoke accordingly. He was not afraid to put the professors in the crosshairs if they read something wrong.

    Tore wanted to be famous. The Nobel Prize had impressed him. He managed to talk himself into a PhD position in the laboratory of Professor Jensen, one of the leading researchers in the field. Here he was to work on a project with Karl, who was a few years older and had started the project. Tore soon managed to freeze Karl and take over the project. Without Karl being aware of it, Tore submitted several publications about the research results with only himself as the author. When the articles were accepted, it was too late for Karl to complain, and Professor Jensen, who was most concerned that the articles came from his laboratory, took Tore's side when Karl complained.

    The articles led to Tore becoming a professor at a very young age, and he managed to persuade a large industrial company to invest in a research laboratory run by himself. The company reckoned that the results from the laboratory could be used with good profits. However, the laboratory did not become a pleasant workplace. Tore often lost his temper and then he yelled at laboratory technicians and office workers in a very hurtful way. He made them understand that they were devoid of intelligence and that it was by pure grace that he kept them at work.

    The laboratory had several research fellows that Tore was to supervise in their projects. Tore was rude and rude to the female fellows, so rude that he demanded that they have bedtime with him, so that they could cooperate even more closely. The women were in a forced situation between having their research work done with or without Tore's guidance. They could not succeed without Tore's help, and he took advantage of this. He always had his favorites among women, which led to discrimination and poor collegial conditions.

    The male fellows did not have it easier. If any of them were promising, Tore could criticize them to pieces. As a result, many of them lost heart and gave up. Tore only had respect for those who could catch up and be as tough as himself, and he was afraid that someone better than him would show up. Tore demanded to be a co-author of all works that came out of the laboratory, regardless of whether he had done something on them or not.

    As an institute, the laboratory should have a council with decision-making authority. Tore did not organize this until he was ordered to do so. In the election of the leader, he threatened in advance the eligible voters individually that everything would be chaos if he was not elected. The staff were so scared of him that they saw no other way but to choose him, even though they really preferred another.

    In the management of the laboratory, Tore never wanted anything to be decided. Everything had to be kept undetermined (i.e., open) and kicked off based on the opportunities that emerged. Thus, Tore could control everything after which impulses that he got. At the same time, it meant that the employees never knew what they had when it came to finances or rights. They raised a number of issues within the administration, but Tore always managed with a mixture of flattery and threats to get the administrative people on his side. His gift of speech and authority provided for it.

    The laboratory initiated collaboration with researchers who were to obtain blood samples for analysis. For Tore, this collaboration failed every time. The other researchers felt that he pretended to be an expert in everything possible in addition to his field. Again there was a quarrel about who should publish the results of the surveys, and Tore tried his best to deceive the others.

    The laboratory eventually had to hire another leading researcher, and they hired Olafsen, a very well-qualified man. In the interviews for the job, Tore had a feeling that Olafsen was easy to manipulate. It soon turned out not to be the case. Olafsen quickly became popular with the dissatisfied staff, and he began to raise issues in the council that involved criticism of Tore's leadership style.

    Tore felt threatened and he spread rumors that Olafsen had cheated on research results at his previous workplace. He reported this to the Research Council, which saw itself forced to set up a commission of inquiry. During the investigation, Tore was able to ensure that Olafsen did not receive any assistance for his attempts. After a year, Olafsen was completely cleansed, but Tore had gained an advantage. "No smoke without fire," even though Olafsen was acquitted, Tore thought. Olafsen sought his way away from the laboratory, and in his place came a cautious type who dared nothing more than to dance to Tore's pipe.

Characteristics of a psychopath

In "Charmer and Tyrant", the authors describe that psychopathy is characterized by lying, inability to empathize, and always blaming others.


What is antisocial personality disorder (psychopathy)?

Information about antisocial personality disorder / psychopathy


Beyond this, they mention the following traits that are typical of a psychopath:


  • Cold indifference to the feelings of others
  • Irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, rules and obligations
  • Persistent irresponsibility as evidenced by repeated failure to keep a job or to meet financial obligations
  • Failure to follow social norms for law-abiding behavior, and may provide grounds for imprisonment
  • Fraud that manifests itself through repeated lies, use of false names or fraud by others for the sake of gain or pleasure
  • Morbid lying / broad-mindedness
  • Very low frustration threshold and low aggression threshold, including violence
  • Irritability and aggression manifested through repeated fights or assaults
  • Pronounced tendency to blame others, or to come up with explanations of the behavior that creates problems
  • Impulsivity or inability to plan ahead
  • Lack of realistic future planning
  • Reckless indifference to one's own or others' safety
  • Lack of remorse when one has hurt, abused or stolen from others
  • Smoothness / superficial charm
  • Self-centered, with great thoughts about self-worth
  • Constant need for new impulses, easy to get bored
  • Bluffing, use of manipulation
  • Lack of depth of emotion
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Careless sexual behavior
  • Frequent marriages / cohabitation relationships
  • Irresponsible parental behavior
  • Behavioral disorder before 15 years
  • Juvenile delinquency before 15 years
  • Several types of offenses
  • Failure during probation / release

Source: Hare - Psycopathy checklist (PCL-R)


50 characteristics of a psychopath

In the book The Power of Psychopaths by Raimo Mäkelä, a list is given of a number of characteristics that often characterize a psychopathic person. It is emphasized that not all characters need to fit, but that in psychopathy, a surprisingly large amount of traits will often recur according to the author:


  1. He (or she) seems physically and mentally normal.
  2. He dresses nicely, maybe startlingly nice.
  3. He is outgoing, determined and efficient
  4. His perception of reality is normal and undisturbed (i.e., not psychotic symptoms).
  5. He is intelligent, rather above the normal level than below.
  6. He is versatile and very strong.
  7. He is contact-seeking, good at getting in touch, and friendly
  8. He is good at acting and a verbal gift
  9. He seems like a rock-hard leader
  10. He has high thoughts about himself
  11. He acts as an authority and is authoritarian
  12. He does not bow to the authority of anyone else
  13. He has his idols or authorities with which he identifies, but he is not bound by the authorities; he exploits them according to what suits him
  14. He wants attention
  15. His need for recognition and praise is endless
  16. He cannot listen when others are praised
  17. He does not bow to any kind of criticism, no matter who it comes from
  18. He accepts no leader or boss above him.
  19. When discussing with him, one does not feel able to disagree with him
  20. He divides all people into one of two groups according to how they relate to him
  21. He is still suspicious of everyone
  22. He is attracted to other narcissists, but only to those who do not threaten his own position
  23. He demands that others trust him, and accuses them of not doing so
  24. He's jealous
  25. He is still competing with those who he thinks may be a threat to him
  26. His thinking seems logical, but his reasons often do not hold when you examine them more closely
  27. He is constantly waging war against all or against individuals who do not listen to him
  28. He accuses others of saying, thinking or doing things they have not said, thought or done
  29. He often uses others as a means to achieve his own goals without them noticing
  30. He feels neither shame nor remorse
  31. Instead, he changes his views, his tactics and his allies to suit each situation
  32. Sexually, he looks for the "same in someone new", as opposed to looking for "something new in the same" (i.e., the partner / wife)
  33. For a partner / wife, he does not choose someone who is prettier, better or richer than him, and who thus does not challenge him or reach his level
  34. He easily forgets his promises, statements or wounds that he has inflicted on others
  35. He makes others feel guilty for what they have done or not done to him.
  36. In reality, he never forgives an insult.
  37. One cannot trust his judgment
  38. His self-portrait can be drawn through the accusations and the praise and enthusiasm he directs at others. "Tell me what you accuse others of and what you admire in them, and I'll tell you who you are." In other words, when he speaks strongly positively or negatively about others, he actually often talks about himself.
  39. Weaknesses in his opponents he reveals mercilessly
  40. He makes rude comments about others and embarrasses them
  41. He covers his tracks thoroughly
  42. He is not artistic, sensitive, tender, soft, empathetic, loving, grieving - when you see him "behind the scenes"
  43. He lives in the now
  44. He can be hot-tempered, unruly and capricious
  45. In adversity, he is willing to seek "help" in alcohol and even drugs
  46. In his fearless frenzy, a psychopathic army commander can annihilate his own troops, if his self-esteem is violated
  47. A psychopath often works as an officer, politician, actor, musician, singer, presenter, talk show host, preacher, prophet, general manager, self-employed person, chairman, or leader.
  48. He is more likely to be a man than a woman. Psychopathy is more prevalent in men.
  49. The psychopath's behavior is in fact psychological violence
  50. He neither seeks nor accepts psychiatric help