In society, the word sociopath is sometimes tossed out as an insult. Other times, it's used to describe a person in a non-malicious way but is used incorrectly.
What is a sociopath, really? Sociopaths are people who suffer from a personality disorder that leads to a lack of empathy and a conscience. These people are generally self-aware, and can mimic human emotions, but don't have any of their own.
A sociopath convention would be groups of people in which there are many sociopaths or groups of people that are entirely comprised of sociopaths.
Statistically, 1 in 25 people is a sociopath, meaning any large group could count as a sociopath convention. However, there are groups that are generally considered full of sociopaths.
Those groups were identified when Redditor GoGetEmTiger131 asked:
"What place might as well be a “sociopath convention?"
"A child pageant — the parents"
"Came here to say this exact thing, I'm so surprised this doesn't have more up votes."
"I mean statistically some of those kids must be sociopaths too, right?"
You're The Top
"sociopaths surround themselves with less powerful people, in my experience. you might find them at the top of nearly any organization, though."
"Supposedly they make up the majority of CEOs"
"I stayed at an airport hotel and the conference room was booked for "How to create a submissive Christian wife" or something like that. There was a low tooth-to-head ratio and a distinct lack of chins."
"I've read a lot of weird stuff, but this made my jaw drop a little."
We Voted Them In
"Any place where politicians gather."
"How is this so far down the list?"
"There probably isn't a larger gathering of sociopathic narcissists than a joint session of the US Congress."
"I was gonna say the DNC and RNC."
"I knew this would be at the top but honestly I think there would be more sociopaths at social media influencer convention. That or “life coaches.”"
"I knew two diagnosed sociopaths at my high school. Both became life coaches. I get heavy Manson vibes from their content."
"When a group of MLM huns get together in any location on the planet."
"Now let's talk about ways to manipulate family and friends to increase sales and even recruit your own worker bees!"
Reddit, Of Course!
"Damn roasted an entire platform"
The Whole State
"That place is so unbelievably vapid and just odd as hell. It makes Vegas seem reasonable"
"I was just gonna say Florida."
"Florida. All of it."
Become An Alpha
"We had a local "Alpha Con" here recently. I swear the promo poster was the biggest group of tools I've ever seen.
Edit : turns out it wasn't local. I am even more disgusted. Clearly I didn't do a lot of research into it."
"Literally any gathering of men where the word “Alpha” is used unironically at any point."
"Primary school / early years teaching or nursing. Some of the nicest people, but every sociopathic / narcissistic woman I've has the misfortune to meet has been one of the two. Careers where someone can have a large amount of power over vulnerable people, where they will generally be believed without question. Lower barrier to entry than other careers with similar amounts of power e.g. CEO."
Yeah, I Can See It
"Sports conventions. Anyone who enjoys watching sports is a sadist and anyone who enjoys playing sports is a masochist."
"-Your local lazy person."
"bitcoin/cypto conventions, which essentially are just techbro tupperware or avon parties to chill their little scams"
This Should Have Been Obvious
"mcdonalds play area , always smelling like feet"
Doesn't This Go Without Saying?
"A place that might as well be a "sociopath convention" is any place where sociopaths congregate. This might include places like prisons, mental institutions, or seedy nightclubs."
Social Media, Of Course
"Let me enter in one.. Enters this thread"
"Gun conventions either they really into hunting and guns or they are just insane"
Welcome To Hollywood
"I've read a long way down the list and still haven't seen "Hollywood" mentioned..... or maybe I should say "the entertainment industry"".
"They're especially unique because they will actually support causes to create a public image of themselves which isn't genuine."
No More Shopping On A Sunday
"Grocery stores on a Sunday afternoon"
Their Reputation Precedes Them
"Any kind of car salesman convention. I spent a very short time as a car salesman...let me tell you, most of them deserve the reputation they have. I've never been around so many people that were almost exactly the same."
Learning Who You Are
"That’s, it just school."
Well, statistically, that tracks.
We may have a specific image of what a psychopath or sociopath is ingrained in our minds—you can thank films like American Psycho and scores of other horror flicks for that—but the truth is they're significantly more complicated than that.
It's bad enough running into a psychopath or sociopath—I've had a negative experience with a psychopath and I lived to tell the tale—but imagine being involved with one intimately. Maybe they were a partner or even a best friend and you didn't notice their issues right away.
People shared their stories with us after Redditor DexterADB asked the online community:
"Friends of psychopaths/sociopaths, how did you realise your friend wasn't normal?"
Psychopath or Sociopath?
Psychopaths and sociopaths share a number of characteristics:
- lack of remorse or empathy for others
- lack of guilt or ability to take responsibility for their actions
- disregard for laws or social conventions
- inclination to violence
- deceitful and manipulative nature
But how to tell them apart?
Sociopaths are normally less emotionally stable and highly impulsive. They will lack patience, giving in much more easily to impulsiveness and lacking detailed planning.
Psychopaths will plan down to the smallest detail, taking only calculated risks. Psychopaths don’t get carried away in the moment.
"He could not comprehend the difference..."
"He could not comprehend the difference between harmless pranks and cruelty, which manifested in high school. Got so far that he broke into a friend's home, stole her TV, then got angry that her family called the police over a 'prank.'"
"Trying to talk to him about the difference between pranks and crime was met by a blank stare, almost confusion, followed by vicious mocking. I didn't see him much after that, then completely cut ties with him after he started casually talking about raping women."
To which this person replied:
"We had a dude like that in high school. He is now a photographer in LA, and I'm 100% sure it's only so he can have access to women's bodies."
"She let me read a written complaint from someone..."
"She let me read a written complaint from someone who claimed to have been bullied by her. It was very detailed, too detailed to be made up, but she denied all of it and played innocent. She showed it to me to gain my support against the accusations. A few months later she started bullying me with the exact same methods described in the complaint."
To which this person replied:
"People lie to others because they can't stand the truth of their own actions, in effect lying to themselves."
"He was very open..."
"He was very open with it. That guy was genuinely helpful. What he seemed to fear the most was to regress into a helpless person who couldn't fit into society, like the psychopaths that go in and out of jail."
"So, he made it a habit or a challenge to help at least one person with something every day with no strings attached, friends or strangers, as practice, to hold himself accountable. It was.. well, it was a bit weird, and he was kinda weird too, but he was open about it in advance so that he'd have a harder time screwing us over if ever he had a relapse in willpower."
To which this person replied:
"It’s always viewed as virtuous to be a nice/helpful person but people seem to forget that it’s a hell of a lot easier for some people than others. Sometimes just not doing something bad is the most good you can manage that day and no one sees that."
"He was a liar."
"There were lots of red flags. He was definitely closeted bi (which is fine, but his behavior wasn’t)."
"The main red flag is that he had a slew of ruined relationships in his wake. He was a college theater professor and had a pattern of behavior in which he would identify young men in the department who were emotionally vulnerable, often who’d had recent girl trouble and/or had no current male role model/father figure."
"Many of them had issues with their dads or their dads were deceased. He would then start spending time with them and love bombing them until they thought they were his best friend. He fed on adoration. I don’t even think he exploited all these guys for sex, though he probably did some. He just got off on people adoring him."
"When they started showing interest in other people, he’d go hard on the discard. There was a pattern of subtly putting these guys down and then building them up so they were conditioned to please him. If he got bored, he threw them aside."
"He once told me he viewed all his interactions with people through a caricature he created of them. For example, a black friend of ours was 'the loud black woman.' Another friend who’d lost his dad recently and suffering severe depression was 'Eeyore.'"
"He was incapable of self reflection. If he knew he’d upset you he’d apologize, but it was always empty. He could not reflect on his actions and actually accept accountability for wrongdoing. He was a budding alcoholic and would attend lectures and rehearsals drunk, then laugh about it later like it was some kind of inside joke."
"He was a liar. The man was pushing 40 trying to convince these college aged men he was in his late 20s so they’d hang out with him. He didn’t care about your boundaries. At his house he’d regularly expose himself 'as a joke' and acted confused when I didn’t find it funny."
"As one of these guys he love bombed and emotionally manipulated, I eventually wised up and realized that my relationship with him was not healthy, and that it was not acceptable for him to have the emotional relationships he was having with his 19-20 year old students. I cut ties and he went from love bombing to resentment so fast."
"Later on, my wife and I were visiting some friends who were also friends with him. They’d known him longer than we ever did, and let him stay in their guest room for months when he lost his living arrangements during Covid. They eventually kicked him out and cut ties too. Then they told us they had recently run into a former high school classmate of his who said “I’m so glad you got away from him. There is something wrong with him. He’s dangerous.”
To which this person replied:
"That guy reeks of narcissistic personality disorder. Their actions can be similar but the difference is that the root of narcissism is insecurities while sociopaths have none. Their egos are really that big while narcissts inflate theirs so no one finds out the truth that it's empty."
"His mom basically committed the rest of her life..."
"We were friends with him and his sister. We later realized when we could only see anger in him and pretty much nothing else. That was the first flag."
"One of the friends started dating the sister and he came to us one day and told us that our friend had taken him aside and told him that if his sister was hurt he would have no problem hurting him in turn. Our friend was terrified because he truly believed him. That was our second red flag."
The final one was when his family got T-boned at an intersection and his dad and sister were killed and his mom was in the hospital for observation and he was in there as well with some broken bones. He didn't seem to care at all when some buddies went to see him."
"The hospital was a teaching one with psychiatrists and all and one came to see if he wanted help while he was there and he basically asked why would I need help. Mom agreed to a formal evaluation and he was confirmed psychopathic."
"His mom basically committed the rest of her life to make sure he could function in society. Taught him what societal right and wrong was and laws governing behavior and stuff."
To which this person replied:
"Damn. Good for that mom though! Hope she accomplished her goal."
"I was a pretty vulnerable teen..."
"I had a friend who always seemed a little off/low empathy, but I ignored a lot of the signs. She was a destructive party girl with a weirdly hostile relationship with her mom (as in she was regularly hostile to her) and i noticed she could be a bit of a bully and thought of people as below her."
"I was a pretty vulnerable teen who always struggled making friends so I tried to brush that stuff off because she was cool with me."
"There was a point where she got super drunk, slept with my boyfriend, and they called me together to mock me about it. It was humiliating. Like peak embarrassment. What's even more wild is the week after, she approached me as if nothing was wrong and it was all just a bit of fun."
"I knew she was a bad person when she called me, but I knew she had something deeply wrong with her when she had no self awareness about the fact that an action like that would make me not want to be her friend. She seemed genuinely surprised that I was pushing her away."
"I have had some updates about her from mutual friends and it sounds like this is a pattern she continues to repeat in her adult life as well."
"She really treats everyone in her life like a disposable amusement and she's not smart enough to 'mask' and manipulate them – everything she does is extremely blunt and she doesn't seem to ever really care or register that it is hurtful."
"Losing friends also doesn't seem to bother her. She is never like "how dare you be mad at me"? She just doesn't get why people are so sensitive."
To which this person replied:
"Had a destructive party girl friend too. She also slept with two men I started dating. Twice because I was dumb enough to forgive her the first time. The second time it happened, she jokingly said she was seeing me as 'competition' and wanted to show me who was the boss."
"I cut ties with her. To her merit, she did acknowledge she had problems, sobered up, went to therapy and apologized. Honestly happy for her, but I'll never let her into my life ever again because she broke my trust forever."
"My nephew is two..."
"He yelled at me because my nephew didn't want to watch a movie with his kids."
"My nephew is two and he's scared of the dark. The kids were using a projector instead of a regular TV so the room had to be dark. Every time the door would close, my nephew would freak out, so I decided to keep him with me."
"My friend started flipping out, screaming at me, and threatening to spank one of his kids (who did nothing wrong). He started yelling at his wife also. He has five kids, mostly girls. The oldest girl tried giving him snacks to make him feel comfortable and offered to sit next to him, but my nephew was too afraid."
"It felt like she was trying to help him because the safety of her siblings depended on it."
"I didn't know what to do other than leave with my nephew so the girls wouldn't get in trouble. I tried calling social services but there's no proof that the girls are being harmed or neglected so they're still with him."
"I am afraid for the girls and his wife. Think he's suffering a mental collapse because his mom died from cancer. His mother abused him. He's become very harsh with the women in his life, including me."
"My husband doesn't want me back over there without him. I've been trying to convince their mother to take the kids and leave, but she won't listen. I'm only able to reach her through Facebook. She uses her daughters school tablet to reach me."
"She can only contact me when he leaves the house. He takes all the phones when he leaves. She's not allowed to leave the house, have friends, or have company while she's away."
"He doesn't let his wife buy clothes or do her hair. She's always calling me to cry and complain about how he's treating her but she won't do anything. I defend them all when I'm there, but I try not to because he treats them worst after I leave."
"I feel helpless. I don't know what to do. If I was wealthy, I'd buy her a house and move them far away where he can no longer scare them. I feel so helpless."
To which this person replied:
"Start a notebook so you can provide evidence if she ever pursues legal action. Character witness and detailed notes about interactions and events can make a case for a long term restraining order. Without them you likely just end up with an angry abuser in your house looking for revenge."
Some of these stories were more unsettling than others. And they might leave you wondering if you've ever run into a psychopath before. Who knows? Even if there doesn't happen to be one in your daily life, you never know who you might be sitting next to at work... or on public transit.
Have some stories of your own? Feel free to tell us more in the comments below!
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Merriam-Webster defines a psychopath as "a person having an egocentric and antisocial personality marked by a lack of remorse for one's actions, an absence of empathy for others, and often criminal tendencies."
Often, though, such a person is an unbelievable performer.
They inhabit a world full of people that can and do feel remorse, empathy, and carry the capacity to relate to others. For someone diagnosed as a psychopath, that means striving to feel when that is an unnatural phenomenon.
Or, for the psychopathic people who've lost all hope, that means pretending to feel.
The facade can last a while and remain convincing the whole time. But eventually, the cloak falls off and the cold lack of empathy can't help but rear its head.
For the people in that person's life who've been lulled by the performance, that moment of sudden clarity can feel overwhelming.
Tell Tale Sign
"When I was about 7 or 8 there was a kid who was about 6. We found a baby bird that fell out of its nest. In the time it took for me to go home and tell an adult he put it in the road and ran over it on his bike and laughed."
"Last I heard hes in jail for beating his girlfriend. F*** you Kevin."
The Good Faith Kind
"When he told me he was a psychopath. Not even kidding. He's a pretty cool guy though and goes to therapy and everything for it, he does his best to relate to people and judge emotion but it's difficult for him to hold relationships."
"Pretty smart and is doing the best he can, hopefully one of the more lighthearted stories on here."
A Not Spectacular, but Very Real Example
"I'm a college librarian, he was one of my students who came in a lot. He was super charming and good looking and altogether empty inside: no depth, no emotions, no regard for others."
"One of our staff straight up said, 'that boy's a psychopath;' she had been a social worker so I trusted her opinion and agreed."
"He collected types of women – he told me about seducing a female, married, military chaplain and getting her to do sexual things she didn't want to. Then he got bored with her and moved on."
"He eventually got his Master's degree and now works on the military base making big bucks, getting everyone else to do his work for him."
"Sometimes psychopaths are dangerous in other ways."
Way Too Many Checked Boxes for Comfort
"He set fire in the attic 3 times. Was disgusted by all animals and would try and abuse our cat whilst we weren't there or looking. Went out and bought a load of knives and swords and kept them in his bed...." -- Namshoke
"If someone tried to abuse my cat, imma make sure that bi*** gets flung into the stratosphere at Mach 5 with minimal acceleration"
"In all seriousness, is everything okay now? It must be/have been really difficult to live with someone like that." -- ProcrastinationKing27
All in the Act
"I met an individual who later pled guilty to his involvement in about 14 murders. During an interview about his childhood and personal life, it became very apparent that he had no interest in other people and that they were basically NPCs to him - even his girlfriend and child."
"He was in a gang and his behavior was basically shadowing the other guys with status. He had a girlfriend because that's what the other guys did. He had a fancy car. He wore the right clothes."
"The other guys figured out early on that he was not bothered by murder or gunfights, so he was their hitter. During the interview, he was perfectly polite, but utterly flat in his affect and didn't attempt to dissemble or minimize a lot of terrible things that happened to him or the things he'd done."
"It made for an interesting interview!"
"This one won't be crazy or frightening, but I remember the point at which I recognized sociopathy in my ex. We sat down on his bed at night and I asked him to tell me things about himself (because even though we were dating I knew nothing about him)."
"He could not give an answer beyond surface level on any emotional topic. I looked in his eyes and saw nothingness. I realized why I could never emotionally read him or get any sort of feel."
"He did tell me after we broke up that he can't feel emotions and how much it sucks. I didn't understand this until much later."
"Before we dated, I remember him telling me how manipulative he is, with a smile. He lied constantly about everything and had 15 other relationships before me, all ending within a month. (Yes, an obvious red flag that I ignored)."
"He would jump from religion to atheism every other month. He would repeat cycles over and over. He was known by everyone and liked by many. Very charming. Had a 'flirty' personality. Loved risk taking for no reason. Always got into trouble."
On-Field Signs of Trouble
"Played soccer with a guy in high school that had a real short temper & enjoyed playing the sport as rough as possible (even at practice). Coaches had to tell him to calm down all the time. Everyone hated him and stayed away from him."
"Several years later he murdered a classmate of mine over some weed. He hid the body under a pile of leaves in his backyard."
"When I heard the news, I wasn't surprised in the least."
An Awful Date
"She kicked my leg while we were ice skating to make me fall. I really hurt my back, I couldn't get up, could barely talk and had trouble breathing. I asked her please to call someone but she just stood there and laughed at me for a few minutes until I was able to crawl to my phone and call someone."
"She also said to my adopted brother that he is worth nothing because even his real parents left him in the trash. It was the only time I ever punched someone in the face."
"I was in the military and my roommate was over-protective over all of MY stuff, never wanted me to share, it was either his or mine. Couch, remote, TV, ps4. Like eyes can't be on the tv together."
"Anyways he gets snacks from home sent to him and a rat gets in and eats his food. He stays up for 3 days looking for this rat, doesn't sleep until he catches it, and then proceeded to cut off his toes, fingers, paws and legs in the open courtyard by us so that 'the other mice learn their place' by hearing its screams."
"I wasn't home when this happened, I was on base. Other housemates explained in detail when I got there warning me."
"Left the next day."
And She Kept Working With Kids....
"When my ex boss at the youth service actually barricaded the door of her office to stop me leaving. She had me cornered in my wheelchair, the office was too small for me to turn round. Meanwhile my colleagues were outside the office literally trying to break the door down to rescue me."
"She was given a slap on the wrist for her behaviour with me , but she still works at the youth centre, nobody I worked with at the time wanted to work with her though and they lost loads of kids from the service."
"I'm pretty sure an ex of mine is a psychopath. He had signs of it, like being manipulative, very selfish, no empathy, constant lying."
"I think the moment I twigged was when he came home early from work and said he'd been sent home because he told his boss I had hung myself the night before. I asked him why he'd said that and he just shrugged."
An Aggressive Avoidance of Responsibility
"My period was late and I had let the dude know it was (first time my period was ever late while on birth control pills but I had recently switched to a different one). He immediately started blaming me for not taking my birth control right and that if I was pregnant he would kill me."
"I even told him I doubted I was pregnant and not to worry and that the doctor told me that it might happen."
Uncomfortably Cut Out
"I went to high school with a guy; we weren't close but had a lot of mutual friends so we were around each other a lot. Once he beat a guy with a tire iron when the guy tried to scam him when he was selling some weed or something."
"Later on, he went to Iraq and was in some sh**. He came home on leave at some point and I was at a bar playing pool with him and he nonchalantly talked about killing people over there. Said he enjoyed it."
"He was always very calm and chill when I was around him, but I tried to avoid him after that- there was something broken in there. The weirdest part is that he would have these moments or anecdotes of extreme violence, but he always related them calmly. Never felt any sort of regret for any of it."
"Obviously you can't diagnose someone off of that sort of thing, but I've read that sociopaths make good soldiers- and he was fairly successful in the Army, I believe."
That Poor Child
"When I had a parent-teacher conference with a student of mine's mom and dad. This was maybe 15 years ago, but it stuck with me. The daughter had some minor issues with math (3rd grade) and the father insisted that he was a physics professor at an Ivy League university nearby."
"When I told him his daughter was struggling with the US standard algorithm, he got upset and told me he didn't understand what the word algorithm means. And he's a physics professor? Um. Ok. When I began to explain, his face got completely flat and devoid of any expression."
"His wife immediately noticed the look on his face (he was staring right at me, not blinking or saying anything) and her face blanched, and she started pulling on his arm and trying to get his attention (off me, I assume). When I described it later, I called it a 'serial killer face.'"
"He eventually let her pull him out of the room and end the conference. I immediately told my principal and said I refused to do another conference alone with these people. I definitely felt as though if I were alone with this man, he would have come after me physically. His wife's response was very telling. I only dealt with her from then on."
Not Really the Point of Martial Arts
"I think I might have posted about this before, but there was a guy I was in a couple clubs with in high school. He was always really polite but...intense. Like the kind of intense you didn't want to make direct eye contact with, if that makes any sense."
"Anyway, one day we're walking back from McDonald's or somewhere together before our club started. It's just the two of us, and out of nowhere he starts talking about how he's a black belt in some martial art, and gleefully tells me about how in one of his classes they had just learned how to break someone's neck in one move, and how cool it was."
"I was like, 'Huh. Okay then. That's interesting.' and just let him go on his merry way. In the back of my mind I was going 'This dude is totally going to kill somebody someday.'"
"Years later, he makes the local news for assault."
Nothing Casual About That
"Lady I worked with. She was a little difficult, not very technical, not very accommodating towards people trying to solve her tech problems, but nothing out of the ordinary. Except occasionally her kids would call her at work and she would say just unforgivable things to them."
"And then one day she just casually mentions that she has the family pets euthanized when she gets bored with them. I actually didn't believe her and asked her to clarify/confirm - I totally understood her correctly the first time, she just straight-up kills pets whenever she feels like it."
"And this woman kept talking about how she should totally get a dog..."
All Power, No Emotions
"I went to university with a guy I am positive is a psychopath. Quite pleasant to be around but he has no regard whatsoever for you. Quite charming actually and the best ladies man I've ever seen."
"But once he f***s them he's done. Like literally they don't exist to him. I've seen him break up 2 year long relationships of other people then dump the girl the morning after."
"I suspected he was a psychopath but we took a class psych class together and he confirmed it to me. Like straight up told me he'd been diagnosed as a teen."
"I wouldn't call him a bad guy but he didn't see me or anyone else as human. Just things he enjoyed interacting with. Played D&D and board games with him for years. Still have him on my Facebook but haven't seen him in like a decade."
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The media taught us, through "stranger danger," through horror films in the 80s, through "true crime" documentaries, to be on the constant lookout for psychopaths and sociopaths.
While dangerous personality disorders, it's not impossible that a psychopath or sociopath may blend into the crowd without drawing much attention to themselves because working in society--to them--is a set of rules and tactics to fit in. Whereas neuro-typical folks act without much thought, psychopaths and sociopaths carefully calculate every action and consequence.
Here were some of those answers.
They're Among You
The real clever ones are your friends and community leaders already.
They aren't stupid, they're not incapable of reading emotion. They're not gonna get caught out by some stupid "gotcha" questions.
There is no overall easy way to spot them. Life isn't a video game.
A Multitude Of Persons In One
Initially they can make you feel proud, but eventually you feel anger, shame, or fear - as a result of their gaslighting - when you are near them. These are feelings that they project on to you, because they don't have a functioning emotional system to deal with them. They are not your feelings. They have simply been 'delegated' to you.
Extremely selfish but charming. Initially very charming, curious, and they overshare personal information to loosen you up and much later take advantage from knowing details about you. Combative behavior when under 'stress', but typically no display of fear. Treats others as 'lesser beings', for example by addressing them in some diminutive form. No display of shame or excessive display of shame (burning cheeks). Excessively selfish behavior. Easily 'bruised' and responds to perceived slights with revenge.
"Saviour" syndrome. They "help" you in some "grand" way and you suddenly owe them a favor of some sort, where you are at a disadvantage and repaying the favor is not in proportion to the initial help, but they put you in a bind of some sort, like "selling your soul".
Many sociopaths are profoundly charming and successful human beings.
It's really not the people with "cold eyes or weird looks" who are sociopaths, sociopaths learn how to present themselves as an ideal version of a human being. On the contrary, it's not people who seem weird or dark or moody you need to be cautious around, it's the people who appear perfect like they have everything figured out.
Those are the cult leaders, or the extraordinarily successful people in our society who are secretly sociopaths, they often hold positions of great prestige, they know exactly what to say to put you at ease and make you feel comfortable, and they are the people who would gladly bury you in the desert if they knew they could get away with it and it would benefit them somehow to do so.
They violate boundaries or become incredibly upset/angry/sad/whatever when you maintain your boundary.
Knowing your boundaries, setting them, and maintaining them are key skills I work with clients on in therapy. Especially clients who are uneasy about relationships due to a history of poor relationships.
This strategy isn't fool proof but it helps in pinpointing toxic people. First is to know your boundary, then you set it (tell the person the boundary), then you maintain (don't break it) and see how they handle it.
I will give you an example. Say spending time alone with your children each weekend is really important. So you start dating someone new and you tell them this. "Every weekend that I have my kids, I make sure that I spend X amount of time, just me and them. During this time, it means I won't be texting or having any visitors over, etc. Are you ok with this?"
Most people say "yes I am good with this"
Alone time with the kids comes and the new date keeps texting you, or drops by with a coffee, or offers to take you all out for supper. They try to weasel in. When you assert and maintain your boundary by 1) not texting back because you told them you wouldn't ahead of time or 2) declining the coffee and turning them away at the door, this is when their true colors can come out.
Most people will be a little hurt/embarrassed/whatever at the perceived rejection and that is ok. A healthy person will discuss the matter reasonably once the kids are gone.
A not so great person might get angry, might "punish you" by icing you out, be dramatic and make accusations, engage in attention seeking behavior, call you mean, etc. These are GIANT red flags. All of that is trying to manipulate you into thinking you were wrong for communicating clearly what was important to you and what it would look like.
See these flags and cut and run. If the person wanted to change, they likely would. I am very in support of ghosting at early stages of dating with this type of behavior because explaining your reasoning just gives the person more fuel to try to manipulate you into sticking with them.
As someone who has cared for numerous people with professionally-diagnosed psychopathy during my time working on a locked psychiatric ward, I would strongly advise you to look at how they handle power, choice, and influence.
I see that the Macdonald triad has been referenced, but this is a poor diagnostic tool, as few adults would candidly admit to bed-wetting, fire-starting, or animal torture. Rather, they would be able to effortlessly conceal these early red flags.
As I understand it, antisocial personality disorder and its variants occur when an individual acts radically in favor of their own interests, to the detriment of the good of the group (i.e., society). This could be a bank robber who doesn't care how many people he needs to mow down in his escape, or a banker who doesn't care how many lives and fortunes are ruined as a result of a shady transaction--nothing matters except the perceived interest of the individual.
Seeing how the individual uses power, choice, and influence--whether to increase, or at least acknowledge, the common good... or not--can be the best indicator of a person's tendency toward this disorder.
They spend a lot of time and energy managing other people's perceptions of them rather than building meaningful relationships. They may burn through relationships, friendships or business acquaintances quickly when those people either question their behavior or no longer provide attention, money, status, sex or labor. People are not human beings to them, but a means to an end. Charm, use, discard, and repeat.
Look Through The Eyes
I work in forensics psychiatry, deal with many psychopaths and some sociopaths.
I work with a forensic psychiatrist who does most high profile psychopath assessments in Canada.
I asked him this question, how can I spot a psychopath? He says just look at them in the eyes, if you feel like you are looking through them then that might be your answer right there. I mean he doesn't use this technique on his assessments, but I thought it was kinda interesting compared to your usual triad of psychopath behaviours.
For example if you look at Derek Chauvin in that video, you might see what I'm talking about.
They find humor and joy in others misfortune or pain.
Sometimes it's simply not that easy to spot. Some are very good at hiding it and you only know once you have gotten to know them.
Psychopaths will mirror your body language to make you feel more comfortable and let your guard down. That is a dead giveaway. They also typically have a low resting heat rate. Also some studies claim that psychopaths blink significantly less than the average person, and don't yawn when you yawn in front of them. Supposedly this has to do with empathy which is why humans commonly yawn when they see or hear others do it, but psychopaths who lack empathy by nature /definition do not yawn when they see or hear this.
Sociopaths are antisocial by nature and tend to distance themselves from others. They typically come off as angry or strange which further isolated them from society.
A lot of pop culture mixes up these two terms or uses them interchangeably when they are actually pretty different behaviorally!
In a YouTube video, a psychiatrist said a tell-tale sign is asking the person, in relation to anything personal about themselves, "How does that make you feel?" or "Tell me how you feel about that."
Sociopaths/psychopaths will instantly bristle and become visibly uncomfortable. They don't process their emotions so a question that involves self-examination will send them running for the hills, according to this doctor.
She says she uses the line at parties. lol
Normally, we would opt to start an article with a witty bit of humor. We try to keep it light around here. This isn't going to be that article, though.
Children who are mentally or emotionally atypical can struggle when it comes to school. Finding the right environment for them to thrive can be a challenge. Unless and until the right fit is found, there are bound to be incidents.
Reddit user Ranakisnthere asked about those incidents when they posted this question:
The responses could sometimes be intense and are not for the easily unsettled.
I have a million stories of students who say borderline sociopathic stuff, but the worst thing I've ever heard to date was:
"I can't be trusted with knives. My mommy hides all knives in the house from me because I've tried to stab everything and everyone. I know if I stab an animal or a person too much they might die. This would mean I'd go to jail and I don't think I could make it in jail. So I want to find a dead body and stab it over and over again. This way I know I won't get in too much trouble cause the person was already dead."
She was only nine.
All For Attention
This one happened just the other day and, obviously, I'm going to be anonymous about it to protect the child's identity. Let's call her Abby.
So, I'm driving a minibus of students home from a basketball practice when suddenly Abby starts screaming, "did that have peanuts in it!? I'm allergic to peanuts!" She begins hyperventilating and crying and actually makes me pull over so she can get off the bus and throw up. We're about 15 minutes from the school and I'm literally having a panic attack.
So, I call the principal and ask what should I do? Do we have an Epi-pen on hand at the school, ect. She seems confused and puts Abby's grandmother on, who tells me she wasn't aware her granddaughter, who is claiming she can barely breath, HAD any allergies.
When we got back to the school I was about ready to faint and the principal brings out her registration paperwork to show me: no listed allergies. She isn't allergic to anything, it was all an act. The hyperventilating, the crying, even the throwing up, was all for attention.
The First Seven MonthsGiphy
So I am not entirely sure if this is sociopath or psychopath but I had a child that was creepily into my pregnancy for the first 7 months.The child was a Male. 10 years old. He wanted to name her, talked to my belly, etc.
Then one day it clicked that I would leave to take care of the baby once the child was born. He got really close to me and whispered, "When you come out, I'm going to kill you with a hammer. I hate you."
I was shocked, so I took him with me to the office. The LSSP asked why he said that. He replied that, "It will take her away. I want it to die so she stays here."
He was on a lot of medication for his incredibly violent tendencies. He had tried to kill his sister before by pushing her in front of a bus. His mother kept him locked in his room at night because she had found him standing over her with a knife.
The last I saw of that child, he was being carried down the hall by two grown men and giving them a run for their money. He had attempted to kill the school's police dog with a pair of scissors. He was screaming and ranting that he would "kill all of you MFers!"
He ended up being committed after a long series of events that involved MHMR and CPS. I will never forget his poor mother crying in our final meeting and asking what she had done wrong. Her other two children were neurotypical and absolute delights. I had taught both of them previously. It still makes me tear up sometimes.
Waiting For The Opportunity
I had a student while I was doing my student teaching (8th grade). He was constantly in trouble, but during the times he WAS in class, he just stared off with the most vacant look in his eyes, it truly scared me. It was downright creepy.
One day he was up at the whiteboard writing some stuff (I think it was correcting sentences) with a bunch of other kids who were doing the same thing. I wasn't watching the kids at the board, and all of a sudden I hear this blood curdling scream and look over - he had brought a hypodermic needle and had stabbed the girl next to him in the leg.
He had been holding it in his hand the entire time, just waiting for the opportunity to stick someone. It was, of course, terrible, but the girl turned out okay. The worst part, besides that, was how he laughed when security came to get him ... Ugh, I'm shuddering now just thinking about it.
Fear For His Future
I taught a 4 year old boy who actually scared me because I fear what his future will be. I can see him ended up doing some awful things to people.
He would try and kiss and hug girls and when they didn't want to, he'd hold them tightly and try to anyway, even if they loudly protested. I explained that there is no kissing in school and if someone doesn't want to hug, they absolutely do not have to. I also said that some people don't like hugging. He said "Well I want her to! So she will!"
He just couldn't understand boundaries of any kind. This is just one tiny example of the things he did. His behavior with other students boundaries was so bad that molestation at home was one of the things that crossed our minds at the school.
I logged all of his behaviours (this took hours and I had to do the logs multiple times a day). This school has a specific safeguarding leader who works with the police to investigate concerns. They follow a specific referral policy and referred this on. Investigations showed no concerns about his home life.
I did refer him for evaluation as I believe he has autism and he's undergoing assessment now and awaiting a diagnosis but I worry there's something else there with him.
He would also watch other children to see how he 'should' act. For example, a child might be sad and another child comforts them. He would copy this behaviour but totally exaggerate it. Like completely over the top and use it as an excuse to touch others - mainly girls. He never showed any genuine emotion other than anger and jealousy.
He had a very scary look in his eyes and I've never met another child like him.
I was often substituting a special needs class, 6-7 boys about 8-10 years old. The days were normally lively but I always had everything under control and the boys had learned to trust me and at least tried to do what I told them to. Never had any real problems, just normal stuff.
Then one time there was a new boy in the class. Their teacher had written me a note that said to keep a close eye on him at all times. He had the telltale features of a FAS child and small, black eyes like a shark. He never showed any emotion whatsoever excluding immense excitement if someone else got hurt in any way.
Few days passed without any incidents and then, out of the blue he stands up in the middle of class, yanks the much smaller guy sitting in front of him down with his chair from behind and starts to pummel him in the face with his fists. I ran to intervene and grabbed him off and set him in a corner ordering one of the trustworthy boys to run and get the principal here, NOW! The attacker stood in the corner, emotionless as ever and completely calm. I turned to check out the crying kid on the floor and miraculously he seemed unharmed but was just shaken uo by the surprise attack. I sat down on the floor to calm him down and to help him up. Next thing I know is the shark-eye kid standing beside me and stabbing me on the leg with my teacher scissors (the only pointy ones in the classroom).
It was then when I realized why the attacked kid wasn't badly hurt. Shark-eye was big for his age but he had no physical strength at all. I didn't even get a bruise from his stab, my trusty Lee's jeans stopped the blade which I instantly took from him.
I threw the scissors on top of a high shelf and ordered everyone else out of the classroom to wait for the principal's arrival while I watched over Shark-eye. Boys ran out, Shark-eye looked at me curiously for a few seconds and sat down at his desk and continued his math assignments like nothing had happened.
I asked him quite sternly what had made him attack a fellow student. Shark-eye lifted his empty gaze and said "I heard him laughing at the school cafeteria. I thought he could have been laughing at me. Can we play football today in PE class?"
The boy had no empathy nor remorse. The episode meant absolutely nothing to him. When the principal arrived we went through the situation and the class affirmed my description or events as they had happened. Shark-eyes' mom picked him up early and he stayed at home for a few days. The principal told me that this was not the first such incident and that the boy was on queue for a hospital school class. The principal commended me for my actions (I was very young at the time) and was surprised that I had been able to keep my cool even after getting stabbed, even if the attempt had been pitiful.
Turned out that's my teacher superpower. I never lose it. Even when I've been spit at, got chairs thrown at me, someone trying to gouge my eyes out while holding them (more than once) etc. Luckily the years in the same school have accumulated my reputation and nowadays it's very rare that someone even dares to try to mess with me.
This incident was nearly 20 years ago but I'll never forget it.
Through The Years
Met this kid when he was two and a half, and he was already messed up. Super manipulative. He would chase the other kids, trying to hit or kick them. He crafted pretty convincing lies to get other kids in trouble, or blame them for things he did. He did it so well that it often was impossible to KNOW it was a lie, other than that you knew it was him because it was always him. At nap time he would get off the cots and try to body slam all the kids trying to sleep, if you sat with him he would try to kick you in the face, if you tried to control him (by restraining him or something like that) he'd scream that you were hurting him and my director would come in and threaten to write us up if we touched him again. Nap time was terrible.
At three he continued the above behaviors but started adding in creepy threats. He told my co-teacher he was going to get a gun online, and the post man was going to bring it to his house, and he would hide it in his backpack and bring it to school and shoot her in the head when she wasn't looking. He told another teacher he was going to bring a hammer and hit her until her head looked like applesauce.
At four he was STILL doing all the above creepy sh!t but also was now big enough to throw chairs across the room, and had discovered gouging people's skin off with his fingernails and biting. He was not allowed to have anything even remotely sharp, ever. We pretty much had to be constantly watching him, despite having 19 other kids with two teachers (the ratio at 4 and up was 10 kids per teacher).
During all of the above behaviors he would intersperse periods of being very sweet. As a teacher, who wants the best for kids and believes they all deserve love and a place to feel safe, you'd think "finally! He's opening up to me! We can work with this! We can help him!!" Even, selfishly, "I'm the teacher who finally got to him!" but that was only new teachers, and we all fell for it at least once. Inevitably it turned out he was using it to get away with things, and when you'd take another kids side on something where he was clearly in the wrong he'd say "but I thought you liked me now? I thought you liked me... You hate me don't you. Nobody loves me" while crying. If you made it clear you didn't buy that, he'd pretty much just scream at you and then turn back into the terror he was. It was just an emotional f-ing rollercoaster with this kid, honestly. Always holding out hope eventually that little phase of being nice would be the real deal, the time you'd really actually really reached him...
By five he still wasn't potty trained (he refused, mostly, but when we pushed the matter his grandma got mad and told us never to put him in underwear). One day he showed up with stitches on his face, his grandma said he'd been bitten in the face by their dog and she was going to have it put down. We all immediately wondered what he'd done to the dog. (For what it's worth I convinced her to rehome the dog and unless she was a manipulative lying little person like her grandson, I like to believe she was telling the truth.) We had real scissors in the pre-k room and licensing says that all art materials had to be available at all times (this includes paint and chalk, which was a headache to manage all by itself). We had to watch him because he often tried to stab people. The director wouldn't listen to reason in regards to putting them up because of him, we were just supposed to do a better job "controlling the classroom." He started talking about genitals and asking sexual questions. His grandma insisted we were teaching him this behavior and refused to answer any questions that intimated
We had all called CPS multiple times about this kid, and had never seen any follow through. I had been refusing to work in the room with him anymore because I often had bruises and scratch marks and nothing was being done to support us, we were just supposed to redirect him. If we couldn't control him without saying "no" or using time out or restraining him in ANY way we got in trouble, we were only supposed to "redirect." IE give him special treats, thereby further encouraging the behavior AND making the other kids feel they had to replicate such behavior if they also wanted special toys, activities, food, whatever.
However, when he was about 5 and a half we had gotten a new director who immediately decided he was a danger to the other kids and we couldn't control him with any tools we were authorized to use. She suggested he get some outside help and perhaps reduce his time with us until his behavior improved. His grandma withdrew him instead, screaming the whole time about how we always hated her and her baby and now he wasn't going to have anyone to watch him and he was gonna get worse because we abandoned him etc etc.
I really hope that little boy got help. He was a danger from before most kids were forming full sentences, and continued getting worse. I hope he got removed from the toxic environment he was in and got all the help he could get. However, I will not be surprised to see his name in the newspaper someday soon connected to a violent crime or two. He would be 11 or 12 by now.
Carrying Out An Experiment
I have seen students display all sorts of extreme behaviour over the past 20 years, teaching teenagers in challenging schools.
The one kid that I was convinced was a psychopath, just quietly refused to do anything he didn't want to do. I never saw him angry, and yet I did see him hit people and say awful things to them. He was always eerily calm.
He was tiny and very cute but he used to manipulate people and then watch chaos unfold with these huge unblinking puppy-dog eyes, just studying it all. It was like he was carrying out an experiment.
ANYWAY that was when he was about 14. He's 19 now and serving a life sentence for a horrific gang murder.
Cameras And Microphones
Story from a friend. As the new teacher he got stuck doing after school detention a lot his first year as a high school teacher. He didn't mind because he always stays late anyway with paperwork. Now at some point he had only one student for detention and he says she is the worst human being he's ever met.
She tried to blackmail him. Told him that either he would mark her as having attended the detention and all future detentions - or she was going to say that he assaulted her. Luckily for him there's both cameras and microphones in the classrooms. So that never happened and he did report it to the principal.
She was later expelled for bringing a knife to school and cutting another girls ponytail off in the bathroom.
Fast forward 5 years, when I was away at college, my mom's friend's daughter also went there (senior when I was a freshman), and I guess he had been stalking her for years. He moved from our hometown to the town she went to college in, where I had just moved. She had filed restraining orders and orders of protection against him ,but he would just violate them and serve the time - it didn't bother him. I was terrified that he would find out I lived there, and make me his next victim since she was graduating soon. Luckily he never did, and I hadn't heard anything about him until recently.
A friend of mine is now the guidance counselor at my old high school. He was reading up on some old files regarding students that are flagged if they ever come back to the school. He was one of them, and the reasons give me chills. He had apparently told one of the teachers/coaches that he loved him, so that he would let him know before he bombed the school, so that he could make sure he wasn't there when it happened. He also was found with a "hit list" of all of the people, teachers and students both, that he wanted to kill, with detail of how he would kill them. I'm sure you can guess where I'm going with this - yep, I was on his list. It makes me sick that I was never told about this, and that they let him continue going to the school, instead of expelling him. I have no idea why he wasn't expelled.
So I have this kid, moved from another country two years ago and I got him this year. Was warned that he was difficult. We hit it off quite well, he is difficult and loud, but manageable. Out of a sudden he wants to talk to me alone, and starts crying the moment we are alone. He starts to tell me his life story - from being neglected by his stepfather, who is abusive towards him, and that social services were already involved, so they moved and so on.
But he didn't want me to do anything in case it got worse. I got in touch with the psych team and my boss, and we were discussing how to move forward. We decided to talk to the parents first to get a feel for the situation, so I invited them for a talk and WOW. The mother was nearly burned out, the step dad started crying because apparently their son was tyrannical and making their lives a living hell.
I was not expecting this.
Child Protective Services and psych professionals were already involved. His whole story is made up. It is a messy situation. The baggage the boy carries is immense, and yet, I have seen how aggressive he gets when things don't go his way.
I also learned that what he told me "in private" is something he basically tells everyone he meets, and people believe him so his parents are quite shunned in this small town they moved to. Never seen anything like it. He has a psych eval scheduled and his parents are eligible to get a home assistant, so we'll hope it helps.
That Calm LookGiphy
I worked in our "Exceptional Children's" department for 8 years. During that time, I was the only male in our department and we had some kids with issues that needed constant supervision. One of these kids, I'll call him John, was a really special case. He was a fifth grader at the time. He lived at home with his mom and dad who was one of these work from home auto mechanics. They seemed like decent enough people, but they had no ability to deal with John's behaviors.
Anyway, John was not good in class, so my job was to sit with him and make sure he did his best. We kind of got to be friends. He liked having an adult around. But he was also way behind in school because of how much time he'd missed, both from his parents not sending him and for the times when he'd been suspended. So trying to get him to pay attention in class was a challenge. I kept up with his work, and spent extra time trying to help him figure stuff out. Once he got a concept, he would be very happy and I worked it with my superiors that good work and good behavior got him 10 extra minutes outside, which he loved. It was the only non-food incentive I could work up for him. When he was happy, he did his work as best as possible. But he also got frustrated, especially when his teacher would assign a lot of pages of practice work. He had to do it too, and he hated it and I could just see him quivering for some way to get out of the work. Secretly, at that point, since I knew that forcing him to do work was going to cause an issue (it always did) I wondered why they didn't just let him sit in class and doodle so he would stay calm.)
One day, we were sitting in a small group, and a few of his classmates were hanging with him, trying to help him. It was really nice, because the kids really wanted him to do well. I remember thinking to myself this is usually when the bottom falls out. I was right. John got up and went to sharpen his pencil. He was over there for a while trying to get a good point on it. That's what happens, you know. It was 2 p.m. and it was a Friday, so I was really hoping that he'd keep up the behavior until the buses came. Make a good close to the week.
He came back to his seat, wrote something on his paper, and then in one move, he grabbed the little girl beside him on his right by the back of her head, hair and all and yanked it back. The rest happened in the slowest possible motion.
John took the pencil in his left hand like a dagger... He was going to put the pencil into this girl's eye. It was the most reasonable target, he later said. I reached over and grabbed the hand with the pencil and bent it back and away, forcing him to drop it. I applied pressure to the nerve above his elbow of the right hand he was holding the girl by the hair with and he let go. I got him to the floor in what we had been trained to do as a "therapeutic" hold. The teacher meanwhile ran to get help. Students ran to one side of the room, well away from us. One boy took the pencil and dashed the point against the wall. I'll never forget that part as long as I live.
So, there I am and John is as limp as a boned fish (pardon the cliche') and he's as calm as can be. He looks up at me from this position and says, "I was bored and wanted to see what would happen if I stabbed her in the eye. I was just wondering. That's all. That's all!"
He really didn't seem to get what the big deal was.
So, the police came. The girl's parents were notified, John's parents were notified, the principal gathers us and we all go to the conference room and the whole thing is rehashed. The teacher of the class explained everything. I explained my part. When they asked John, in front of his parents, he told us all the same thing he told me. He didn't get what the problem was. I saw abject horror on his mother's face, then. His father's face was something else. At that point I thought it was recognition or familiarity, as though this wasn't something new for John (or the father), but now I think I saw something like dark pride, there. But memories don't hold their detail and I may have added that later.
John was suspended and the parents of the girl pressed charges. After the suspension, he was allowed back, but he had to be in a room away from all students. The judge (when the event finally came before the courts) ruled John was just a misbehaved kid and gave him a stern lecture and some community service and probation. A few months later, school was out for the summer and I think that he wound up being "home schooled" which in his parent's speak meant left to his own devices.
Several years later, and well away from that foray into childhood violence, John showed up on the front page of our local paper. He was 21, now and had gotten into trouble a bunch in the intervening years, but the worst was indecent liberties with a minor, aggravated assault, assault and battery, and a few other things, all one situation, apparently. The photo in the paper, his mugshot, was the same face he had as he calmly explained to me that he had just been bored and wanted to see what would happen. The same calm, even face of a person who was definitely not in touch with the fact that other people have feelings. Worst part was that aside from his behavior was likable.
This is awful, but I knew then, and I know better now, that this was a sociopath/psychopath in the making and I was there for his first adventure into human harm. He's a human, of course, and was a 12 year old, then, but it seemed pretty obvious that he would wind up hurting someone else.
That's the worse part for me, even now. I knew (and so did my coworkers) all too well that he would soon enough get bored again and try to hurt another child. I was there when it counted, once, but I wouldn't be the next time. And I knew very well that would always be a next time with John.
He wound up getting 8 years in the local prison. I later heard from an old colleague more of his back story.
His mom killed herself, left a long note about how she didn't have the will to live having brought such a nightmare child into the world. His father wound up having a bunch of floozies over all the time and got into selling meth (not a big surprise) they felt pretty sure that John got to see all kinds of fun stuff. The house burned down and he went to live with an uncle. Anyway, in the long run, he'd gotten into trouble, a few pets killed, a few fights with neighbors, one assault and wound up in juvie.
I'm no longer a teacher, though I do visit schools in a professional capacity for my current career. I will say this, however, I was attacked personally four times, had to stop violence countless times and dealt with all kinds of angry and frustrated behavior from kids in elementary schools. These were rarely kids from adjusted and caring homes. Even poor kids from broken homes had issues with behavior occasionally. But the kind of systemic, brutal behavior from some of the children I knew or worked with was a direct result of homes that were likely to cause toxic stress. It's difficult to characterize just how serious this problem is for some students. It's not a happy thought, but it is happening.
I had PTSD for several years after all this (and other things I dealt with-including teacher abuse) and I admire and respect teachers that have to leave because they cannot take it anymore. I couldn't and I got out when I could.
I have even more respect for teachers who can stay in and make a difference day in and out.
If you or someone you know is struggling, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).To find help outside the United States, the International Association for Suicide Prevention has resources available at https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/