What is a Psychopath?

A silhouette of a threatening man with a gun and people running from him in the background

In response to our recent rash of sniper attacks in the Washington D.C area, and the term “Psychopath” being used indiscriminately, we feel that it is appropriate to truly define this term for our valued members.

Psychopathy is not a clinical term in either the DSM-IV or the ICD-10. The nearest equivalent to it is, in the DSM-IV is Antisocial Personality Disorder, while the ICD-10 uses the term “sociopathy” or “Dissocial Personality Disorder”. With this in mind, I will focus on both the characteristics of the DSM-IV definitions, as well as the general “public definitions” of a psychopath.

These persons, in general, display many of the following traits:

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Need for stimulation, with a proneness to boredom
  • Pathological lying
  • Conning and manipulating behaviors
  • No sense of remorse or guilt
  • A very shallow emotional affect – they display emotions they don’t really feel
  • A lack of empathy for others
  • They are parasitic – they live off of others
  • They are impulsive, and show poor control over their behaviors
  • They tend to be promiscuous
  • Their behavior problems start early in life
  • They cannot form long-term plans that are realistic
  • They are impulsive, and irresponsible
  • They do not accept responsibility for their actions – another caused it
  • Marital relationships are short, and many
  • They display juvenile delinquency
  • They violate probation often
  • Their criminality is diverse

Essentially, they violate social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret in order to take what they want and do as they please.

It is estimated that 1-4% of the population is sociopathic, but most are able to control it within the limits of social tolerability, only being termed “socially obnoxious”.

Derek Wood is a Nationally Board Certified Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse, and holds a Master's degree in Psychology. His experience in the online arena of mental health can be traced back to 1997, when he was a host for Online Psych on AOL. He joined Get Mental Help, Inc. as Clinical Content Director for Mental Health Matters. Derek, with his wife Lisa, developed the original version of psychTracker (then called A Mood Journal), after his diagnosis with Schizo-Affective Bipolar, when they could not find a system available that was robust enough to help him effectively manage his symptoms and accurately interpret his charting. Derek has worked in the field of mental health since 2001, as a Unit Manager of an adult long-term treatment facility, a charge nurse in an adolescent short-term inpatient facility and long-term residential facility, and as a School Psychologist. He has also written several articles which are being used as CEU for nurses and educators.

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