Characteristics of a Sociopath

In the BBC series Sherlock Holmes, Holmes pronounces to Watson that he is a ‘I’m not a psychopath, I’m a high functioning sociopath, do your research’, and this fascinating self assessment is one that gets many viewers questioning what precisely a sociopath is.

Sherlock’s proclaiming himself a sociopath makes the term seem almost romantic and interesting rather than immediately disturbing when usually we would think of the traits of a sociopath as belonging to a villain, not a protagonist. Here we will look at what the term sociopath entails, whether it is indeed distinct from psychopathy, and whether Holmes was right to diagnose himself as one.

Qualities of a Sociopath

Someone who is described as a sociopath will have several traits that set them apart from those with no personality disorders. These traits include the following…

• Lack of empathy – Inability to feel sympathy for others or to understand the emotional consequences of their actions

• Cold, calculating nature – The ability and willingness to use others around them to personal gain

• Shallow emotions – Lack of real emotion in response to events, limited capacity to feel love

• Narcissism – A personality disorder in itself in which the individual feels strong love and admiration toward themselves (often a defense mechanism against deep seated low esteem)

• Grandiose self image – They might see themselves as someone who is superior to others and sometimes even experiences delusions. A sociopath might see themselves as a fitting ruler of a country or even the world, but might also have delusional beliefs such as seeing themselves as a God or having super powers

• Charming – While the sociopath is unable to fully understand the emotions of others, they are capable but rather highly adept at mimicking them and might appear to be charming and normal at first

• High IQ – Often sociopaths will exhibit a high IQ which they can use to manipulate and plan

• Manipulative – Sociopaths use their superficial charm and high IQ to manipulate others to get their ends, and their lack of empathy allows them to do this with no sense of guilt or remorse

• Secretive – Has little need for others and is highly secretive in their actions meaning

• Sexually deviant – The lack of remorse, guilt or emotional attachments means that the sociopath is happy to have affairs and to engage in questionable sexual activity without questioning their desires

• Sensitive to criticism – That said, like all narcissists, the sociopath will desire the approval of others and will be highly sensitive to criticisms. They often feel they deserve adulation and admiration of the world and might feel victimized

• Paranoid – Often their lack of understanding of emotion along with their incongruous self view means that they feel a lack of trust and paranoia

• Despotic/Authoritarian – Often the sociopath will see themselves as a necessary authority and will be in favor or totalitarian rule

• Lawfulness – Despite popular belief, a sociopath is not likely to be a problem to the law in later life, but rather will seek to find loopholes, to rise to a position of power, or to move to another area so that their behavior is tolerated

• Low tolerance for boredom – Sociopaths require constant stimulation and get quickly bored

• Impulsive behavior – A lack of regret and empathy means makes sociopaths more likely to make sudden rash decisions based on the current facts

• Compulsive lying – As part of their facade, and as a means to an end, sociopaths are compulsive liars and will rarely speak truthfully making them hard to pin down

• The MacDonald Triad – In childhood sociopaths will likely have demonstrated the ‘MacDonald Triad’ also known as the ‘Triad of Sociopathy’, traits that often are demonstrated in sociopaths from a young age. These include animal cruelty (pulling the wings off of flies etc, bed wetting, and pyromania (an obsession with fire setting)).

Sociopaths of course vary in their symptoms and might act differently in different cases. However their main trait is presenting themselves as having the same empathy feelings and emotions as others when in fact they lack this emotional capacity. They are thus cold and manipulative and rarely see any problem with their actions.

Profile of a Sociopath

A sociopath is likely to have been a ‘problem child’ and exhibited difficult behavior when younger. As they grow older they are likely to be highly successful which is a result of their willingness to get one over on their competition and colleagues, a desire and belief in success, and lack of risk aversion. Thus they are likely to be found in positions as stock brokers, as CEOs or even as politicians. Many despotic rulers such as Gaddafi could be described as sociopaths.

Alternatively a sociopath might be likely to live on the fringes of society having little interest in people. They could be seen as eccentric and will most likely be independently wealthy. In other words they will either conquer the system or avoid it entirely. They will of course have few close friends and are more likely to make contacts with those they can use, or those they see as equals and that they can admire. They will tend to be cold and manipulative in relationships and potentially emotionally abusive though this might not necessarily be purposefully vindictive.

In all cases though the psychopath will appear highly intelligent, charming and charismatic to talk to and it is only careful guardedness that can uncover their true motivations.

Differences Between Sociopaths and Psychopaths

There is little agreed difference between sociopathy and psychopathy, but some psychologists agree that psychopaths are more calculating and measured in their actions. The psychopath will be more likely to construct a complex scheme or plan and to carry it out, whereas the sociopath is more driven by impulsivity. This makes the psychopath more likely to commit crimes and generally the term psychopath is used more generally to describe the criminally insane rather than just the lack of empathy.

So is Sherlock Holmes a sociopath? Well in terms of his lack of emotion, and his calculating nature he can certainly be seen as one. Meanwhile he has a low tolerance for boredom, charisma and an unusually high IQ coupled with a certain measure of narcissism. However his camaraderie with Watson and his love affairs suggest he is capable of emotion, while he shows no despotism – suggesting he might be more akin to someone with Asperger’s syndrome.

Comments 56
  1. This is the perfect description of on my managers that I have to deal with on a daily basis. He claims I am the emotional person when clearly he is the one that is emotional-less… creepy actually to think that my company thinks of him as a major star rising…

  2. This is a perfect example of Sherlock. I LOVE him! Sherlock is the world's most amazing sociopath!

  3. The fact that not all traits apply and manifest differently in different people should be placed at a higher priority in this 'profile' rather than at the end.

  4. Two things missing from the article: one is the extreme paranoia that sociopaths have – they are always extremely paranoid in every way. The second is a sociopaths biggest fear: being found out – they fear being exposed more than anything else, and when they are discovered, they react in the most horrible, abusive and aggressive manner possible. Be careful, sociopaths are horribly dangerous people!

  5. The article is good. However, it fails to address the much-overlooked spiritual aspect of these people. Jesus called them 'tares' amongst the wheat. Tares look like wheat and only an astute farmer knows which is which. Also, in this pathetic 'modern age', possession by invisible, malicious entities is scorned when in fact it is commonplace… and becoming ever more so in these end days.

  6. Talitha, no better words could have been used to explain what I also to believe as a large truth – we simply cannot often see it in ourselves and it hides among many of us. Absence of self-awareness – these traits mirror my behaviour when I was heavily depressed. It's a process to take us to that place and a process to become better. Anyone who can't relate even slightly may want to ask themselves "am I being honest with myself entirely".

  7. He most definitely has Asperger's. The reason I know this is that I myself have it, and Mr. Holmes and I are very similar in many aspects.

  8. After reading this article there is no doubt in my mind that my boss is a sociopath. It takes a while to figure these sons of bi**hes out. But once you know who they really are, you have the power.

  9. It was so well considered and possessed such clarity that the delicate differences did not submerge the fundamental split of world one inhabits and the true self-assessment required to function appropriately in it moment by moment.

  10. As a sociopath myself, these traits are all fitting. They're near exact, actually. Except for one thing. I can feel emotion. To a very select few, yes, but I still do. In fact, I currently have a girlfriend who I love very much. Though, in some ways, I consider her an equal. A Clyde to my Bonnie if you will. My ex-girlfriend was also a sociopath and we both loved each other very much. She didn't want her teetering mind-set to hurt me, though. Anyhow, I applaud you on this article, but, like I said, it's NEAR perfect.

  11. This mixes up anti-social personality disorder (sociopathy) and narcissistic personality disorder, as well as having some other misinformation.

  12. I just so happen to be a high-functioning sociopath. I do barely of the things that are stated above, even though my IQ is incredibly high and I can work stuff out really quickly. But everything said above, is just stereotypical as hell. I don't see myself as a God or act in a violent manner. Know your stuff before you post articles like this.

  13. My wife is a sociopath as was her father. They both use other people to get what they want… and feel no remorse for their actions. They both repeat the same actions over and over and expect a different result each time omg.

  14. My mother, I am certain, is one of the few female sociopaths. Pure evil. Spins a web at every turn. I am protecting my children from her now, as she has started to affect them.

  15. As those in the field of mental health know…. the DSM-5 only uses the term Antisocial Personality Disorder to describe what the legal field calls sociopath or psychopath. The legal term "insanity" does not exist in the field of mental health. The first "psychopath" was a man who killed a couple on some lover's lane. The police found empty fast food wrappers in the backseat of the car…. yet an autopsy showed no food in their stomach. When it was all sorted out, the police were reeling in shock at the possible conclusion that the man had killed the couple, then ate their food in the back seat while watching his handiwork. Of course, in the field of mental health-you don't see the body parts and the human impact–the grief. You just usually do a PCL-R and you are out of there. The police see and deal with much, much more.

  16. What the article fails to recommend is that if you have a socio/psychopath in your life, keep as much real and emotional distance as you can from them. I have been dealing with a cunning sociopath in the form of my brother for decades. His behavior towards me became increasingly violent, yet he somehow had the ability to manipulate a situation so that adults didn't perceive that what he was doing was as sinister as it truly was. He'd always make sure that his violence was done when the two of us were alone. He threatened to kill me more than once and there were two serious attempts to seriously harm/kill me – one was a drowning (he sat on my shoulders), the other, physical violence. Had I not grabbed a knife that was in the kitchen sink and turned on him, telling him – coward that he really was – that he had better be prepared to finish what he started – he finally left me alone. It also helped that I started dating a hockey & soccer player that was taller and stronger than he was so he gave us wide berth. Going away to university was heaven because I was finally free of him! He'd still try to take cheap shots in an attempt to embarrass me whenever he could, but he was/is also afraid of my 6'4" husband. What 'got' to him most was the fact that I always saw through to what a shallow, cruel shell of a human being he is, never idolized him like our father did, and that bugged the crap out of him. Now as executor he's trying to rob me blind and I'm challenging him, which has made him rabid to the point where he is behaving like the crazy person he is. I may need to get a restraining order.

  17. *facepalm* for the LAST time, Sherlock (BBC) is NOT a sociopath! I thought you of all people would get the hint? Here's what Sherlock showrunner Steven Moffat has to say about this issue, (

    "It’s funny how people are always wanting to prove me wrong on this one. They say: ‘But he’s not a high-functioning sociopath.’ I never said he was! Sherlock Holmes tells people he is. Why would you listen to him? Nobody can define themselves. That’s what he’d like people to think he is. And that’s it–and I think he probably longs to be one. I think he loiters around prisons for the criminally insane, envying them their emotional detachment. He knows emotion is a problem to him. A man who has decided to suppress all his emotions in order to be better at what he does clearly has an awful lot of emotion. That’s a very simple deduction. It clearly is a problem for him. So, in itself, that is an emotional decision."

  18. Never realised that I'm a sociopath until now. It's kinda weird, I've never seen myself as a threat, and I never noticed how much I disregarded society as a whole! What is the next step?

  19. Very interesting reading. It gave me an insight into different people behaviour which would help me to understand when faced with individuals of that nature.

  20. Great article. But… I would really like to know more about the differences and similarities between sociopaths and psychopaths.

  21. To quote Holmes; 'I really cannot congratulate you.'

    1. References? Any serious academic article should refer properly to its sources. Is that list of criteria a mix of the DSM-5 and Hare's PCL-R and something else? Reliability? Validity?

    2. High IQ is not a marker for psychopathy, they come with both extremely high intelligence (high-functioning) and low intelligence.

    3. He (at least not the original) does not have Asperger's. He depends on his ability to read people and their emotions, and is very good at it. People with Asperger's struggle with just that.

  22. I consider myself a sociopath. I'm great at manipulating others and lying to them. I am also a very powerful person and can be very persuasive. I have no empathy. I can't even fake it because it's obvious. For example, my mate told me that their mother was dying. I did not care. I told him to stop making himself a victim and to get over it. When I was a child I was molested and introduce into sex at a very young age. Sometimes I am hyper sexual and other times I have no sexual desire whatsoever. The only thing that does not characterize me as a sociopath is guilt. So, I'm not sure what I am. But, I realize that I have 9 out of 10 traits. Maybe, I am a psychopath. HaHa. I'm still better than you!

  23. Excellent. Outstanding. It is just what I have been looking for. Would you please email me and allow me to ask you about a topic that might be of great interest to you. I am writing a book and need a qualified person's opinion. Your article above nearly fills the bill.

    Pat Michael

  24. I liked your article.

    I just wanted to add that a MAIN difference between a psychopath and sociopath is that a psychopath is thought to be this way from birth (it it innate) while a sociopath is created from socialization and interaction with society.

  25. Near perfect article, I’m not a complete sociopath just a high functioning one, I’m only 12 so I’m not entirely sure but I have a pretty high IQ despite my lack of spelling skills!

  26. As a victim of a sociopath/psychopath I'll tell you this much, life with them is hell. Everything you knew and loved or held important is what they will destroy! Even if you suspect someone is a sociopath and new into your life… RUN FORREST RUN… RUN AS FAST AND AS LONG AS YOU CAN!! Don't let them get close!
    Note to any sociopaths… you think you're grandiose but in reality you're a POS. Worthless and of no value to society.

  27. I think of the psychopath as the sociopath + a strong sadistic, cruel streak. The sociopath is just self-serving, doesn't care if someone is harmed, but doesn't go looking to do it. The psychopath wants to hurt you. So, your average overpaid CEO is sociopath, but not usually a psychopath partly because it can get you into trouble and push you out of the management path. I think I've seen both in my time (I'm 73), and I'm a borderline Asperger’s which is about almost opposite to a socio/psychopath.

  28. Very true but as others it is missing the element of danger in sociopaths. Extremely dangerous when confronted or found out. Good article to pass around when someone you think my be involved with this type of person!

  29. Sherlock Holmes' behavior is not indicative of Asperger's. Just because someone is highly intelligent does not automatically make them mentally disabled with ASD. Eccentric, absolutely. Autistic? To be fair, Bruce Wayne (from "Batman") is also highly intelligent, not great with empathy or expressing emotion, and doesn't have a lot of close friends or love interests.

    I don't recall anyone calling Batman an Aspie. So please, do the world a favor. Please stop equating Sheldon with Hitler, mm'kay?

  30. I agree 100% with all aspects of psychosis. As a nurse, I have several family members that exhibit symptoms. I am adopted. I am dealing with one in a relationship right now, that has driven me crazy. Thank you so much for reminding me so that I can get out of it. Also for teaching me to recognize characteristics in my nursing career.

  31. I don't think they are intelligent at all when measured with IQ tests. I think they are in constant need of people and their approval. I believe they always want to be the center of attraction. Because they are in constant need of people they figure out how to manipulate someone. If they are bored it's because they are not around or getting the approval of people. I believe they are people oriented and without a heart obviously. If they appear to talk intelligently it's just for show. I don't think they can grasp or talk ideologically.

  32. Now I know the problem with our government; we have way too many sociopaths elected into office!

  33. This information is highly correct. I myself, know a sociopath. He does not have a high IQ but he mimics it very well with his "extensive vocabulary." How I figured out he's a sociopath is that he practically told me "I'm a very good liar and I probably shouldn't be too proud of it (but I am.)" "I'm very charismatic you know?" At least with the sociopath I know they tend to flaunt their skills. I have not confronted him about it but I have warned the people associated with him about it. They may not be looking to hurt you, but they're definitely willing to.

  34. Well written! I knew my ex father-in-law was a sociopath, but you helped to confirmed it. He uses people for personal gain (even his own children) and shows a lack of empathy towards others, not to mention he is ruthless and calculating. He destroyed my family through his trans-generational parental alienation tactics. A true sociopath.

  35. I find the article helpful because my wife, in her work, has recently had to deal with a younger boss who demonstrates some of these traits, I will be very much looking for ways to help her deal with this self-serving-sanctimonious SOB in the future, he is easily deterred when an event or work function allows me, her husband, to be there also, he is a real prick!

  36. This is a great piece, although the high IQ part is actually a myth. Sociopaths are usually below average intelligence, and tend to destroy their own lives, as well as that of those who trust them. I once had the misfortune to meet a true psychopath called Sayalay Anuttara who reached levels of evil I didn’t think possible. Here are additional traits of psychopathy in my opinion:

    1. Black and white thinking – a psychopath tends to see the world and people in simplistic terms
    2. Spiritually dead – can sometimes profess spirituality or religion, but has zero depth
    3. Lack of loving father – few psychopaths have had a strong or loving father
    4. Low IQ – research shows that psychopaths have a lower IQ than average, and little to no emotional intelligence
    5. Conservatism – it is more likely a psychopath views sexuality as “sinful” and thinks everyone is fundamentally selfish

  37. And by the way, Sherlock Holmes is not a sociopath/psychopath at all, not by any means. His brother Mycroft is.

  38. This is a perfect description of Trump! He fits this check list in every one of the characteristics except for high IQ. He is just smart enough to con fools such as the ignorant cult rabble who slavishly worship and adore him. Unfortunately, it looks likely he will stay in power as the Democrats seem poised to select another demagogue to run against him. Hail to the Sociopath!

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