How do I identify a sociopath?

There is a simple way to identify psychopaths. Most people aren’t familiar with it because they instinctively avoid getting into the position needed to “test” for socio-psychopathy, since it involves making ourselves emotionally vulnerable.

First, a note about the terms.

“Sociopath” and “psychopath” are two different ways of identifying the same thing.

Sociopath implies using social norms and mores and a person’s ability to function in socially acceptable ways to tell the difference between “normal” and “pathological”. I don’t much use the term, because in a psychopathic society, normal, healthy people would test out as pathological as far as authorities in that society would be concerned. For example someone who wanted to protect potential victims of ethnic cleansing probably would be considered sociopaths in a society controlled and indoctrinated by racists.

I prefer to think and talk in terms of psychopathy because it gets to the real issue. If a person is a healthy, functional individual, their psyche (i.e., neurochemistry and neurocircuitry) is the opposite of pathological. If a person is psychopathic in a psychopathic society, they might well rise to pinnacles of success as defined by that society, so they wouldn’t be called sociopaths even though they’re still psychopaths. And a psychopath in a relatively healthy society can learn to function in acceptable ways, i.e., neurotypical ways. In fact, they’re very good at this kind of daily acting. The fact that they can detach from personal traits, preferences and habits that might run afoul of the PC Police makes them great at fitting in, precisely because they’re psychopathic.

So here’s a reliable way to detect psychopaths. It was inspired from a saying attributed to Jesus:

Do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

So, toss out a pearl you don’t mind (too much) possibly getting trampled and see what the reaction is. In practical terms:

  1. Share a mildly risky, personal, emotional truth about yourself, then look for signs of empathy.
  2. Notice what the person’s attention instinctively latches onto— the “pearl” or you.
  3. Feed any indications of psychopathy and see if the person takes the bait, tramples the pearl, and makes any move toward tearing into you.

This can all be done in a very low-risk way, verbally. It’s like they say about trading stocks or currencies: Only invest money you can afford to lose. Except in this case the valuables are emotional. Besides, you don’t lose the pearl and any trampling that happens won’t damage it—can’t even touch it, in fact. It’s still yours. Although it smarts a bit, you can just pick that pearl back up and put it safe in its little drawer of the heart and walk on, none the worse for the wear but quite a bit wiser.

All but the most sophisticated psychopaths can be “outed” this way.

Will this method help you answer the question whether the person would qualify as clinically psychopathic? No, but that’s probably not your purpose. They are psychopathic enough to notice it, which means psychopathic enough to affect you negatively. You might not want to have anything to do with them, or you might want to limit your contact. If that’s not possible, say it’s an ex-partner and kids so you have no choice but to deal with the person, at least now you’re well advised to put on gloves and Kevlar before stepping into the arena with them once again.

An empathetic person will try to relate to you when you share something intimate with them. They’ll try to mirror, sympathize, and understand your feelings so they can understand you. Most importantly, they will immediately make you the focus of their attention in a way that feels like understanding, or at least that signals they want to understand. They won’t forget you in order to focus on the pearl.

Feelings are key. A psychopath’s affective psyche is to some degree non-functional. In order to appear normal, they have to fake it. So look at their eyes. There’s a difference between a friend’s eyes and a predator’s eyes and yet again a reptile’s eyes. The closer you get to the feeling like you’re looking at predatory or reptilian eyes—think how it feels looking into a shark’s eyes—the closer they are to being a psychopath as far as you can see, which is the best that any of us can do. (It’s not all and only about their eyes, but it’s the best place to start because it’s really hard to fake the eyes.)

Mere absence of empathy, focusing on something other than you and how you feel, such as events, details, facts, concepts, principles that apply to the situation or people in the story, etc., doesn’t prove psychopathy, but it’s consistent with psychopathy. At least, given it would be healthy for a person hearing what you just confided to empathize with you, you could say that lack of empathy is at least mildly psychopathic.

On the other hand, if the person reacts negatively toward what you confided, especially if the person reacts negatively toward you as a person because of what you confided, putting you down, dissing you, or any other belittling, degrading, offensive, abusive reaction, you are dealing with some form of psychopath.

I realize that’s not what most people mean by “psychopath” these days because, like they do with violence, physical and sexual abuse, authoritarianism, and a host of other essentially repugnant human behaviors and attitudes, they assume that some of it is inevitable and must be tolerated. (I don’t accept that cynicism, with the result that I’ve gotten quite competent in recognizing and dealing with psychopaths, although I haven’t yet had to deal with serial killers or the like. But I have dealt with the next closest thing: cult leaders.) From this cynical standpoint, their question becomes where to draw the “this far but no further” line beyond which it’s “too much”, but short of which pejorative labels aren’t appropriate.

Notice that as long as we maintain that kind of cynical tolerance for problematic behaviors, we’ve effectively condoned the problem in perpetuity as long as it’s not “too much”.

This really makes no sense. Poison is still poison, caustic acid is still caustic acid, and shit it still shit regardless how much or how concentrated they are or are not.

Psychopathy is still a dysfunctional condition that results from damage to cognitive and especially to affective neurochemistry and neurocircuitry, regardless how severe or widespread the damage is. A little dysfunction is still dysfunction. A little damage is still damage. Genetic propensity toward psychological dysfunction is far rarer than psychic damage inflicted by trauma, especially traumatic abuse—which in this authoritarian, punishment-oriented society is quite common.

This means there’s some psychopath in all of us, and there’s some healthy psyche in a psychopath. It’s a good way to look at it, because it introduces hope for us all.

There’s a step four, which isn’t really a step so much as a follow-up: Give it time. If you can, that is. If not, err on the side of caution using this rule: Healthy, empathetic people are obvious because you can feel it. If you have a question about a person, it’s a good question. If you happen to be wrong and doubt an empathetic, healthy person, you don’t have to worry. They won’t fault you because, of course, they’ll understand and empathize. If someone does fault you for doubting or questioning them, you probably want to stay away from them anyway, psychopath or not.

As you see how a person handles your pearls, it will become clear what they’re really about. If doubt still remains, though, there is a dead giveaway that hinges on commitment. It’s a great litmus test to cap off this method.

If you don’t make commitments before you’re comfortable making them, you won’t get into trouble very often. The problem is that it’s easy to induce us to commit prematurely, whether it’s commitment to a person, a belief, an organization, a regime, and whether it’s commitment of our minds, hearts, property, money, time, work, energy, or even our bodies.

All con schemes revolve around getting you to commit prematurely. So the simple way to keep from getting burned is to never commit until you’re sure you want to and don’t feel compelled to. That’s sometimes hard to do—which the con artist well knows and loves—but it really doesn’t take too much practice to get the hang of it.

If a person wants you to commit and sees you’re not ready, they’ll either respect where you’re at or they’ll try to push you. Someone who is genuinely on your side and cares for you will do the opposite of push: They’ll defend your right to remain noncommittal. If no one has your back and will advocate for you, you can still advocate for yourself. We sometimes call this “holding boundaries”.

Establish a boundary for yourself: No one is welcome to induce you to commit prematurely. If someone tries to violate that boundary, the question whether they’re a psychopath or not becomes secondary, because you probably should extricate yourself from them regardless and not wait around to figure out their state of mental health.

On the other hand, if someone does not push you to commit prematurely, the question whether or not they’re a psychopath becomes less important, because then they pose no real threat to you even if they are a psychopath.

So always refuse to commit prematurely, i.e., before you’re ready and comfortable. In other words, never commit because you’re being told to commit or made to believe you should or must commit or get scared into making a commitment.

A favorite of con artists (and salespeople, but what’s the difference, lol?) is the “snooze you lose” gambit. Fear of loss easily induces us to commit before it’s wise to. By maintaining your commitment boundary you’ll either aggravate con-artist-could-be-psychopaths, thus exposing them, or they’ll decide you’re not worth the pain and move on. Win-win!

INTJ Empathy

INTJs are known for not being empathetic. Does this mean that it’s difficult for them to understand and accept others or does this mean that they don’t feel others?

To answer this question, we first need to have an understanding of what empathy is and how it works.

At it’s core, empathy can be broken down into three main points, all concerning the feelings of another.

  1. Relating to them.
  2. Understanding them.
  3. Responding to them.

These are sometimes called somatic, cognitive and affective empathy.

But how do these relate to MBTI?

As empathy is concerned with feelings and emotions, rather than thoughts, it mainly relates to the functions Fe and Fi. For an INTJ, these are their 7th and 3rd functions (respectively).

Being Fe ‘blind’, INTJs tend to be thought of as indifferent and place little value on social harmony. In this sense, INTJs will often find it very difficult to understand and respond to the feelings of people in general. They may feel out of their depth when dealing with others being emotional and may rationalise empathy.

However, Fi is the tertiary function of INTJs and although for some, this function may be very underdeveloped, for others this can be one of their stronger. For the latter individuals, such as myself, stronger use of Fi can mean higher empathy, especially towards people who are close to them and/or have gone through similar experiences to them. This is because they can relate to them and understand what it is like to be in their position.

INTJs with strong Fi may find it difficult to express their own empotions or respond to the emotions of others, but often still relate to other people. This is where Fi empathy comes from- relation to experiences. Strong Fi-users feel deeply for others not so much because they can understands them as an outsider, but because and when they have been in that position themselves.

Hope this helps.

Damaged Empath

This video is about damaged empaths and how they can heal. Join our tribe at

Rage is an expression of despair, fear, disgust, shame, and overwhelming anger.

It is a visceral and emotional experience triggered by a perceived or real boundary violation, threat of abandonment, or threat of harm to you, someone, or something you care about.

The Key to Treating Malignant Narcissism – FRANK YEOMANS

How do you treat malignant narcissism? Frank Yeomans says the key is empathy for the patient’s sadistic pleasure, however hard it might be to empathize with someone who gets pleasure out of hurting others. A clinical example features a young woman who cuts off her own fingers.

We talked with Frank Yeomans about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and how it can affect us on a personal and societal level.

It’s Not About The Nail

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“Don’t try to fix it. I just need you to listen.” Every man has heard these words. And they are the law of the land. No matter what.

If We Had a Real Leader

Imagining Covid under a normal president.

This week I had a conversation that left a mark. It was with Mary Louise Kelly and E.J. Dionne on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and it was about how past presidents had handled moments of national mourning — Lincoln after Gettysburg, Reagan after the Challenger explosion and Obama after the Sandy Hook school shootings.

The conversation left me wondering what America’s experience of the pandemic would be like if we had a real leader in the White House.

If we had a real leader, he would have realized that tragedies like 100,000 Covid-19 deaths touch something deeper than politics: They touch our shared vulnerability and our profound and natural sympathy for one another.

In such moments, a real leader steps outside of his political role and reveals himself uncloaked and humbled, as someone who can draw on his own pains and simply be present with others as one sufferer among a common sea of sufferers.

If we had a real leader, she would speak of the dead not as a faceless mass but as individual persons, each seen in unique dignity. Such a leader would draw on the common sources of our civilization, the stores of wisdom that bring collective strength in hard times.

Lincoln went back to the old biblical cadences to comfort a nation. After the church shooting in Charleston, Barack Obama went to “Amazing Grace,” the old abolitionist anthem that has wafted down through the long history of African-American suffering and redemption.

In his impromptu remarks right after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy recalled the slaying of his own brother and quoted Aeschylus: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

If we had a real leader, he would be bracingly honest about how bad things are, like Churchill after the fall of Europe. He would have stored in his upbringing the understanding that hard times are the making of character, a revelation of character and a test of character. He would offer up the reality that to be an American is both a gift and a task. Every generation faces its own apocalypse, and, of course, we will live up to our moment just as our ancestors did theirs.

If we had a real leader, she would remind us of our common covenants and our common purposes. America is a diverse country joined more by a common future than by common pasts. In times of hardships real leaders re-articulate the purpose of America, why we endure these hardships and what good we will make out of them.

After the Challenger explosion, Reagan reminded us that we are a nation of explorers and that the explorations at the frontiers of science would go on, thanks in part to those who “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”

At Gettysburg, Lincoln crisply described why the fallen had sacrificed their lives — to show that a nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” can long endure and also to bring about “a new birth of freedom” for all the world.

Of course, right now we don’t have a real leader. We have Donald Trump, a man who can’t fathom empathy or express empathy, who can’t laugh or cry, love or be loved — a damaged narcissist who is unable to see the true existence of other human beings except insofar as they are good or bad for himself.

But it’s too easy to offload all blame on Trump. Trump’s problem is not only that he’s emotionally damaged; it is that he is unlettered. He has no literary, spiritual or historical resources to draw upon in a crisis.

All the leaders I have quoted above were educated under a curriculum that put character formation at the absolute center of education. They were trained by people who assumed that life would throw up hard and unexpected tests, and it was the job of a school, as one headmaster put it, to produce young people who would be “acceptable at a dance, invaluable in a shipwreck.”

Think of the generations of religious and civic missionaries, like Frances Perkins, who flowed out of Mount Holyoke. Think of all the Morehouse Men and Spelman Women. Think of all the young students, in schools everywhere, assigned Plutarch and Thucydides, Isaiah and Frederick Douglass — the great lessons from the past on how to lead, endure, triumph or fail. Only the great books stay in the mind for decades and serve as storehouses of wisdom when hard times come.

Right now, science and the humanities should be in lock step: science producing vaccines, with the humanities stocking leaders and citizens with the capacities of resilience, care and collaboration until they come. But, instead, the humanities are in crisis at the exact moment history is revealing how vital moral formation really is.

One of the lessons of this crisis is that help isn’t coming from some centralized place at the top of society. If you want real leadership, look around you.