By September 15, 2014 7 Comments Read More →

Sociopaths range from sleazy to serial killer

Lovefraud recently received the following email from a reader whom we’ll call “Jason.”

My best friend of 20 years I believe is a sociopath. It’s very sad because you want to give a person the benefit of the doubt, but after awhile it becomes apparent. He displays all the characteristics of the sociopath. I’m smart, but I can’t convince myself with 100% certainty that he’s a sociopath (maybe most people can’t.) It’s hard to reconcile with it. Is there any advice you can give me?

Yes, Jason. First I’ll give the somewhat easy explanation; then I’ll give the more technical explanation.

Cluster of traits and behaviors

The first thing to understand is that sociopaths are not all the same. This disorder encompasses a cluster of traits and behaviors. Any particular individual can have any of the traits and behaviors to greater or lesser degrees. Therefore, some sociopaths are definitely worse than others. They can range from sleazy to serial killer.

In fact, it’s often the low- to mid-level sociopaths who are most difficult to identify. Maybe they aren’t as grandiose as others. Maybe they sometimes seem to have empathy. Maybe they aren’t always aggressive. So they seem to have many of the negative traits, but not all of them and you wonder if they really are sociopaths.

Professionals do not agree

Making matters even more complicated, mental health professionals do not agree on what to call these disordered individuals, and how they should be diagnosed. In fact, the word “sociopath” is no longer used as a clinical diagnosis.

Lovefraud, however, has proposed using the word “sociopath” as a general umbrella term to describe people who live their lives by exploiting others. This would include people who are clinically diagnosed as having antisocial, narcissistic or borderline personality disorders, or psychopathy.

Read more: Naming the social predators among us.

Psychopathy Checklist Revised

The best way to evaluate someone’s degree of disorder is the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R), developed by Dr. Robert Hare. This is a formal evaluation that should only be done by a trained clinician.

The evaluation is based on a set of 20 traits and behaviors. They are:

Antisocial behavior

• Need for stimulation and proneness to boredom
• Parasitic lifestyle
• Poor behavioral control
• Sexual promiscuity
• Lack of realistic long-term goals
• Impulsivity
• Irresponsibility
• Early behavior problems
• Juvenile delinquency
• Parole or probation violations

Emotional/interpersonal traits

• Glibness and superficial charm
• Grandiose sense of self-worth
• Pathological lying
• Conning and manipulativeness
• Lack of remorse or guilt
• Shallow affect
• Callousness and lack of empathy
• Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Other factors

• Committing a wide variety of crimes
• Having many short-term marital relationships

The clinician determines the degree to which an individual exhibits each trait, giving a score of 0, 1, or 2.

• 0 — the trait is not present
• 1 — the trait is somewhat present
• 2 — the trait is a reasonably good match

The maximum score on the PCL-R is 40, meaning the person scored 2 on every item. Someone who scores 40 is really, really disordered. The average person, who is not disordered, scores around 4.

“A psychopath”

Dr. Hare actually says no one should be called “a psychopath.” Hare prefers to say, “this person scored (the number) on the PCL-R.”

Why? Because although most experts say that anyone who scores 30 or above is “a psychopath,” this dividing line is somewhat arbitrary.

What about someone who scores 18? Or 25? This person is far nastier than an average person who scores 4, but is not considered to be “a psychopath.”

Another researcher, Dr. Reid Meloy, addressed this issue by clarifying degrees of disturbance. Here’s how he rates different PCL-R scores:

• 10-19 — mild psychopathic disturbance
• 20-29 — moderate psychopathic disturbance
• 30-39 — severe psychopathic disturbance

For more information, read:

Researchers minimize the psychopathy problem

Experienced clinician says psychopathy is a spectrum

Feeling exploited

As you can see, it is difficult to say precisely if someone is “a psychopath” or “a sociopath.” But about the only time that it’s important to diagnose someone with precision is during a court trial.

If you are making a decision about whether or not to have any involvement with someone, you don’t need to know his or her score on the PCL-R. All you need to know is if you feel exploited. If you do, then you should  put the person out of your life.


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7 Comments on "Sociopaths range from sleazy to serial killer"

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for the one I knew – I could check yes next to every item on the list

Thank you so, so much for this article. It is what I have been desperately trying to figure out, how important is it to get a diagnosis for my 28 year old son, whom I fully believe is a sociopath. Now I know, all I need to know is that he continually exploits us (steals, lies, manipulates, turns our lives upside down). I don’t know if we will ever be able to get him out of our lives, unless he decides he wants to be out, but I will continue reading Lovefraud and learning how to harden my heart when he “puts on the charm.”

Again, thank you for all of your help and support.

I have been thinking about coming here and leaving a little ‘boost’ for anyone not sure what is happening to them with their psycho-other.

Yes, finally, after two years of saying NO; it has gone and left me alone except for the ‘sightings’ in my town not long ago but “IT” never confronted me so that is good. “IT” knows IT’s spot. He does not live in this town but is pretty much ‘OTR’…

At any rate, if you are interested in seeing the KIND OF “disconnect” they are all about, I would suggest watching this movie entitled: “Dream House” featuring Daniel Craig. You must watch it all the way to the end to see something that is real hard to explain – at least for a ‘survivor’…

Happy to say it is STILL QUIET and I love it IMMENSELY! Yes, “IT” was ‘disconnected’ with the charm of Ted Bundy…I can say that after the struggle I have come through to piece my life back together, as well as my health, the quiet is well deserved.


Back_from_the_edge…I have seen that movie numerous times. It is still confusing to me actually. It seems in the end that the neighbor’s husband had something to do with it all?? I was never able to figure it out despite watching it multiple times.


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