By | April 22, 2007 5 Comments

Symptoms of a disturbed personality

The United States, and the world, learned in horror last week that a 23-year-old student at Virginia Tech had gone on a shooting rampage, killing 32 people and himself. It was the worst mass shooting in American history.

Amid the shock and grief, we quickly discovered that there were many warning signs that the killer, Seung-Hui Cho, was deeply disturbed.

An article in today’s New York Times—Before Deadly Rage, a Life Consumed by a Troubling Silence—explains that Cho always isolated himself. “From the beginning, he did not talk,” wrote N. R. Kleinfield, “Not to other children, not to his own family. Everyone saw this. In Seoul, South Korea, where Sueng-Hui Cho grew up, his mother agonized over his sullen, brooding behavior and empty face. Talk, she just wanted him to talk.”

At Virginia Tech, two young women complained to police that Cho was stalking them. Fellow students in a playwriting class were creeped out by his profane, violent plays. Professors brought him to the attention to counseling services. A doctor declared him mentally ill.

Still, it was not enough. Cho still lived freely in the Virginia Tech community—free to carry out his deadly plan.

Façade of normalcy

If nothing was done about someone who was so obviously disturbed, what hope is there that something will be done about psychopaths?

Many psychopaths appear to be charming, entertaining, productive members of society. They often hold responsible jobs—doctors, clergy, soldiers, corporate executives. They put up a façade of normalcy.

But they are rotten at the core. They have no heart, no conscience and no remorse. They merrily destroy the lives of others through emotional and financial devastation.

Sometimes psychopaths are physically violent. Generally it is a hidden violence—abuse of intimate partners and children. But even when they become serial killers, psychopaths still appear to be normal. Dennis Rader, the BTK killer, had just been elected president of his church council before he was arrested in 2005.

Symptoms of a psychopath

So what can we do?

The only way to protect ourselves from psychopaths is this: Know they are out there, know the symptoms, and if you spot them, get away.

These are the key symptoms of a psychopath, according to Dr. Robert Hare:

• Glib and superficial
• Egocentric and grandiose
• Lack of remorse or guilt
• Lack of empathy
• Deceitful and manipulative
• Shallow emotions
• Impulsive
• Poor behavior controls
• Need for excitement
• Lack of responsibility
• Early behavior problems
• Adult antisocial behavior

There are millions of psychopaths living freely among us. They can be found in all segments of society—rich, poor, male, female, all races, all communities. They are the most destructive personalities of the human race.

The only way to protect ourselves from them is to keep our eyes open.

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tough cookie

I was currious, I read Dr. Robert Hare’s book and had a question about the key symptoms of psychopaths…Now I believe I have just ended a relationship with a sociopath and while he does have alot of these symptoms I am not sure if he has ALL of them. How many of these characteristics are enough to claim that someone is sociopathic? Do they need to have all these traits? Someone please clarify. Thanks

Remember, if you’re run over by a truck, your first question isn’t, “Was it Ford, Chevy or Toyota?”

Think about the person’s ability to love, impulse control and moral understanding. If these are impaired you are dealing with a sociopath spectrum problem.


I found, in practice and while I was doing research for my book, that symptoms are often mislabeled by trusting women. We see the indicative behavior, but we attribute it to something less lethal…
“isolated” becomes “shy’
“stalking” becomes “attentive
“egocentric” becomes “confident”
“moody” becomes “sultry”
“irresponsible” becomes “free spirit”
“dangerous” becomes “exciting”
We must be aware of the behavior, and also what the behavior means and how to recognize psychopathic (and wannabe) behavior patterns. One symptom does not a psychopath make…we should not see them behind every door and under every rock. However, we must educate ourselves and recognize a psychopath when we are face to face with one.
We can, and do, fall in love in as little as 8 minutes. Therefore, time is definitely a variable…reserve judgment until you know the person and his history. This requires distance. It is wise to tread lightly in a new relationship.
Dr. Dorothy McCoy


I am SO glad I found this site. As I read the case studies and the blogs, it was like re-visiting my relationship with my sociopath.

Things I found in common:

A tendency to blame the victim , ascribing all kinds of negative traits to her while also trying tomonitor her actions

The ability to be sweet and romantic, but turn on a dime when the sociopath does not get his way

Trying to get in touch and re-establish contact as though nothing had happened, even after being told to stay away

My sociopath boyfriend was never physically abusive. But he tried to intimidate me. He told me I was stubborn and spoiled (mostly because I said I didn’t believe him) and that I was a nymphomaniac. The last was truly laughable as I had not been in a physical relationship for several months before I met him and was faithful after.

Thank you for the online therapy.

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