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The Six Hallmarks of a Sociopath

Do you know any sociopaths?

Chances are, your answer is, “Only on TV.” And chances are, you’re wrong.

The media’s portrayal of the sociopath is actually more a caricature of a psychopath. Tony Soprano, Hannibal Lecter, Dexter Morgan. All appear to enjoy breaking the law, and killing people.

But in reality, there is a different type of sociopath which is far more frightening. This one could be your aunt, your father, or the president of your school’s Parent Teacher Organization. They look like us, they act like us, and they walk among us undetected. But actually, they are not like us at all.

There is one basic difference which sets the sociopath apart from all others. That difference is conscience. The sociopath has no guilt.

In 2005, psychologist Martha Stout wrote a groundbreaking book, The Sociopath Next Door, in which she asserted that 1 in every 25 ordinary Americans secretly has no conscience.

Yes, it’s a scary thought, especially since conscience is not visible, and it can be faked. To make it even more difficult, sociopaths are excellent actors. Research suggests that sociopaths don’t have the basic emotions such as love, warmth, genuine closeness, or responsibility.

But they do know exactly what guilt, care and love look like, and how to portray them. In truth, even mental health professionals have a very difficult time identifying a sociopath. They are often mistaken for narcissistic or borderline personality disorders.

Generally, there is some overlap between those three major personality types. But actually they are all quite different from each other. Especially since people with narcissistic and borderline personalities are capable of feeling guilty.

So how do you know if you’re dealing with a sociopath? Fortunately, there are some major markers to watch for.

Six Signs of a Sociopath

  1. Behaves in harsh and/or hurtful ways, and then expects you to have no reaction; to act like it never happened.
  2. Manipulates others, either from the sidelines or directly.
  3. Treats you very differently at different times or different days, for no apparent reason.
  4. Lies easily when needed to get herself off the hook.
  5. Externalizes blame. The sociopath does not take ownership or blame for his mistakes or misdeeds.
  6. At times, appears to actually enjoy manipulating and/or hurting others.

Whether you know anyone who fits this profile or not, you’re probably wondering how to make sure you’re not treated this way. So here are some guidelines for taking care of yourself around a person who you suspect might be a sociopath.

Four Steps to Protect Yourself

  1. Be on your guard at all times. Know what you can and cannot expect from the sociopath.
  2. Avoid going to this person for emotional support or advice. Being vulnerable in this way opens you up to being hurt.
  3. Imagine a boundary between yourself and the sociopath. Form a picture of it in your mind. Build a wall that you can see in your imagination that protects you. Everything the sociopath says or that is hurtful bounces off this imaginary wall.
  4. Don’t make excuses for the sociopath. Instead, hold him accountable for his actions. The stronger and more direct you are, the less the sociopath will try to take advantage of you.

The Special Case of the Sociopathic Parent

Of all the damage a sociopath can do, I think the worst is to their own children. Children raised by sociopaths grow up feeling, on some level, unlovable. This is a fairly unavoidable result of having a parent who’s incapable of feeling genuine parental love. The child has no idea that his parent is incapable, and naturally assumes that his own lack of lovability is the problem. And few things are as deeply painful for a human being as the feeling of being unlovable.

The problems of the child of the sociopath are compounded by the fact that virtually no one wants to believe that his mother or father is a sociopath. This gives the sociopathic parent even more power. Even as adults, the son and daughter will likely feel more comfortable believing that their sociopathic parent means well, is trying her hardest, and actually loves them.

Although this distortion of the truth feels better, it’s actually quite harmful. Generally, the less we understand who our parents truly are, the more power they have over us. So the man who distorts his mother’s true nature, in order to make himself feel better, is paying a heavy price.

One Extra Step for the Child of a Sociopath:

5.  Always remind yourself that your parent’s inability to love you has everything to do with their limitations, and nothing to do with you.


To learn more about how to cope with, and recover from, the effects of growing up with an emotionally absent parent, see and the book, Running on Empty.

Photo by Helga Weber

The Six Hallmarks of a Sociopath

Jonice Webb PhD

Jonice Webb, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who is recognized worldwide for her groundbreaking work in defining, describing, and calling attention to Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). She writes, speaks, and trains therapists on the topic, and is the bestselling author of two books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. She also created and runs the Fuel Up For Life Online CEN Recovery Program. Since CEN can be difficult to see and remember, Dr. Webb created the CEN Questionnaire and other free resources to help you figure out if you have it. Take the CEN Questionnaire and learn much more about CEN, how it happens, and how to heal it at her website

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APA Reference
Webb PhD, J. (2015). The Six Hallmarks of a Sociopath. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Sep 2015
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