How do you spot a psychopath?
One self-proclaiming psychopath has described how he presents himself in society and given a breakdown on his behaviour in different situations in what may provide an answer to that question.
Jacob Wells shared this information in response to a question on Quora asking psychopaths generally present themselves in society.
A psychopath, according to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), which is often used as a diagnostic tool to determine levels of psychopathy and antisocial behaviour will often display some or all of several key signs. Psychopaths are often pathological liars, have very high self-estimation, are impulsive and fail to regulate and take responsibility for their behaviours. Pyschopathy exists on a spectrum, and not all psychopaths will display all the signs.
The first thing that Wells shares about his behaviour is that how he acts is strongly dependent on the circumstances. He deliberately changes how he acts according to the situation he finds himself in.
“I usually present myself as normal at first,” he says, “Some exceptions being academic settings where I try to present myself as either or a good student or a genius (the first of which I am not, at all), dating settings where I present myself as being perfect, but unaware of it (both lies), or competitive settings where I act humble but intimidating (neither is true in this case either).”
After at first presenting himself as ‘normal’, Wells starts to show some more of his true self, and tries to gain people’s trust in a carefully calculated, tried and tested ways. “If I haven’t already, I will subtly show some intelligence, I will behave a bit abnormally, as that is more comfortable, and I will try to be become the most interesting person they know by telling them a true story about myself.”
Wells claims that his stories about lying his way through school and getting away with it strangely seem to earn people’s trust. “By this point,” he says, people usually find him “intelligent, eccentric and a bit psychopathic, but fairly normal.”
If Wells becomes close to a person, he aims to gain their trust fully, which he does by “doing and/or offering to do immense favours that nobody else would do.”
“I offer to solve their problems, in any way possible, and then ask them how far to take it so I don’t violate their morals.”
“If they don’t like a teacher/co-worker/neighbour I’ll offer to get rid of them. If they say 'don’t put them in prison', I’ll get them fired. If they say 'don’t get them fired', I’ll trash their reputation or scare them into backing off.”
The process of becoming friends with someone that Wells describes seems extremely superficial – every move he makes is calculated. Any favours or nice things he does to someone he is ‘close’ to seem to be purely part of a carefully conceived process which aims at eventually being in control of their relationship and making them useful to him.
“I keep secrets, and tell them fake secrets to gain their trust, and once they trust me enough, I ask for favours, reminding of the favours I did them. I can get literally anything from them, which is incredibly useful”.
Wells' behaviour does not seem to be atypical of a psychopath. Dr Xanthe Mallett, a forensic anthropologist and criminologist who specialises in criminal behaviours, said that psychopaths often manipulate others, and appear to be very engaged in relationships, when in actual fact they lack emotional attachments to others and will only engage for the sake of personal gain.
According to Dr Mallett, when a psychopath appears to be friendly or to have an emotional connection one should not be fooled: “They are the social snakes in the grass that slither and smile their way in to your life and emotions,” she says. “They feel no empathy, and only care about themselves.”
“Psychopaths are often charming, and can emulate emotional intelligence, drawing in the unsuspecting and vulnerable but without becoming truly emotionally engaged.”
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