Dr Matthew Cullen, Psychiatrist, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney

Sociopaths, psychopaths, people with an antisocial personality disorder, often they’re used interchangeably and at its core, they all are manifestations of an individual whose personality is very disturbed. Although that disturbance, in fact, can be quite hard to recognise.

What type of people are sociopaths?

The typical antisocial or psychopath is often the person that ends up in the criminal justice system, and they conduct criminal behaviour, often assaultive behaviour, and they’re the individuals that get represented on mainstream television as sort of evil human beings.

But in fact, this construct of sociopathy is a spectrum, and there are many high functioning individuals, often men, but not always, who are sociopaths. These individuals can end up running large companies, they can be married, they can have children, and it can be quite hard to discern whether they are actually a sociopath.

Features of a sociopath

So what are some of the things that may indicate that they are, indeed, a sociopath? At its core, these individuals have a distinct lack of empathy for others, and by that I mean, their ability to actually understand the emotional consequences of their behaviour towards others is extremely limited. Secondly, there’s a tendency that the end will always justify the means. So even though they may cause quite significant pain or suffering to others, often in a commercial sense, as opposed to a physical sense, their ability to empathise, or feel, or even respond emotionally to that is extremely limited. That can be, at its most extreme, cruel, but at another level, that cruelty can be quite hard to actually see and recognise in others. So sociopaths, like all personality disorders, also have a tendency to not have deep and enduring relationships, or if those relationships do endure, they tend to be superficial, and often have an element of narcissism as well, because there is a spectrum between narcissism and sociopathy.

How to get help

If you are in immediate danger, call triple zero ‘000’.

Important national numbers for help

  • Emergency 24/7 – 000
  • 1800 RESPECT 24/7 – 1800 737 732
  • Kids Help Line 24/7 – 1800 551 800
  • Sexual Assault Counselling Aust – 1800 211 028
  • Men’s Line – 1300 789 978
  • Men’s Referral Service 24/7 – 1300 766 491
  • TIS – need an interpreter? – 131 450

Important online help for your safety

Last Reviewed: 19/08/2020

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